December 16, 2014 by megan
By Megan Coryat, CPDT-KA
I am the owner of a leash-reactive dog. As a dog trainer, and the owner of daycare facility that specializes in truly positive dog-dog interactions, this is a little embarrassing to admit.
As a dog trainer, I know with my head that leash reactivity is a normal thing for dogs. Dogs have two options if they are uncomfortable: fight or flight. They aren’t dumb, either, so they know that flight is not an option when they are tethered to their owner by a leash. If they can’t escape, they will fight is they feel threatened.
Additionally, the very nature of city sidewalks force head-on approaches between walking dogs, and face to face approaches are very rude according to dog social protocol. Sideways or circular approaches are much more polite. I suspect that my dog is thinking something like: Look at all these dog jerks in this city! Dogs just walking straight up to my face. Where are their manners?!
So, if you see me and Lexie out on the street, don’t be worried when I walk a big circle round parked cars or cross the street or wedge us between two parked cars. I’m not avoiding you or your dog; I’m just trying to keep everyone safe.
I never let my other dog, Moon Unit engage in on-leash encounters, either, and it’s not because he’s leash reactive. Rather, I know all too well how nice and friendly Lexie can seem right before she turns into Kujo, and I know I can’t tell (until it’s too late) if the dog Moon Unit is sniffing is going to be leash reactive like Lexie. The tangle of leashes and potential for one dog to suddenly decide it’s a bad situation feel too risky to me.
On-leash sidewalk greetings are neither sufficient socialization, nor are they safe, so I avoid them altogether. Instead, I make sure my dogs get all the dog-dog social time they need in a safe, supervised environment at daycare or in a dog park that has a safe mix of dogs.