When two dogs meet there is always an element of arousal until both dogs have learned a little about each other. During this time a few things can occur, both dogs engage in play, or the dogs sniff each other and the interaction is over and finally, one dog wants to interact but the other does not. In order to have the smoothest meeting all handlers should learn to communicate their dog’s needs, likes and dislikes with others at this time. Human communication and respect at the beginning of an interaction is a key ingredient in managing dogs effectively.
Take this scenario as an example. Two dogs meet, Rex a green dog with little impulse control and Fido a more reserved or mature dog. Rex will be over the top bouncing around Fido’s face trying to initiate play. Fido will be moving his head away, possibly trying to sniff the ground or trying to completely avoid Rex. If Fido’s subtle cues of ‘no thank you, I don’t want to play’ are ignored he has no choice but to turn up the volume by growling, teeth-baring and air snapping at Rex, meaning ‘I said NO!’ How could have this been avoided?
Both humans in the above scenario contributed to the outcome, Rex’s handler for allowing his dog to pester and Fido’s handler for not recognising the stress signs earlier and communicating these to the other handler. If you can recognise the early signs of stress intervene by politely and calmly informing the other handler that your dog may ‘tell their dog off’ with a growl etc ‘and maybe it’s time to separate the two’. If you can see that your dog is pestering another dog call him away or move to another area of the park.
Growling is a dog’s way of saying enough is enough. It’s accepted that no means no when it comes to humans, but the expectations of our dogs mean that we sometimes hold them to a much higher standard than we do ourselves. The thought is that dogs should be able to just ‘put up with it’ or even worse, enjoy it. Dogs cannot use verbal language so that we understand how they are feeling. A growl in the above scenario is just their way of communicating, nothing more. It does not mean the growling dog is bad or aggressive nor does it mean the receiving dog has been attacked.
In the above scenario both handlers would probably come away with negative feelings about the interaction and may even be judgemental, however with clear polite communication it could have been a positive experience for both. Be your dogs advocate by acting as his interpreter and let other people know how he is feeling or how he is likely to respond to other dogs behaviour.
Tips For Better Communication With Other Handlers
- Immediately let other people know how your dog is likely to react to their dog so there are no surprises.
- Ask other handlers if the way your dog is behaving is alright?
- Ask other handlers if they would like you to call your dog away?
- Ask other handlers if their dog is happy with the interaction?
- Ask other handlers if your dogs can ‘say hello?’
- Make a thorough risk assessment before any interaction.
- Label your dog with a labelled collar, lead and/or harness.
- Know your dog and do not put him in a situation you know neither of you can handle.
- Understand that everyone and every dog is at a different developmental and training level so try not to pass judgement without finding out all of the facts.
- If open communication with another handler is not working leave the area and avoid future interactions with such individuals.
We can all enjoy walking at the park if we communicate a little bit better with other dog owners. Our dogs will be happier too.