Watch any two dogs greeting off leash & you’ll notice several things happening. The first is that well socialised, good canine communicators don’t run directly up to another dog. They approach at an angle. There will often be several pacifying gestures, white flags so to speak, to indicate they mean no harm to the approaching dog. These can include freezing, lying down, slowing down, lifting a paw. When they do come face to face, face to bum would be a more accurate description of what happens. Both dogs check out each others ano-genital region & avoid the head end, at least at first. Younger dogs, or those who want get to know the other dog a bit better, may bow or circle to invite play or continued interaction. All dogs in the equation are free to accept or reject any further offers of contact & some chose naturally to move on to more important things.
Now let’s look at the constraints of inner city life. Let’s look at the pressure we put on our dogs by adding unnatural linear walking systems in the form of urban pavements. Such set ups force head to head confrontation, which dogs would never chose naturally to partake in. Let’s look at artificial restraint (leashes) which inhibit the dog’s ability to move on if/when they feel tension rising, or avoid tension in the first place by giving unsociable or fear projecting dogs a wide birth. Now let’s add in the concept of territory. Multiple dogs, not from the same pack, passing by & sharing territory with strange dogs is something which could cause confusion, reaction, frustration & sometimes outright aggression. Finally let’s consider the fact that many of us take our dogs to indoor dog training venues. Spaces which dogs are expected to share with non-family members, where there is no option to escape. We ask those dogs to stay, settle, relax when at any time (in the dog’s head at least), one of multiple other dogs may encroach on their space, steal their toy, threaten their very safety.
Under the guise of socialisation, owners have become obsessed with getting their dogs to ‘say hi’ to other dogs. It’s no wonder given the observations outlined above that dog to dog reactivity is increasing. Many years ago, my usually calm & cool male GSD Scout did something uncharacteristic. He reacted to another dog. I try very hard to educate members of the public on dog etiquette & explain, for their dog’s sake, why on leash greetings are often stressful & can lead to problems. This is especially true if dogs of a certain age (adolescent) & of the same gender or breed approach & are rude to their elders. In this instance however, the poor dog approaching wasn’t choosing to ‘say hi’. His owner marched him up, on leash & pushed him face first into my boy’s space. On that occasion, I’m afraid I may have become leash reactive myself.
We ask a lot of our dogs. We expect them to encounter & accept things which, given the choice, they would avoid. We put them in situations they would otherwise never put themselves into. This is unavoidable as pet dog owners. However, I think we, as urban dog owners should pledge to give our dogs a break. Let’s agree to respect other dog’s space. Let’s cross the road, distract, divert attention, avoid confrontation. Our dogs are begging us to do this. Given they do so much to keep us happy, it’s only fair we repay the favour with this small gesture in return.