I remember the day I went out with a client with a lungy barky GSD – at the training stage of ‘dealing with random stuff on walks’. At one point a large truck pulled up and a man got out clearly intent on talking to us, so while the handler did her ‘move the dog away to create a bit more distance and move behind mum’ strategy, I ran interference – the man was just asking directions. Which I gave him. Dog and handler doing really well on their own behind me. No lunging or barking. Almost relaxed owner. As our accidental helper was about to go back to the truck I felt I had to ask – ‘do you know about dogs?’ because he hadn’t looked at the dog and owner at all. Not once. SO unusual. It turned out he had been a dog handler in the RAF and knew exactly how NOT to (as well as how to no doubt!) turn the dog into a whirling dervish monster dog. Turned a random encounter into a great positive training opportunity for which I thanked him.
But how often can you rely on random strangers out on walks behaving in such a way to help you and your dog? IME hardly ever. They let their dogs come too close. They let their off lead dogs run over to us. They try to stroke and fuss our dogs – especially if they are cute puppies. Ask them to stop and they don’t. None of them mean harm. They love dogs just as we do. But every experienced dog owner can relate tales of how well meaning, but (but let’s be frank here!) ignorant people seem to mess things up for them. It’s a very human thing to want to hug and touch and make contact physically. It’s what most people do.
People will come up with loads of things to try and prevent those episodes happening. “My dog has mange” “Let me try and hug you to show you how unpleasant it is to be groped by a stranger”. I once had occasion to say clearly and deliberately to one person “my dog has bitten people for doing exactly what you are doing now. Please take your hand away”. Yet that person persisted in stroking her. It was a testament to Poppy’s progress that I was able to bring her away before she bit one more person for touching her in a way she deemed offensive! Calling out to people in the park “please call your dog away” as their dog runs over to say hello, rarely has a dog magically understanding the recall cue the owner might already be trying, in vain. That’s assuming they are trying. But many an owner could be genuinely mystified as to why a complete (possibly quite mad!) stranger is telling them to call their dog. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try these things. But IME we are so often left frustrated, angry or upset by what appears to be the thoughtless behaviour of these random strangers.
Being your dog’s advocate?
So if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there is no point in relying on random strangers to change their behaviour to accommodate you and your dog. Being assertive and practiced at “being your dog’s advocate” in telling people to stop doing what they are doing can work. For sure. Always worth trying. But all too often unless you are prepared to be pretty rude to some people either in what you say, or what you do, and risk losing their willingness to help you in the future, as well as cause offence, you probably need to work on changing you and your dog’s behaviour rather than rely on changing their’s. If you aren’t very good at being assertive and start to sound worried and anxious in your attempts, you might well make your dog more anxious. Sound at all aggressive – ditto. But not only that – if it has come to the point where you and the other person are close enough to have that conversation, it’s probably already too late. They will have already stretched their hand out. They might already be cuddling your puppy. They have probably already made eye contact with your dog. Their dog is probably already trying to make “friends” with yours even more intimately.
Have a plan
So have a training plan to deal with ‘random strangers’. A strategy. It might be as simple as making sure you can easily turn and move away before the intruder- human or canine – gets too close so the situation doesn’t arise in the first place. It might be teaching your dog to move behind you. Your dog being up close and personal to you, with you acting as physical barrier, is likely to stop most humans in their tracks.
You could enlist the help of friends by asking them to role-play being a “random stranger”. Practice saying phrases like “Please don’t touch my dog” in a firm tone of voice, whilst rewarding the dog for moving behind you, for instance. Practice taking a step away, more or less subtly as the situation dictates, as the stranger moves closer.
Random strangers and their dogs can be a menace. They aren’t friends or training buddies who can be instructed in what they should do, or not do, to aid your cause. Accept it. 🙂 IME it’s much easier, and usually less stressful, to change how you and your dog behave than trying to change theirs. IME it’s much easier to train and manage a single dog than train or manage an entire population of random strangers.