It can be challenging to teach your dog to remain calm on leash when others are allowing their dog to invade your personal space with jumping, barking, lunging, grabbing, etc. Space Invaders are everywhere and they can make walking your dog a stressful experience. Because this is a common problem I address it in all my group classes. When we enter the class I ask that people to keep their dogs focused on them and not allow them to rush up to the other dogs. I think this confuses and even frustrates students at times because they think their dog REALLY needs to greet every dog they see. Students tell me that their dog will only calm down if they are allowed to meet and greet other dogs. By allowing your dog to 'meet and greet' every dog they see you're creating a problem that will be hard to fix.
To better understand what a "Space Invader' is, read this great article written by fellow trainer Veronica Sanchez of Cooperative Paws Dog Training in Virginia.
By Veronicz Sanchez-Cooperative Paws Dog Training
Imagine if you were walking in the mall and suddenly a total stranger rushed up in front of you and stood literally inches from your face. As this person talks to you, you can smell their breath, they touch your arm, and stay in your space even as you back up to move away. What might your reaction be? Might you become afraid or angry? What if you are trapped and cannot move away? This would make most people feel very uncomfortable. And unfortunately, many pet owners routinely make dogs tolerate canine close talkers.
Most adult dogs are not happy to have an unfamiliar dog rush up into his or her face. Some dogs may react with a growl or a snap or other aggressive behavior, others might become frightened. Even those dogs that patiently tolerate the behavior may become less tolerant over time. Moreover, some dogs that rush up to an unfamiliar dog show additional pushy behavior such as jumping on top of the other dog, standing with their head over the other dog’s shoulders, and may not respond to the other dog’s signals to back off. Owners often misinterpret this greeting behavior as “friendly.” This is not friendly, it is rude! Add leashes to this situation and now you have two dogs that are trapped in this uncomfortable situation.
Recently, at a practice event for competition obedience that I attended, there were a number of dogs of various breeds in close proximity. Many of these dogs had advanced training, some titled at very high levels. None of the dogs were interacting with each other, they were paying attention to their owners. Why didn’t the owners have the dogs interact? Simply put, because most adult dogs do not necessarily enjoy interacting with unfamiliar dogs. Even adult dogs that are highly trained and extremely obedient will not always interact in a friendly way with another unfamiliar dog. Instead, these dogs know to listen to their owners, and – even more importantly – their owners know to handle their dog in a way that prevents their dog from making another dog uncomfortable.
Compare this situation to a typical visit to a pet store on a weekend, pet owners give their pets the full leash length and allow their pets to rush up to greet many of the other dogs in the store. These dogs temperaments and vaccination status is completely unknown. Since the dogs lack training, when the dogs become too excited or even aggressive, the owners have little to no ability to stop an altercation.
Pet owners sometimes mistakenly think that they are “socializing” their dog by allowing their dog to greet every dog they see on a walk or outing. Instead they are creating the very problem they hope to avoid, they are teaching their dog to be rude to other dogs. The dog is also learning to ignore the owner, that pulling on leash gets rewarded by the opportunity to greet a dog, and because some dogs will react aggressively, the dog is also learning that other dogs are not that friendly. Sometimes these dogs develop aggressive behavior to dogs themselves as they mature after repeated negative experiences.
The nice thing is that it really isn’t that hard to prevent your dog from becoming a canine close talker. Simply respect other dogs’ space. Do not allow your dog to greet every dog you see on a walk. Reward your dog for paying attention to you when other dogs are nearby. If your dog is friendly with other dogs, you can let your dog greet another friendly dog whose temperament and vaccination status is known after giving him or her permission to do so. Ask your dog to sit before letting him greet the other dog – do not let your dog pull you to greet the other dog. Train your dog or work with a professional trainer to teach your dog to look at you when other dogs are around. Take the time and effort to prevent your dog from becoming a space invader – your dog and the other dogs you encounter will thank you for it!