Dog walker etiquette is lacking and it’s most noticeable to those of us with reactive dogs.

It’s easy to lose count of how many times we say it “he doesn’t, he isn’t and please don’t touch her” It’s almost like dog walking people lose their minds.

We can lose a full week of successful stress management to the presence of an unruly, unmanaged strange dog that approaches our scared friend and bounces around, whilst sending everyone’s stress levels through the roof. It’s easy to lose control of your tongue and your temper to the person shouting across the field “he only wants to play”.

So, this one is for the dog walkers.

The Urge To Play

If you see us with our dogs on the lead don’t allow yours to run up. Even if my dog looks friendly, ask first. People usually have their dog on a lead for a reason and that reason is not yours to decide.

If you see us call our dogs away and hide on the side of the track or in a bush to allow you by then we are coaching our dogs to stay calm. Don’t allow your dog to run up to us. It has taken a long time to teach that calmness and to break it is not your decision to make.

When we see you and your dog in the distance and change direction to move further away, whether our dogs are on or off the lead, please don’t continue to approach. Certainly, don’t allow your dog to run up. We are creating our distance for a good reason and should be respected.

Don’t say “he only wants to play” as your dog races towards ours, because you have no idea of the intentions, experiences or emotional state of the dog “he only wants to play” with. Think!

Be responsible for the safety of your own dog. When walking a reactive, fearful dog, we also have your dog’s well-being in mind. We don’t have reactive dogs without learning about dog behaviour. We can see your dog might be looking for a game and don’t need it pointed out. We can also see that your dog is going to be scared or hurt at any point so end up protecting both dogs. When I’m managing my dog and you’re not managing yours, your dog’s safety is not my responsibility. Be responsible!

Don’t look offended when we have done everything we can to allow you to pass whilst keeping our dogs calm, then your own is allowed to directly approach, causing reactive barking from mine. You caused that, you have no right to be offended. I have every right to be offended because you didn’t manage your dog or to respect the tiny bit of space we so carefully asked for.

The Urge to Touch

Please don’t try to touch my dog without asking. She’s small and she’s cute but she’s also a puppy farm survivor and terrified. She might not look scared but this is what we call a freeze reaction, in this case to your persistent attention. I am her only safety and even my husband respects her space. You have no right to invade that space so please just allow her to walk on by, feeling secure.

Don’t be surprised if after you have ignored me a few times and still try to touch my dogs, if I shout at you. The polite requests were ignored, you left me no choice and when a tiny dog needs my protection, believe me I will protect.

Not all dogs like to be touched by strangers, do you like to be touched by strangers? A hand over your head, rubbing in your face, a huge stranger looming over you? I suspect you like control of your personal space. Remember that on your next walk.

Please don’t say “it’s OK I’m a dog person” you’re not my dog’s person and that’s all that matters to us.

Everything I have written here has happened to us in the last week. I know it happens daily, to more people than I can remember. If you have a friendly dog please consider others. Some of our dogs suffer with fear issues, we are the rescuers, we are the ones managing daily fear and stress in the dogs that other people rejected.

Please respect our space!

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  1. Leanne

    1 of the best articles I’ve ever read about woofers

  2. ren

    great article, thank you so much!

    just one thing I would love to add: for all those dog walkers who have no idea about dogs and dog behaviour, if you have no control over your dog, it shouldn’t be off leash!

  3. Kirsty

    This was a brilliant read, I knew it would be just from the title, it sums up our daily life as a family with a reactive dog, so many times we have done all of the above, especially hiding, it’s lovely to know someone else has the same experiences.

  4. Kerrie

    As a person that always has my dog on a lead, i find it so annoying when dogs run up to us while walking. My previous dog got bit in the eye by a dog of a lead costing me $300….. that attack ruined her she became aggressive towards other dogs ( although who could blame her) . my pup that i have now has been knocked to the ground by dogs running at her…. and now she is fearful of dogs running at her. But no matter how many times I say can you please call your dog back…. or this is an on lead park …. you just get the same idiotic response ….. his friendly or she only wants to play…… i don’t care I asked you for a reason to call your dog back.

    I actually had a dog walker say to me aren’t you going to let her of the lead…. i should of said to him no because I’m a responsible dog owner and if i want to walk my dog on a lead at an on lead park thats my business.

  5. Steve Swallow

    Great article 🙂
    Have to say, I think a part of the problem, is these off lead socialisation classes that are around for puppies. Where they are all let of the lead in a big room to ‘play’ and ‘make friends’. From a very early age these dogs are being taught to play with other dogs etc and see them as fun.

    I prefer to offer my clients on lead socialisation of their dogs in a class and field environment. The dogs are then taught that other dogs are around but there is no need to interact with them, as all their fun comes from the handler / owner.

    I see so many people with poor recall, and a very high portion of those have done ‘offlead’ socialisation at the puppy stage.

  6. Ursula

    This is excellently put! Thank you for writing it.

    People are so insensitive/stupid (take your pick!)when they can clearly see that the other dog is distressed and frightened.

    That’s right about them looking offended. Offended indeed! I’m trying to protect my little dog from a frightening encounter and the other person seems to take it personally.
    Why should my little dog endure fear because instead of getting their dog back to them the other person tells me “it’s ok. he/she is friendly/just wants to play”. Well my dog and I just want to mind our own business and enjoy our walk!

  7. Jacqui

    I think when you have this kind of concern you should consider using the colour coded colours and leads red for danger stay away. Orange for be cautious and green for hello pat me.
    Better still you can buy Velcro stickers with wording on it to stick to the lead or harness.

  8. Karen Commings

    As a professional dog walker, I appreciate this article. I have had so many dog owners want to bring their dogs to meet the dog i am walking and I have to not only tell them to keep away but also take routes I might not want to just to avoid them. Needless to say, most of them get miffed and have no clue as to why I might not want their eager beaver nosing the dog I have under my care. You have elucidated all the reasons so well, but let me add this: I am responsible for the care of my clients’ animals, and as a professional, I am the one carrying liability insurance. I want NO harm to come to dogs I walk for their sake as well as mine.


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