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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To the dog that reacts, it’s a world fraught with danger. People approach with outstretched hands and deaf ears whilst other dogs race up to their space, with few social skills of their own. Big metal boxes roar by on wheels and children scream – all the time!

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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.

    • Teek

      As an animal behaviorist and dog trainer, I feel like this is detrimental to puppies. They should absolutely be allowed to play and romp together. It’s how they learn bite inhibition and proper manners. If you don’t allow off-leash puppy play, you’re setting dogs up for not having the social skills they need to be a dog.

      Of course, they should always be supervised and stopped when they become rude or exhibit bad behavior. For instance, if a pup runs full tilt at another dog who’s just been let into the play area, you would show that pup that play stops when they rudely run up. They will learn what is proper and what isn’t. It’s much better that they learn through their mistakes than to not learn at all.

      Convincing your dog other dogs are not fun is absolutely unhealthy for them. Unless your dog is reactive or anxiously shy, playing and interacting with other dogs is an extremely important part of their lives, most especially when they are impressionable puppies.

      • Kay

        The author is talking specifically about dogs with fear issues or that are dog aggressive. You can’t just let other dogs run up to them to “play” unless you want a fight to ensue. I personally think all dogs should be on leash in any public space with the exception of an off leash dog park which should only be used by folks with properly socialized dogs.

  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!

    • Teek

      My reply was in response to the post above mine, not to the article. 🙂

  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.

  9. Tim

    For me the venue is everything for this. I can control my dog rather easily, even off leash, because he’s ball obsessed. I’ve never met a dog yet on a walk where I can’t call my dog over with ball in hand, and he’s completely fixated and ignores the other dog, however, if the area is an off-leash area, please see below.

    Depending on where you live, if you have a reactive dog, it’s also nice to walk your dog in places where leashes are mandated. You can get the walk you want, without disrupting the walk of dog owners who in some cases go out of their way to go to an off-leash park or walking area because their dog needs to socialize.

    This stuff really does go both ways, I respect your right in an “all-leash” area to have space, but respect the off leash areas if your dog is a troubled rescue. Having well behaved dogs, I want my pals to be able to socialize with other well adjusted dogs in areas like that without fear of my dog being attacked for being well adjusted and wandering over to say ‘hi.’ Know your park!

  10. A

    Most people should know to ask if it’s ok to pet your dog (unless they’re so obviously people-friendly that asking is redundant). However, if you have a challenging dog on leash don’t take them to an off leash park, that’s unbelievably irritating. Off leash parks are 10% of all parks and they exist so active dogs can burn off extra energy, play, learn without the shackles on. If you have a dog with history/issues – go to an on leash area if you want to avoid off leash dogs. And if you don’t – you’re an ass-hat

    • Sally Gutteridge

      All dogs should be taught recall and be called back if they are invading someones space or being a pest to others. It surprising how many people think that recall is not necessary, it’s a great bonding exercise too.

    • Carly C

      Part of helping a reactive dog is also to make them feel comfortable around off lead dogs. Letting your dog off lead or being in an “off lead” area isn’t a green flag for you to stop being responsible for your dog. Noone is saying dogs shouldn’t be running around and playing off lead. It’s about being aware that your bouncing “just wants to play” dog can look extremly terrifying to even a slightly nervous dog and therefore your dog may receive a snap and be told to go away. Do your dog a favour and teach them a solid recall. Teach them how to greet politely, not like the annoying drunk guy who only gets out once a year and is all over everyone at the Xmas party. Ask if your dog can meet other dogs. Exactly the same as a person asking if they can meet the dog. Don’t be a dick basically.

  11. Lorraine

    Only this week I was at the park with my deaf dog reactive rescue boxer girl Brie. I saw an guy over the way with a Shih Tzu puppy which I first thought was on it lead as was Brie. But no! My heart sank as it started bounding towards us I yelled at the guy as got my best death grip on Bries harness. He called it grudgingly but it took several yells before it thankfully ran back to him! We’ve made such good progress together and I didn’t want it ruined by an ignorant idiot owner!!

  12. Tarryn

    Absolutely! This is the reason we no longer go to dog parks which prejudices us AND our dogs. We are confined to walking in our complex where there is little grass. People allow their massive bull mastiffs, ridgebacks, boerboels and pitbulls to come bounding up to my yorkies saying “ah it’s ok they’re friendly, just let them smell each other”. Here’s what’s going to happen…your dog which is 5 or more times the size of my dog is going to stick its large nose up my dogs backside after it has half scared my dog to death by bounding up to it at the speed of a Boeing. My dog is then going to growl in fear and then your massive dog may react back by attacking my dog. My dog will be dead or severely injured and yours will be fine. It is not your call to make and any dog owner should have their and their pooches safety and boundaries respected at all times. I am in a park to walk my dog, not to carry it around the park because you have no manners and can’t control you dogs. Again this is not the fault of the offending dog but rather its very ill-mannered owner.

  13. Janie

    Thank you. I have 3 puppy farm survivors, all of which have individual issues. I heard a lady tell her toddler to go and stroke my “puppies” (they are not puppies) and had to ask her not to as my dogs would be afraid of her child. I also politely advised her that its NOT a good idea to encourage a child to touch a strange dog without the owners permission as it could result in her child getting bitten. She reacted quite aggressively, saying that if I couldn’t vouch for my dogs behavior I should muzzle them in public. (question – how do you muzzle a Pekingese anyway….) I’m afraid I told her quite sharply that I can absolutely vouch for the behavior of my dogs, but sadly I couldn’t say the same about the behavior of her child!

  14. Judy

    Thank you!
    As a city dweller with a reactive dog, this is how every walk we take goes. It is maddening.
    I think most people are really clueless about dogs in general. Couple that with being on their phones and using flexi leashes, they are a menace.

  15. Nigel

    Any owner has the right to request that you keep your dog away from theirs and just because they do it does not mean they have an issue with their dog. Its about respecting other people and their space. Put your dog on its lead when approaching unknown dogs its as simple as that really.



  1. Dog Behaviour - Reactive or Aggressive? | Canine Principles - […] the scary thing go away. If we can remove the scary thing via another course of action which is…

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