Every dog has a safe space. You can’t see or feel it but consider a bubble that surrounds the dog and makes him feel comfortable. This differs with every dog and for confident canines their safe bubble will be small. Scared, anxious or awkward dogs will have a bigger safe space and those that are severely fearful, their bubble will be bigger still.
For clarity, we have personal space too. If you have ever spoke to someone you didn’t know well and that came in a little too close, you likely became a little unnerved. This is because for whatever reason they had moved into your safe space, into your own safety bubble.
Dogs manage their own personal space well, without influence. Yet so many people and sadly other dogs too tend to completely disregard a dog’s safety bubble. Think of the people on walks that loom towards dogs for a touch, or the under-socialised adolescent dog that bounces in the face of a passing dog, that just wants to get on with his peaceful walk.
The safety bubble is a huge factor for reactive and fearful dogs. Their need to feel safe is bigger than that of confident dogs, so their bubble is bigger too, sometimes it’s huge.
With careful observation, you can tell when a dog’s bubble his safe space is under threat because his behaviour will change. He might focus on the thing heading for the outer edge of his bubble, he will probably lick his lips and he will certainly become tense, watch carefully for those changes. When the changes occur it’s time to retreat and protect your dog’s bubble. If you don’t retreat then, the reaction will become more obvious and your dog’s body will be creating stress hormones.
When you are out with your dog it’s your responsibility to help him to maintain his personal space. This is particularly true if you live with a scared or reactive dog, as to allow others into his space not only makes the dog stressed but also makes his bubble bigger. This means that he will become stressed by seeing a dog in the distance, because his safe space is so big.
Yet, if you carefully protect his safe space for him, your dog will start to feel confident within it. The more confident he feels in the strength of his bubble and the capability of you to protect it, the smaller his bubble will become and the happier he will be. When you do this successfully, any symptoms of bubble invasion will appear later when the potential invader is closer and the dog will be much more relaxed on walks.