My Whippet, Blossom, has always been friendly with other dogs and isn’t usually interested in them when we meet them out, preferring to chase squirrels or sniff. I’m very lucky that I live in a rural area.
The other day, I was walking her along one of the country roads and we passed a farmhouse. There was a black spaniel in the middle of the road that started barking at us. I couldn’t see an owner around. As we got closer, the dog barked more aggressively at Blossom. It didn’t actually attack her, but I could tell from her body language that Blossom was scared. I shouted at the other dog and eventually it ran through the gateway and up the drive to the farm, so I guess it lives there and is allowed to wander out.
Since then, Blossom has acted nervously whenever we pass other dogs on our walk. What can I do to help?
Kirsten Dillon advises…
That’s a shame for you both, but her reaction is perfectly normal, so there is nothing to worry unnecessarily about. When you are out walking, give other dogs a wide berth. Make sure Blossom has lots of space to pass them and is happy to do so without acting overtly scared. If she is looking frightened, then you need more distance. As she sees the other dog, gently say, “Look at that nice doggie” in a calm and neutral voice and give her a really tasty food treat.
If she doesn’t take a treat (many dogs don’t at first, if they are worried), continue on your way as if nothing happened, telling her she’s a good girl. Perhaps she may like to chase a fake squirrel on a pole or something similar. Anything that will make her happy. We do this to change her association to the other dog. Dog appears = nice things happen.
It is very important that you don’t act differently. Take a breath and exhale, speak soothingly and whatever you do, don’t tighten her lead. She should be on a long, loose lead (not an extendable one), or preferably off-lead if that’s safe. Our aim is to counteract the scary dog with lots of pleasant experiences around others, until the nice experiences cancel out the bad one.
Never ask her to engage with another dog, no matter how friendly you think they are. All dog greetings should be on her terms alone to build back that confidence.