Trigger Warning: pet injury
I have been trying to capture a video of doing LAT with my dog while on a walk. I wanted to show my class participants how my dog leads the conversation and lets me know when they are done "talking" about it. As we were coming out of the woods at the end of our hike this morning, I spotted a dog lying down at the picnic area and thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I pulled up my phone camera on my brand new nifty backpack clip and started recording.
What I didn't know was that this dog was not on a leash. If your dog does not respond to your recall cue in the presence of other dogs, THEY SHOULD NOT BE OFF-LEASH. I don't care how "friendly" your dog is -- the dog they are approaching may not be. You are endangering not only your own dog but any dog they encounter who may not appreciate their approach. Trust me. I am speaking from experience.
When I was in my early twenties, long before I was a professional dog trainer, I was walking my lab mixes through my neighborhood. As we walked by one house, a man opened the door and let his little dog out. It immediately started running toward my dogs - one of which was dog reactive and the other who had a strong prey drive. I tried to get my dogs away, but it was too late. My boy picked that little dog up in his mouth and shook it. Although he then dropped it and I was able to get both dogs away, the damage had been done. The man who had been uselessly calling his dog collapsed on the lawn in tears. His little dog was whimpering and crawling toward him. I will NEVER forget that day. I still carry the guilt and horror of that traumatic experience. The real tragedy is that it was completely avoidable. If that man had just put a leash on his dog, it would never have happened. I was trying to be a responsible pet parent by having my dogs on-leash and under my control, but I didn't have the knowledge or skills to handle the situation.
Fast forward to this morning. Obi-Wan is dog-reactive on leash and in the yard. I have mostly focused on his reactivity in the yard and not as much on leash since we usually hike off-trail and are able to avoid other dogs or keep enough distance that he stays under threshold. Between homeschooling my kids, running my own business, trying to maintain my house, yard, and - oh yeah - sanity, I just haven't taken the time to really focus on training with him like I should. Now that we are suddenly faced with a situation where I can't control the distance from the other dog, all of my training failures flash before my eyes.
For some reason, seeing that little dog running toward us sent me right back to that horrible memory. While yelling at the pet parent to get their dog, I was mentally panicking. For a moment, all the skills I had learned in the ensuing years deserted me. I finally remembered to forcefully tell the dog to go away, and thankfully that stopped its forward progress. Once he stopped approaching, I stopped panicking and started thinking like a dog trainer. I was able to focus on helping my dog cope, and the person was finally able to get their dog. Crisis averted.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence and dog trainers often hear stories like this from their clients. While it should NOT be their responsibility to make sure that someone else's dog does not encroach on their dog's personal space, they want to know how to keep their dogs safe. I'm going to share some of the strategies that I forgot in the moment in hopes that it will help someone else in the future.