Many dogs need and prefer a reasonable amount of space around unfamiliar dogs. Some dogs need a lot of space with unfamiliar dogs. Planning and selecting a walk to match the needs of a Dog In Need Of Space (DINOS) is a great start to setting the walk up for success. Sometimes on the DINOS walk an unfamiliar off lead dog may appear. If the unfamiliar dog has good social skills he will be able to pick up on the DINOS body language and will naturally respect the dog's space. The unfamiliar dog might dip his head, sniff the ground or just carry on with his walk. An unfamiliar off lead dog that lacks good social skills will often not read the body language of the DINOS dog. The unfamiliar dog may charge full pelt straight towards the DINOS dog, make a head to head approach or make physical body contact by barging or jumping on the DINOS dog. What is my point? The point is that some people have no reference point, understanding, experience, knowledge or comprehension about a DINOS dog.
It may seem obvious to some people that a dog on lead, wearing a bright yellow, hi viz dog coat, with an owner that is clearly creating more distance from the unfamiliar dog in a particularly quiet area off the beaten track does not want an unfamiliar dog to approach. To an owner that has not experienced or been exposed to a DINOS dog and who perceives their own dog to be friendly and sociable it can be a first experience for them. I experienced this situation recently while walking a DINOS dog and it was a first in terms of what I believe to be a complete and simple lack of reference or understanding. It is easy to make assumptions about non DINOS dog owners and it can be very frustrating to go to great efforts to ensure DINOS experience walks without fear or threat and what can feel like continually having to deal with out of control off lead dogs. Choosing the most appropriate walk for the DINOS, improving awareness, empathy and education for all can go a long way to achieving harmony and respect for dogs individual needs and for everyone to enjoy their walks. Dawn Allen is a dog trainer and behaviourist and runs Four Positive Paws in East Grinstead, West Sussex. www.fourpositivepaws.co.uk