It’s OK, my dog is friendly

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Friendly dog

Visualize the scenario:  You’re out for a leisurely walk with your dog when, in the distance, you see a dog barreling towards you and way, way behind is their owner.  The owner sees you and yells out “It’s ok, he’s friendly!”  In reality, what this usually translates to is “I have no control over my dog!”

It’s very common that owners completely misinterpret their dog’s body signals and the dog is actually not friendly at all.  The dog MAY be friendly, but he could also be over exuberant, lack social skills, be assertive, and the list goes on.

But what difference does it really make if he’s friendly or not?  Because it doesn’t address whether your dog wants to play or not, or if your dog is friendly or not.  Your dog may be fearful of strange dogs or may not appreciate over exuberant dogs running straight up to him.  

Simply saying that their dog is friendly and just wants to play is actually very naïve. If your dog isn’t receiving or giving appropriate social cues from the other dog, or if your dog perceives that the other dog running up to you or jumping on you is threatening, this could very well end in a dog fight.  

Even if the dog is in reality super friendly, it doesn’t mean that the owner doesn’t have to take responsibility for the behavior of his dog and teach him to listen and stay close.  Even if the dog is harmless, rude behavior is not excusable and other people out with their dogs should not be forced to deal with a dog that is out of control and not listening to his owner.  It is every dog owner’s responsibility to always have control over their dog and make sure that they are properly trained.

Dog on leash

Below are common signs that your dog is exhibiting inappropriate behavior and probably needs more training:

1. Running at full speed up to people or dogs

2. Jumping on people or dogs

3. Licking another dog’s or owner’s face

4. Humping another dog

5. Barking or whining

6. Stealing food or toys

7. Causing a distraction or interrupting a training session

So what can you do, whether you’re the one with the out of control dog or the one with the dog who doesn’t appreciate rude behavior?

Both problems can be treated in the same way.

Distance is your friend.  When you see another dog in the distance, while your dog is still in a calm state of mind, calmly say “Let’s Go!” in a cheerful voice and slide your hands down the leash to turn your dog in the opposite direction.  Keep your hands relaxed on the leash, smile, and stay calm.  As you walk away, reward your dog with a small, soft, tasty treat.  So long as your dog remains calm and quiet, continue to offer the treats.  If he looks back and spots the other dog, then looks back at you, reward, reward, reward! That’s a great choice!

If you are walking the friendly, not fearful, dog, you can ask the owner of the other dog if their dog would like to meet and play with yours.  If they agree, the reward for your dog being calm will be a short play session.  If they say no, then you can reward your dog either with a short play session with you and a toy, or it can just be more treats as you calmly walk away.

If you have the fearful dog, you can reward him for his bravery with praise and by increasing the distance from the other dog.  Just keep walking away.

As you start to do this regularly, your dog will start showing more default calm behavior on his own, without your assistance. Remember to NEVER use punishment of any kind, whether that be a raised voice, a jerk on the leash or any form of aversive reaction or behavior on your part, as this will only make the situation worse by increasing your dog’s fear and anxiety.

Always remember to work with the dog in front of you, not the dog you dream of having. The one in front of you can become the one you dream of with time, patience and love on your part.