“It’s Ok – My Dog is Friendly!” That’s Not How it Seems to Me!

Picture this:  You are walking with your little girl. A family appear up ahead, and the fairly large boy whoops with joy at the sight of you two, races towards you, jumps on your child - who is now screaming - and rolls her over, grinning inanely. While you frantically try to extricate your precious little one without actually harming the boy, you hear a distant cry from the boy’s mother: “It’s ok! He’s friendly!”

Your response is probably unprintable.

And if you were the mother of the rowdy boy, would you really think it ok to let him bounce all over other children, on the grounds that he’s friendly?

So let’s turn this around now, and substitute pet dogs for children.

You have a super-friendly, waggy dog. He lurves other dogs. You know that he doesn’t want to start a fight. And if you try and keep him on the leash when he sees another dog you’ll get singing and dancing  - as he pulls your arm out of its socket. So you let him do his own thing on walks: diving on dogs, body-slamming them, chasing them, trying to roll them over in play. And dogs all love to play, don’t they?

Because you’re not afraid of him, you expect his victims to be equally unafraid.


At the Other Extreme

On the other hand, perhaps you are blessed with a dog who is afraid of other dogs, who barks and growls, lunges and prances, when he sees them approach. You’re probably anxious because you fear that if he ever gets to the other dog he’ll rip its throat out. So you make sure you keep him on lead, and avoid other dogs as much as possible.

His way of carrying on is baffling to you, because you know that your dog is a perfect peach at home, brilliant with the kids, and a pleasure to have around. You may be pleased to learn that your dog is most probably not at all aggressive - just afraid of strange dogs, and doing his best to keep them at a distance.

Both these extremes are normal, just at either end of the bell-curve - instead of the middle where we automatically expect our dogs to fit.

But just like with children - you get the dog you’re given, not the one you wanted!

Your dog’s character is part of him and is why you love him. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t influence how he feels and help him to tone down his responses.

Whether over-friendly or under-friendly, your dog needs a little help to interact with the rest of the world and lead a less stressed life. (If your own friendly approaches always resulted in tears and screaming, that would be pretty stressful for you too.)

But What Can I Do?

Strange as it may seem, both problems can be treated the same way.

Distance is very important to dogs. Both these dogs can see a dog at a great distance and not react. It’s when they trip a certain proximity that you are going to get the undesired noise and kerfuffle.

What you need to do is reward the state that you like when you see it, and just before the calmness changes into vocalising and leaping, encourage your dog to turn back with you and get a little more distance. Your own calmness is essential to the success of this game, so relax your hands on the leash, smile, say “Let’s go!” cheerily, and slow down.

Your reward could be a tiny piece of tasty cheese or hot dog. All the time your dog is calm and not shouting, keep posting these delicious morsels into his mouth until he stops paying attention to the other dog and starts paying attention to the source of these goodies instead. Success!

If yours is the friendly dog, you can now ask the other dog’s owner if their dog would welcome a game. Maybe they will, then your bouncy dog’s reward for being calm will be the opportunity to interact with a strange dog. Maybe they won’t, in which case you can reward your dog with a toy-game or more food while you head away.

If yours is the fearful dog, you can congratulate him on his bravery, and his reward will be increased distance from the object of his fears. So you turn and head away.

Repeating this time and again will gradually elicit the calm response in your dog as the default. This process will be greatly accelerated if you can get the help of a professional force-free trainer. Be sure not to go to someone who wants to reprimand your dog: punishment of any kind will heap fear and anxiety on the existing fear and anxiety and make the situation worse!

As you know all too well, the skill of parenting is to work with the child in front of you, rather than the one you wish you had in front of you!

So it is with your family dog.

For more help with this ever more common problem, visit www.brilliantfamilydog.com/growly

I’d love to hear how you resolve this issue on your dog walks - just write a comment below. I’ll appreciate every one!

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Positively Expert: Beverley Courtney

Beverley Courtney, author of the Brilliant Family Dog book series "Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog" and "Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog" works with new puppies and rescue dogs, always looking to intensify the bond between dog and owner. She has particular empathy with “growly” dogs.


10 thoughts on ““It’s Ok – My Dog is Friendly!” That’s Not How it Seems to Me!

  1. Rflee5

    This is a difficult problem and one that is very trying - even with the best will in the world. I have a dog who overreacts to other dogs when on lead. She has no idea of manners at all and throws herself at other dogs barking in their face. When she meets other dogs at dog park she is fine and strangely enough as soon as she has had a sniff and a bit of a run she loses interest in the other dogs preferring to sniff around. She is a little bit shy as well to complicate matters - so I think it is a combination of excitement with a small dash of anxiety thrown in. For the past 18 months or so every time we go out she gets treats for good behaviour and we keep our distance from other dogs by calmly crossing the road. I have a little game we play called 'Get It.' It involves throwing a treat along the path when another dog is nearby and as it rolls she dives after it - thus distracting her and reducing her excitement at the sight of another dog. It is a very slow process and possibly the reactivity can only ever be managed. Some days are better than others, but I feel a little progress is being made overall. I only use positive methods of training (and in fact I have been so keen to help her that I have undertaken a positive dog training course myself).

  2. The_Photographer

    In our house we have eight rescued dogs. Six of them are seniors, and ALL of them have different issues. I have a couple of dogs on each end of this issue. We've handled it (on both sides) with positive reinforcement. For example, with our stranger dog aggressive husky/lab cross female we step off the sidewalk and put her in a sit stay position with our body between her and the oncoming dog telling her to "leave it" which is our command for our dogs to ignore an object or person. When she behaves and ignores the oncoming dog she is rewarded for that behaviour with her favorite treat. Once the other dog has passed, we resume our walk. The process for our anxiety riddled puppy mill rescue who panics when he sees an oncoming dog or human stranger is exactly the same, it just works for a different reason. When an offleash dog excitedly approaches either of these dogs I step between them and the oncoming dog, and I ignore owners who yell "it's okay, he's friendly" (usually while silently judging them for not following leash laws) in my experience most people haven't a clue what their dog is capable of, my time is better spent watching their dog's body language.

  3. Andrea

    My dog rarely takes treats, especially when he is anxious or distracted. I have been using the above techniques (although without treats and using pats instead) for the last two years. I usually turn around and end up dragging my dog away. It is rare that I can get his attention because he is so caught up with barking and lunging at the other dog.
    I've signed up for your course so we'll see how we go. I've also just bought an Adaptil collar to see if that can bring down his general level of anxiety and maybe that will help.

  4. Tina She

    Hi , i have a friendly relaxed lab who loves to meet other dogs in a calm way. Since he has been neutered, other dogs just want to hump him. He usually does the submission stance telling the other dog that he means no harm. When the other dog becomes dominant and tries to mount him , i usually call my dog and say lets go Giddy. He just stands there not moving , then as the other dog tries to mount him excitedly , giddy - my dog will growl and turn on the other dog. No dog has got bitten yet , but calling him away from the other dog doesn't seem to have any affect even for tasty treats. Its like he is submissive so doesn't move so as to not antagonize the situation. Do you have any tips.? Asking the owner to call there dog never has any affect on the situation. The owner usually replies with a - don't know why he does this . at the same time i tell them that giddy doesn't like it when other dogs try to mount him and may retaliate , to which the other dogs carer usually replies , serves him right - it will teach him a lesson if he gets bit.

    I don't want any dog to get hurt in this situation , can you help?


  5. Masterdogtraining

    I have found a very effective technique to be to put my dog behind me and block the incoming dog with big body shapes, waving arm out to the side, leaning forward posture and a roaring growl - as in 'I' am NOT friendly. I have stopped 90% of dogs so far completing their approach this way, including a double approach by two crazy Boxers. They usually stop about 20 feet away, consider me, look a little confused, then run off. I have had to re-issue the growl a few times, but after 2 or 3 they usually decide against coming to see us. I would add, I would use this technique with caution regarding the potential aggressiveness of an approaching dog, as they could easily react differently to my behaviour.... I haven't encountered this as yet, most are just rude, untrained dogs doing their own thing, but people using this technique would need to be able to read the approaching dog's body language to asses this. I have only had one dog this didn't work with so far, and I could see the intent look on his face as he ran toward us... he wanted to get hold of my dog! I shouted to his owner, 'Is he going to be alright?' to which the owner replied 'I don't know!' I didn't like doing it, but I'm afraid I delivered a well timed lash out at him with my foot/leg, which stopped him in his tracks long enough for his owner to catch up with him, I apologised profusely, but the owner was totally in agreement with what I had done, saying it was fine, as he was worried what his dog would have done if he had gotten to my dog. Altho I actually think I was more damaged than the dog was... nearly busted my shin!

  6. Edith Chase

    My dog is very friendly to other dogs, sometimes she overreacts by screaming at the dog. The other dog just ignores her and gives her calming signals. We're a work in progress. Lots of treats before reaction or removal from the situation if we turned the corner and the dog was already too close. Some days are better than others.

  7. [email protected]

    You're right - it's not your job to train other people's dogs for them! I would keep greetings super-short and move Giddy on before the other dog has time to try mounting. Act fast. And Giddy doesn't have to meet every dog he sees. Be a bit more choosy.

  8. [email protected]

    I hope you're finding the course helpful, Andrea. Remember that with a reactive dog, Distance is your Friend. Refusal to take treats is a good sign that your dog is already too anxious and needs to be further away. You may need to intercept at a far greater distance than you're allowing at the moment. Aim for a quiet and relaxed walk, even if this means you get no nearer than 200 yards from anyone else!

  9. [email protected]

    Good for you! An awful lot of professional dog trainers started out trying to find an answer for their own dog's problems. Keep in mind that if she has a bad day, it's a good idea to skip walks for a couple of days to allow hormone levels to settle before going into the fray again.

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