The frustration of the Growly Dog owner: it’s NOT other folks’ fault that they don’t understand


whippet puppy dives on her friend

“Could he not SEE that my dog was upset?”

“My dog was on leash and under control - it was his dog that was out of control!”

“Why, oh why, do people let their ‘friendly’ dogs invade the space of my fearful, reactive dog, and then blame me for being a useless dog-owner with a nasty dog?”


Anyone who works with Growly Dog owners - owners of shy, anxious, reactive, or aggressive, dogs - is familiar with these cries!  Yes - it’s so frustrating when you’re doing everything right for your dog: keeping him calm; keeping your distance from things he fears; keeping out of the way of other dogs, or bikes, or people … and another person lets their dog rampage up to your on-leash dog!

At first, you may not be sure whether this is an exuberant, over-friendly, approach, or something more sinister. Is this dog going to attack mine? How can I get away? Oh no!

Your heart is now racing, your dog is now lunging and barking - the whole thing is a sorry mess! And what does the other person do?

Well, usually, nothing. (They have no recall, so they’re not going to follow your plea to “Call your dog please!” and demonstrate how useless they are!)

If you’re lucky you won’t get abused or reviled. But sometimes they can’t stop themselves!

“You ought to control that dog.”

“That dog is nasty - you should muzzle him before he attacks someone.”

“My dog is friendly - it’s your dog that’s the problem.”

And so on, they go.

It’s enough to make you cry. And often that’s exactly what happens. No-one likes their dog to “show them up”, and no-one likes being sneered at, talked down to, or threatened. I absolutely sympathize if this has brought you to tears.

Is there a danger of dog owners dividing into camps of “them” and “us”?

Shy LabradorBut let’s have a look at what’s going on here.

Many people, and that includes many dog-owners, have no conception that dogs have feelings too. They seem to think that all dogs will get along with each other, and that their dog barging in to play with another dog is totally OK.

Supposing they were having a family picnic. How would they feel if some strange children landed in the middle of it, kicking over the food and drinks, and snatching the bats and balls and playing with them themselves? I don’t think they’d be best pleased, and may well express their feelings to the other children’s parents.

So why do these same people think it’s absolutely OK for their dog to rampage about and approach other dogs uninvited?

I think they simply don’t realize. But some education needs to happen. These same people whose dogs are flying about annoying others could well be pillars of society once they leave the dog park. They could be considerate, allowing diversity of thoughts and opinions, concerned to let children fit in and express themselves as they are. But sadly they don’t afford the same consideration to dogs.

I guess they think that all dogs are the same.

Or that all dogs should be the same.

They don’t understand that gentle, loving, affectionate dogs can be forced to show aggression and panic when confronted by their tearaway.

It’s up to the Growly Dog owner to do his best to protect his dog from unwelcome advances, and it’s up to the “friendly” dog owner to teach his dog some manners and restraint.

So for the Growly Dog owner

1. Keep your distance

2. Seek out quiet places and times to walk your dog where you’re unlikely to meet other dogs.

3. Give your dog a break from stressful walks - only walk her when you’re confident of a calm time.

4. Understand that it’s not the fault of the other owner if they don’t understand what you’re going through. We often don’t understand something until we go through it ourselves. Maybe they will never understand until they get a shy, anxious, reactive dog themselves - then the light will dawn!

5. Be patient with them when they don’t respond to your cries of “Please put your dog on a lead, my dog is afraid!” You need all your presence of mind to help your dog.

And for the “My dog is friendly” owner

1. Respect the space of other dogs and their owners.

2. If another owner is struggling to restrain his leashed dog while your unleashed dog dances around them - please race in to collect your dog!

3. In fact, when you are approaching a dog on lead, put yours on lead too.

4. Put your phone away and focus on what your dog is doing.

5. Always keep your dog within a few yards of you so that you can practice your recalls.

6. Notice how other dogs behave, and rejoice in the individuality and diversity of our best friends.

lunging dog, frightened puppy

Meanwhile, both the boisterous dog and the shy dog could do with a bit of help!

Get your free email course which gives you information and strategies about how to improve walks with your dog - whatever his personality.



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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.


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