πŸ›‘ TELLING PEOPLE HOW TO BEHAVE TOWARDS/AROUND YOUR DOG πŸ›‘

A while ago I had a dog trainer friend stay with me from Prague and she observed that across the space of two walks, I got 3-4 different people to give my dog space or keep their dog away with no conflict or question. She joked that literally everyone did exactly as I asked straight away, with little hesitation or confusion.

Pre-corona I asked you guys what you wanted me to blog about and some of you said ‘how to stop dogs running up to my dog or get people to control their dog’. So, here are my top tips on managing other dogs/people around our dogs.

1) Pre-empt.
It goes without saying, we can’t expect to go around giving everyone we meet instruction. The more you do it, the more likely you’ll meet someone who will object to being told what to do.
However, don’t wait for something you don’t want to happen and try and repair the situation. Work to prevent the damage being done in the first place. This approach is crucial to working with all problematic behaviour. If we think based on previous experience something MAY happen- don’t let it happen of you can help it! If you’re not sure if a behaviour is going to happen, treat it as predictable! It’s far easier to prevent something happening when stress/arousal levels (in dogs and people!) are low than trying to respond effectively to something when they are high! Looking ahead and considering what may happen can prevent stressful encounters all round. I personally find it quite frustrating to see people giving someone a telling off for letting their off lead dog go up to an on lead dog- even though the handler of the on lead dog made no effort to move off path.

Example 1: You’re walking your puppy down the street (let’s just imagine this is back in the day when everyone could approach anyone). Your learning history of walks with your puppy tells you that many people will stop and stoke them. But you don’t want your puppy to jump at them. As you approach the person you see them looking and smiling at your puppy (this is your cue to assume they may stop and stroke them).

Option 1: Recall your puppy to the side and reinforce focus on you as the person passes. By turning your dog away from the person and appearing to be busy (training) this is a pretty big cut off signal. This often slows people down (giving you time to give them instruction) or stops them approaching altogether.
Option 2: Create enough distance that approach is thoroughly inconvenient (and potentially a bit creepy) for the person to attempt. For e.g You cross the road.

Example 2: You’re walking your reactive dog in a big open space and you see a dog in the distance standing upright and staring at your dog. They trot forward a bit, stop and stare some more. This staring by the dog is your information that this dog is likely one that will run over.

Your main option here is to start briskly walking your dog away at a slight angle (so your dog doesn’t have to turn their back on the other dog, which can be hard for them!).

So….you’ve tried to pre-empt and it’s not worked, or a situation happens so suddenly or the environment makes it difficult for you to do any of the above….. what do you do?

2)This is where you may have to quickly and effectively have a dialog with the person. The key here is to be clear, quick and non confrontational.

My formula is:

INSTRUCT > REINFORCE> EXPLAIN> INSTRUCT> REINFORCE

I have a go-to list of un-offensive openers that seem to efficiently stop people in their tracks. They are:

“One sec”, “Hi Guys” and “Hiya”, usually accompanied with a “stop” hand signal.

Examples:

You’re walking your reactive dog down the street and a postman suddenly appears in hi-viz out of someone’s garden- and they’re walking straight at you. Your dog tenses up and you know it will take too long to try move them away, or pulling them away will escalate the situation. This is what I would say (and have said):

“Hiya, please wait one sec” with hand signal βœ‹ (INSTRUCT)
* They pretty much always stop, if they don’t I calmly repeat but a little more loudly”
“Thank you so much for stopping” (REINFORCE and describe the exact behaviour they are doing)
“I just don’t want my dog to react at you and scare you- he doesn’t like hi-viz!, can you please wait while I move him away?” (EXPLAIN & INSTRUCT)
“Thank you so much, that’s so helpful. I really appreciate that” (REINFORCE)

Example:

You’re (seemingly) clearly trying to move your dog away from a person and dog heading your direction, but they don’t seem to realise (even though it feels obvious!!).

You: Calling out “Oh Hiya!!! Please recall your dog” (INSTRUCT)
Them: No response. Possibly not heard you
You: Calling out “Oh Hiya!!! Please recall your dog” (INSTRUCT)
Them: They’ve heard, they look confused, their dog is approaching yours….
You: “Please don’t let your dog approach mine,” (INSTRUCT, clearly. Perhaps they don’t understand what ‘recall’ means)
Them: They recall their dog
You: Thanks so much for not letting your dog come up to mine. (REINFORCE, describe behaviour).
You; I don’t want my dog to react at your dog (EXPLAIN)
Them: “Oh they need to be told off sometimes”
You: “I would just be careful as some on lead dogs may be defensive, I’d hate for your dog to get hurt” (Vague Instruction/explanation).
You: Thanks so much for recalling your dog away (REINFORCE again!)

Last example: You’re walking your dog who is curious about people and likes to approach them (looking ‘friendly’), but sometimes reacts by backing away and barking when people reach out to stroke them. A person is approaching on a walk and you don’t have time or space to avoid. The encounter is inevitable. The person is looking at your dog and smiling, but not saying or doing anything else that would suggest they’re going to stroke them.

You: “Morning!!” (Chances are it’ll be 2pm if I crack that greeting out! ha!). “If my dog sniffs you please don’t stroke them” (Quick, clear, descriptive INSTRUCTION).
Person: ‘Oh…….okaaaaaaay”
You: “Thanks so much (REINFORCE). I know she looks friendly but when people reach to stroke she may bark and I don’t want her to scare you by barking (EXPLAIN).
Person: slowly walks by ignoring
You: “I really appreciate your help, thanks so much” (REINFORCE)

Now, you often either get someone who is bemused/indifferent but sometimes you get someone who has the time/desire to interact. This can be a training scenario and postive experience for your dog!

You: “Thanks so much (REINFORCE). I know she looks friendly but when people reach to stroke she may bark and I don’t want her to scare you by barking (EXPLAIN).
Person: Stands still, let’s themselves be sniffed and is smiling
You: “You’re doing a great job of standing still and not stroking her, that’s so helpful” (REINFORCE and describe exactly what they are doing right so they keep doing it!)
You: “They look much more relaxed now (your dog genuinely does). What they really enjoy is being stroked between the front legs under the neck, on the chest area (do a risk assessment if it is appropriate for the person to do this with your dog!). She doesn’t like being stroked on the head (INSTRUCT- clearly!).
Person: Strokes as instructed
You: She’s really enjoying that….. just stop one second (this gives your dog a chance to disengage).
Person stops and your dog moves away
You: Ahhhh, she’s had enough now. Thank you so much, that was really helpful and a really good experience for my dog (REINFORCE, give the person a sense of purpose and importance! They will feel like they’ve done the right thing and may remember how to behave around nervous dogs in the future).

To Summarise:

– BE FRIENDLY & INFORMAL, open up with a greeting!
– QUICK INSTRUCTION (get the behaviour you want out of them as quickly as possible. Describe the exact behaviour you want them to do in as few words as possible).
– REINFORCE (describe exactly what they’ve done, even if seemingly small to maintain this desired behaviour)
– EXPLAIN this helps them understand why you felt the need to tell them what to do. Make it clear it’s to benefit them!
– BACK UP OF CUES. Instead of just verbal, use visual cues like hand signals too incase the person hasn’t heard you.

Obviously, you will encounter the odd person who cares not for helping. It can be hard to maintain patience and politeness with some people. But if we try our best to set the scene for success, you’d be amazed at how many people are compliant or even willing to help. If we explain things calmly and well they may behave differently the next time they’re in a similar situation.