Aug 152012

One of the best things about living in a neighborhood like the South Loop is walking with your dogs. For new dog people or new residents, this can also be one of the scariest things about living in a neighborhood like the South Loop. Opportunities abound for confrontations with other dogs and with other dog owners.

How can you avoid these confrontations, and if you cannot avoid them, how do you address them?

My Lucy was a prime example, as many friends and neighbors already know. She was a feisty baby at just two years of age, and she had a voice that should be credited to Julie Kavner (the voice Marge Simpson and her sisters). She loved to wrestle and she made some rather intimidating vocalizations. To make matters more confusing to strangers, her standard method of play was to go for the collar or harness of the opposing dog. This scared the bejeezes out of people who didn’t know her!

I was always in control of her, and I never let her off leash; but I was completely confident that I could read her body language and her vocalizations. I knew when she needed to take five and when she was playing nicely. But how were folks to know that they could trust me?

This situation is especially tough for folks with timid or less-socialized dogs, who have little or no experience with discerning between play, defensive posturing, and aggression.

Imagine you are walking down Wabash Avenue with your dog, and you see someone with a dog or two walking toward you. How do you know how your dog will react to them and how they will react to you?

Here is what to look for and how to avoid possible confrontations.

Pulling on the leash is a first sign. All dogs, even well-behaved ones, can have their curiosity piqued enough to pull a little on the leash. That is not sufficient data upon which to make a judgment.

How is the owner reacting to the pulling? Does he or she seem surprised? Does the owner quickly recover and regain control of the situation? Does the owner look to you for approval to allow the dogs to meet? These are signs that you can likely approach with caution.

If the owner holds the leash tight and keeps his or her dogs close, he or she has no interest in allowing any socialization to happen, so respect that and keep moving.

If the person smiles politely while holding the dogs at bay, permitting you to pass, you have two options: you can assume that the dogs are unfriendly or unpredictable and smile back as you pass; or you can ask for a reason for the owner’s hesitation or reluctance, and offer to give it a shot. That depends on how confident you are in your ability to read your dog’s behavior and reactions.

In my case, I tended to hold my dogs tightly as people passed, knowing that my Lucy could be a bit much for some; but if someone asked me if my dogs were friendly, opening that channel of communication, I’d offer a disclaimer, “They are very friendly, but also very vocal.”

Some people were good with it, and gave it a shot. Those people usually ended up laughing at Miss Lucy’s antics. Others went about their business and no harm was done.

It is important to understand the actual definitions of and signs of aggression in dogs, as opposed to defensive posturing or playful advances. Watch for more on aggressive behaviors in part 2 of Jill’s Tips: Confrontation Avoidance.

Jill Aronson is a former SLDogPAC  board member who lives in the South Loop with Lucy’s brother Leo. ©2010 Jill Aronson. This article originally appeared at 

 Posted by on August 15, 2012

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