In part one of this miniseries, I talked about how to read a situation and avoid it before it escalates. In part two, I talked about the difference between aggressive behavior and defensive posturing. In this segment, I want to talk about what you can do with this information if you find yourself being confronted as you walk through town.
The first thing is to be aware of your environment. Think about the dog’s natural fight or flight instinct. As you are walking, if you see another dog or dogs coming toward you, think about where you are and what is going on around you. If you are walking past a bus stop, for example, and the sidewalk is narrow, you are putting your dog or dogs in a more defensive situation, where there is less room for them to flee. If you intend to allow your dog to greet and maybe play with these new friends on the street, make sure it is in an open area where there is room for them to back away if they feel threatened. If there are many people and voices and noises around, as at the corner of Roosevelt and Michigan, be more mindful that the dogs will be distracted and their behaviors may be more difficult to read and predict. It is wiser to wait until you get to a more open area where there is more calm and more space.
If you are not sure that you want to meet or play with the new friends on the street, hold your dogs closer to you and leave a good amount of room between you and the approaching pack. The key to mitigating and diffusing any confrontation is to nip it in the bud, or stop it before it starts. Your best bet is to catch and correct your own dog when the level of excitement is still low. If you wait until your dog is barking, your only recourse is to put them into a sit and body block them until the other dogs pass, or take your dog firmly in the opposite direction and away from the situation. You will not often hear me quote or agree with Caesar Milan, but in a recent post on his site, http://community.sessionswithcesar.com, he even says:
The key to those situations is recognizing his body language before it escalates. In most cases, he will show you signs before he goes nuts. It takes a little more awareness on your part, but if you see the other dogs first, or you know where they are going to be, you can keep an eye on your dog. You’ll see a stiffening posture, ears forward, hairs standing up, eyes fixated on something, nose picking up a scent, etc. That is when you want to stop and correct him—when he is at a low level excitement.
Another point that must be addressed is your reaction. If you are nervous or agitated, your dog is more likely to respond defensively. If you are afraid of the approaching dog, you are telling your dog to be afraid as well, and even asking him to protect you. Even if you do feel nervous, you need to speak in a calm and soothing voice, control your breathing to try to control your heart rate, and maintain a firm but not panicked grip on the leash. That may sound easier said than done, but if you speak softly and reassuringly to your dog, you will respond to it with calmer and more reassured feeling as well.
The best advice I can give you is that you should be aware of the nonverbal cues your dog and the confronting dog are giving you, cut off any issues before they have a chance to escalate, exercise your dogs regularly (remember that a well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog), and try to remain calm and keep your nerves in check. Take a long walk down State Street with your dog. It offers you good exercise, a beautiful view, and an opportunity to socialize your dog and yourself.
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 Examiner.com.