I've lost count of how many times I've been out walking, hiking, or running with my dogs, and a strange dog has come bounding up to us with no owner in sight. Sometimes we encounter dogs whose owners come running to us from the distance shouting, “Don't worry, he's friendly!”
I could easily turn this post in to a rant about irresponsible owners. However, there are plenty of articles out there on that topic. What I'm going to do instead is share with you ways to keep you and your dogs safe in these situations.
The first order of business is to figure out of the approaching dog is friend or foe.
When assessing a dog's body language we look at them from nose to tail. Each body part can play a key role in communication. Important areas to pay attention to are the tail, the ears, the mouth and the eyes. As a general rule, the more tense any of those body parts are the more uncomfortable a dog is.
Let's take a little test. Look at the following pictures one at a time before checking at the answer's below.
Can you see the differences in the body language between picture 1 and picture 2?
1) Fisher on the far right is play bowing to the other dogs. This is a friendly invitation to play. The other dogs are mid action, but still look relaxed.
When looking at dog to dog interactions we want to see wiggly body motions, floppy tongues and wagging tails. Good dog to dog play begins and ends naturally, with breaks being taken by the dogs all on their own.
2) Fisher, the dog on the left is lying down and licking the other dogs face. The dog on the right is stiff, with a high tail.
That high tail and rigid body are hallmarks of an uncomfortable dog. These dogs will often freeze in that posture, their next move determined by the other dog. That's why Fisher laid down and began licking his face, both appeasement gestures. This is the dog's way of saying “It's cool man, please don't hurt me.”
What can you do with this information when an off leash dog approaches?
This blog post was originally published with our friends at The Adventure Dog Blog. Check out their website for awesome information about hiking and traveling with your dogs!
Emily Lewis is a professional dog trainer and veterinary technician. She lives in Vermont with her three rescue dogs, tuxedo cat, corn snake, crested geckos and Russian tortoise.