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Okay, the kiss of death might be an exaggeration…but you get where I am coming from. Summer is here which means a lot more dogs and their owners are heading outdoors and spending a lot more time off leash.

How many of you have been there? You are walking with your dog and see another dog approaching, or charging you and your dog, with the owner yelling, “don’t worry, he’s friendly!” I would say 8-9 out of 10 calls that I take, I discuss this with clients. It’s a huge problem (especially up here in the Tahoe area).

Or maybe you have been on the flip side of that and been the one yelling that your dog is friendly. While I am sure that is the case, read on to see why we strongly discourage dog owners from allowing their dog to do this…

Now, if you are an owner with one of the “friendly” dogs, please don’t take offense if you see somebody leash up their own dog when they see yours approaching! You should however, take that as a clear indication for you to recall your dog back and keep them away from the dogs. There is a whole host of reasons why they leash their dog or don’t want your dogs to meet:

The dog may be sick or not feeling well.
The dog may be going through training or a rehabilitation program.
The owner may just want their dog to be environmentally neutral and focus and working obedience or impulse control.
The dog may have had poor encounters with other dogs and the owner wants to protect their dog.
It may be a working dog or service animal.
Whatever the reason, respect the boundaries the other owner is asking for, and please don’t take offense or assume that the other dog isn’t “friendly.” You absolutely cannot assume that every dog wants to meet, for no other reason that to keep your own dog safe…you just never know!

On the flip side of that, if you do not have solid recall or voice control over your dogs and do not have the ability to reliably get them back in any situation, your dog should NOT be off leash. Period. Yelling to the other owner that your dog is friendly is not an excuse for not having proper obedience training with your dog. Nearly every trail where dogs are allowed off leash are labeled as “voice control,” so part of this is a legal requirement. The other is a safety and training concern.

Whenever we see dogs (or other people for that matter) and our dogs are off leash, I always either leash mine up or put them in an off leash heel. Why? For a few reasons:

My own dogs have been charged countless times by “friendly” dogs and two have been bit by another dog that charged them. I don’t take any chances when it comes to their safety.
I want my dogs to be neutral to their environment and focused on me, and utilizing impulse control. I don’t want them running up to every dog or person they see.
I never know what level of control the other owner has over their dog.
When we see other people, I will call my dogs into a heel because I don’t know the other people’s comfort level with dogs.
If you are the one that is leashing up your dog while the “friendly” runs towards you, what to do? The best thing you can do is leash your dog up and walk through the situation as best you can. Try to communicate with the other owner to recall their dog, that you don’t want your dog to meet. These situations typically happen very fast, so you just have to do the best you can. If you have a dog that has a higher level of obedience, that is a great opportunity to work on positions (holding a sit or down), or giving your focus heel command. Make sure your dog is fully proofed on those commands in a very high distraction environment before you ask them to perform in a situation like that though!

We just had an encounter today where the owner said, “I hope you aren’t leashing your dogs up for her,” while pointing to his dog. Immediately after he said that, he followed it up with, “she’s friendly.” as his dog was charging ours. It’s important for you, as a dog owner, to understand your dog’s body language. In this circumstance, the first encounter was not “friendly” as she charged into two of my dogs (that were on leash). The second encounter was much more appropriate as she went nose to butt, but still unwelcome. Polite approaches should be casual and careful, with curves and pauses to make sure the other dog welcomes the advance. Direct charges are seen as aggression by the other dog.