At least 1 in 3 of the enquiries that I receive relates to aggression towards dogs on the walk.
Why is this such a big problem?
Simply put dogs are pack, territorial animals. That means instinctively they can see other dogs they meet as a threat. It is unclear on whose territory they are meeting and there is an expectation that it could possibly kick off. The more nervous dog will use aggression as a form of self-protection. Making him/herself appear like they mean business in order to ward off the other dog. This behaviour is so normal/understandable that it is more surprising that a dog would be okay with other dogs being there.
We do see two other behaviours which also indicate uncertainty about the situation. Ignoring/avoiding and over-friendliness.
Ignoring/avoiding is the sensible option. Keep your head down, don’t cause any problems and you won’t get into any. The wise and reasonably confident dog will always take this route if they can get away with it.
Over friendliness is nervousness in disguise. We can recognise that in humans when people overcompensate socially due to their own uncertainty. The friendly dog wants to show dogs that it doesn’t want any problems between them, but unfortunately, some dogs don’t appreciate this friendly approach. It’s usually quite full on and in their personal space, so it can escalate quickly.
What can we do about it?
Compassion towards how they are feeling in this situation is a huge step in the right direction. If nothing else it means you won’t put them in circumstances that they see as a real problem.
However this can prove difficult, and for those people who really enjoy dog walks, it can feel like a hindrance. The real answer is to take the responsibility for the survival of the pack on yourself. In a way that your dog sees and understands. Our natural human ways of interacting with them don’t show them this, unfortunately, because we have different priorities. They prioritise safety and survival. We prioritise companionship and affection. Easy for things to get confused.
A good place to start is by reading “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell. Jan has trained a lot of Dog Listeners like myself around the globe to help you put this into practice yourself.