I worked with a half dozen clients over the weekend who all had the same complaint; why can't they get other dog owners in their community to understand the concept of personal space? You see they each had a dog who would react negatively when another dog passed by them in close proximity. Each of these dogs was different; for two, their reactivity came from a place of fear, one had previous negative experiences while on leash, one never saw another dog up close so had a lack of socialization, and one was experiencing outright aggression with unknown origin. Nonetheless, each of the owners was experiencing a great deal of frustration any time they took their dog for a walk. One client told me that she was literally afraid to walk her dog in her own neighborhood as more than one neighbor had told her she had no business taking her dog outside the house! Another client said she was so embarrassed by her dog's behavior that she only walked him late at night when there weren't other people around. I found all of their stories to be heartbreaking.
Even if a dog has been deemed dangerous as defined by the law, an owner still has the right in most states to take that dog outside of their home, as long as the dog is leashed and muzzled, so this notion that people whose dogs are reactive or aggressive shouldn't be out in public is a fallacy. Obviously, if your dog is aggressive toward people or other dogs, you should be using a muzzle when you walk them, even if you walk at off peak hours in off peak areas. Muzzle training is easy and a very effective way to prevent a bite. Basket muzzles can be worn comfortably for extended periods of time, allowing the dogs wearing them to still sniff, explore, drink water, take treats, and exercise.
Now, for dogs who are reactive and just need more space to feel comfortable in public spaces, we as their caretakers need to make that known. I know that there are flags you can add to your leash, as well as embroidered leashes that state that your dog needs space, however these are often ignored by people, particularly children. Better to adopt a strategy that helps your dog succeed by being proactive and moving out of the way when you need to, crossing the street, bringing your dog behind you or at your side, etc. And as much as you might like to be one of those dog owners who can walk down a busy sidewalk with your dog, don't be tempted to do it; just because you have the right to walk your dog in public, doesn't mean you should put her, yourself, and other dog owners in a precarious position. There are techniques that you can learn to help your reactive dog become more tolerant and even ignore other dogs, all you need to do is ask for help!
While dogs do need physical exercise, there is no hard and fast rule that says that has to come in the form of daily walks. You can use a flirt pole to exercise your dog, set up an agility course in your yard, or even in your house using furniture, or play a rousing game of fetch. Balance that physical exercise with mental exercise so that your dog truly feels "spent." Mental exercise can mean a bone or bullystick, but better still to offer an interactive puzzle toy or some other task for your dog to do independent of you. If you like dog training classes, your reactive dog still has options! You will need to think about something like nosework for her instead of a traditional group class. Nosework classes, by design, have each dog and handler working in the training space one at a time. In between sessions, dogs are crated or outside of the training area, allowing those whose dogs are reactive to remain at a safe distance, below their threshold.
One of those clients this weekend said she felt like she was walking around in her neighborhood with a scarlet "A" on her chest for her aggressive dog. I told her to start thinking of it as an "A" for awesome as she is making great strides in getting a solid handle on her dog's aggression, taking time to watch him and understand his triggers so that she can better manage his behavior. We're still muzzle training him as well, but he is doing quite well overall, as are the other handful of leash reactive dogs I'm working with right now.
Progress takes patience and consistency and a willingness to learn new techniques. I'm grateful to those clients who let me guide them on their journey. As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.