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Putting the fun back into dog walking

by Heike Hahner

Recently, a number of people both locally and in Canberra have been getting in touch with me about experiencing difficulties with dogs being off-lead near school zones and harassing their on-lead dogs. A pleasant walk to the school with the kids and the dog can become a stressful and frustrating event for all.

Walking your dog is an important, healthy activity both for you and your dog. But walking is also an important social event for dogs and should be as controlled, pleasant and friendly as possible to avoid aggression between dogs and, of course, their owners.

Roaming encounters

Roaming (walking) is an important daily social event for dogs. It combines several crucial aspects such as patrolling their territory, meeting old acquaintances, maintaining relationships, leaving and finding interesting scent messages and of course, food gathering from neighbours’ rubbish bins. Dogs prefer to roam in pairs or small groups. So an important social aspect of roaming is the bonding with other dogs and the defending of territory. In suburbia or town this social aspect may lead to dogs being less-than-friendly to other dogs, because they see them as a threat to their territory or their bonding partner (which may be the owner or another dog). Forceful, pushy or aggressive encounters may leave some dogs and dog owners fearful of further dog encounters.

For example, when you are walking your dog on the common and another dog and owner arrive, for your dog this means that two unrelated dog packs are meeting. There is a good chance that your dog thinks that it owns the common, because he was there first. Some dogs in this scenario ignore newcomers, some are friendly and welcoming, and some try to aggressively assert themselves.

Tips for safe, happy encounters

It is your responsibility as pack leader and dog owner to set the tone of the encounter. If you growl, yell and shout at your dog (or the other dog) the dog might see meeting with another dog as a serious threat to you and themselves, and may experience all further meetings with other dogs as a source of stress and aggression. If you do not engage at all and let your dog sort it out, you are basically relinquishing pack leadership and control to your dog, which is ultimately unfair on your dog and certainly unfair on other dog owners.

Not all dogs like all other dogs. Make sure you know which dogs your dog does not like and keep him under control near those dogs. Teach your dog to ‘come’ instantly when called. This can be done quickly and easily with most dogs using a bit of food.
Keep your dog on-lead if it is not reliable in coming back to you. Flexi-leashes are a great way to exercise your dog while still having him under control. BE FRIENDLY AT ALL TIMES. Many dog breeds are known to mirror their owners, so set a good example for your dog; chat to the dog and the owner in a friendly voice. Keep meetings brief and ensure the dogs actually like each other. Young dogs up to three-years old will play rough and will annoy or scare older or smaller dogs. Female dogs often are less inclined to be playful past the age of three than males, and will snap to get rid of unwanted attention. Be respectful of their wishes and call your dog off.
Dogs, like humans, play less and less as they age, especially with strange dogs. Respect that dogs and their owners have a right to say ‘no’ to a play invitation.

Don’t be off-lead in an on-lead area

Finally, make sure you are in an off-leash area if you let your dog off the lead. Put simply by one of the rangers from Domestic Animal Services in Canberra: if your dog is off-lead in an on-lead area you are breaking the law and may be up for a fine. This is no different in Bungendore or any other locality.

To find out more about your rights and responsibilities as a dog owner, contact your local council.

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