Learning to “Speak Dog” Part 2: Space, The Forgotten Frontier

Posted on: Tuesday, June 5, 2012

from the Photo Lab

Guest Blogging by Jessica Dolce

Space. Some us us like a lot of it and some of us prefer closeness… whether we are old friends or just met. Either way, it is a personal preference; one that should be respected. Believe it or not, it is the same in the world of dogs, except in their world space is a HUGE deal. Expercts believe in fact that all aggression-relted issues in dogs tend to be about space: taking it, protecting it, you name it.

A key to understanding canine behavior involves understanding a dog’s needs; and since space is such a huge part of it, I could not have been more excited to have Jessica Dolce, dog lover, dog walker, blogger and the person behind the hugely popular DINOS: Dogs In Need Of Space guest blog for us today! Please make sure and visit the Team DINOS Facebook page and check out the Team DINOS shop, filled with great products (designed in collaboration with Jessica by our very own Design Lab Creative Studio!) to help support people living with DINOS dogs and spread a positive message to the community.

I’ve been dog walking for almost ten years. I’ve also worked and volunteered in animal shelters and in just about every pet related business on the planet. I hang with dogs full time and they’ve been kind enough to teach me what they need to feel safe and happy in our world.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from dogs is a simple one that we humans have a hard time understanding: dogs have personal boundaries. Just like people, sometimes dogs needs space.

They need space for a lot of different reasons. Some of the dogs I walk need space from other dogs because they just had surgery and are in pain. Or they’re reactive and are learning how to stay calm around dogs in public. Many of them are adolescents with no manners who need space in order to learn polite greetings. And some are fine with dogs, but terrified of strange people. A bunch are just old and don’t want to be bothered. Fair enough, right? But day after day, as I walk my pals, I encounter a real problem for us: many well meaning people have no control over their dogs (or themselves). People allow their dogs to drag them across the street, forcing nose-to-nose greetings with strange dogs. Or they ignore leash laws and let their dogs run loose in designated on-leash areas.

When I encounter these scenarios I feel like I’m robbed of my ability to do what’s best for the dogs I’m walking. The dogs are telling me what they need – space – but I can’t always get it for them, because people aren’t respecting our boundaries. I can keep my dogs on leash and train them until the cows came home, but no matter how solid their sit-stay and ‘leave it’ is, our successes are ruined by setbacks caused by unwanted, uninvited encounters with dogs that are not under their owner’s control.

I’m not sure why, but it seems that somewhere along the way humans have started to think that a “normal” dog is one that can and should meet all dogs, at all times, and like it. So we mistakenly let their dogs run up to every strange dog they see, assuming that all dogs want and need to meet. And this leads to two problems: there are lots of unwanted, sometimes unsafe, encounters between dogs. And there are lots of people who think their dog is bad because they fail in these set ups.

From my work in shelters I know that many people think their dog is “bad” because they don’t like other dogs or because they are reactive. That really stresses people out –thinking they have a bad dog – and sometimes they think this means they’re bad owners. When people are unhappy with their dogs, they don’t always keep them. So I think it’s important for people to know that being able to interact with all dogs, at all times, is not a requirement for being a “good” dog.

I know the dogs I walk and work with at the shelter. They are good dogs, even if they don’t want strange dogs or humans up in their faces. They just need a little space when they’re out in public. That’s all. They’re DINOS. Dogs in Need of Space.

Giving dogs space allows more dogs to be successful out in the world. Here’s a few reasons why:
Many, many dogs need slow introductions to strange dogs. Most dogs dislike nose-to-nose greetings. It’s not natural for them.
Leashed dogs are typically not comfortable meeting an off leash dog. It’s an out of whack dynamic. One dog is restrained, the other loose and moving freely.
And some dogs are comfortable meeting dogs any which way, but are working and need space, like service dogs. Service dogs need space to do their jobs properly.
There are even some dogs with illnesses, like epilepsy, that make it dangerous for them to interact with strange dogs.

You don’t need to be an expert on dog communication or body language to understand this concept. If your back hurts, would you want a stranger running up to you on the street and jumping on you? Would you stay calm if an excited stranger chased you down the block? If you were busy working at your desk, would you want someone poking you in the butt? Of course not. Well, dogs don’t like it either. And that’s ok.

We all have a responsibility to properly manage our dogs and obey leash laws. If we do that, and act respectfully toward one another, there’s enough room for all of us – DINOS included – to enjoy public spaces together.

Here’s what we can do to help DINOS and please remember to have compassion. One day your dog might become a DINOS due to illness, injury, old age, or a bad experience with another dog. At one time or another in their lives, almost every dog is a DINOS.

-Please have your dogs under your control at all times. If there are leash laws, please obey them. Even if your dog is friendly.
-Ask permission before you allow yourself or your dogs to approach an unfamiliar dog.
-Wait for an answer.
-If it’s no, please don’t be offended or speak harsh words. You never know what another person and their dogs are going through.
-Allow them enough space to pass safely.

Be polite, be responsible, be compassionate.

I think we can do this as a community of dog-lovers. We can help create safe public spaces for everyone to enjoy. The dogs really need us to do this for them. A few seconds of polite communication between humans can save them a ton of stress.

Dogs do so much for us. We owe them one.

Jessica Dolce

Jessica Dolce is an animal welfare advocate. She’s spent the past ten years walking dogs and working with shelter dogs in Philadelphia and Maine. Jessica blogs at notesfromadogwalker.com and can be found cheering people on over at the DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space Facebook page.

I am a DINOS: a Dog in Need of Space. I need space from other dogs, even if they are friendly. I need space because I am a working dog. I am recovering from surgery. I am a senior citizen. I am scared. I am contagious. I am uncomfortable around other dogs. I am an epileptic. I am a service dog. I am afraid of people, even if other dogs love them. I am learning leash manners. I am blind. I am in training to become a Guide Dog. I am reactive. I am a dog. I need space. Please respect my personal boundaries. Obey leash laws. Ask permission before approaching. Have your dogs under your control at all times. I am a DINOS. I am a good dog.

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