Whilst most dogs (and their owners) love their daily walk, they can sometimes be a source of stress; traffic, animals, people and other dogs (on and off leash).
Despite their inability to talk, dogs can let us know exactly how they’re coping when out and about; we just need to know what we’re looking for.
We need to watch their body language.
Their behaviour. Any changes, both big and small.
The subtle signs from a stressed dog are often missed.
These include lip licking, yawning, turning away or excessive panting or drooling in the absence of strenuous exercise or food. But there are some more tell-tale signals, specific to certain scenarios.
We’ll cover the typical situations you’ll find yourselves in, on a daily walk and what behaviours to look out for!
Approaching Another Dog
In this situation you need to be paying attention to both dogs. Whilst your own dog is your priority, you have no idea what understanding the other owner has of dog behaviour, and what they may miss.
A relaxed dog has a fluid body, they will walk freely.
Their ears will lie in their normal position (whether this is up or down), as will their tail. If they are looking to play, a dog will usually offer the play bow; they drop their front end to the ground and wiggle their back end up in the air!
Think typical puppy play stance! Dogs will instinctively approach side on and smell the back end of the other dog.
Approaching directly, eyes facing, often results in a negative interaction as it’s perceived as confrontational.
Watch for stiff body movements, a raised and tense tail (perhaps even slowly wagging), watch for hair standing on end along the neck and a back. A stressed dog will have a wide gaze – suddenly their eyes seem black (due to the dilated pupils). If your dog, or the other dog tenses up, simply walk away from each other. Don’t call their name, as they will often ignore recall during moments of high stress.
This goes without saying if you notice growling, snarling or lunging.
Approaching Other Animals
Your dog will likely show interest in other animals.
But you run a huge risk if the other animal is small and furry and your pooch was bred to chase or hunt small furries!
Whilst the small furry is likely able to get away, your dog could end up in places he really shouldn’t be – like in the way of oncoming traffic!
If your dog is wary of larger animals and become scared, they could be a risk of upsetting the livestock with their barking or lunging.
Again, watch for a change in posture. If your dog is simply walking tentatively past other animals, just monitor and continue walking.
If your dog becomes scared (raised hackles, barking), you will likely need to work on some strategies to help your dog settle around these animals.
Start from a distance and help them associate the animals with good experiences (calm, reward-filled etc). If your dog tends to chase – keep them on leash whenever you are expecting to be near small-furries.
Whilst walking along the road, your dog will have to deal with a lot.
It also becomes unpredictable. Sometimes there are big trucks, sometimes there are fast little bikes.
Your dog will let you know if they are unsure. They may start to walk slower or try to turn away. Their ears may lay flat or back.
They may start panting or drooling. Their tail may go between their legs. Equally, they may become aggressive, lunging at cars or trucks and barking.
In this case, as an owner, it’s important to go back to basics and re-socialise out on the roadside. Start from a distance and make the experience reward-filled, so they learn it’s nothing to fear.
A general understanding of dog body language will give you the best opportunity to keep your dog safe and happy, but there are things to look out for in certain scenarios.
If you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour at any time, it’s vital to seek the advice of a qualified professional.