At the end of the day, it is all about respecting each other!

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Because my post about life with an aggressive dog has gone viral, for which I am really grateful and proud, I would like to talk about aggression one more time. But this time it will be a more practical point of view.

People with reactive, fearful, aggressive dogs live among us. You can even be my and Gunia’s neighbor. It is my responsibility and obligation to keep everyone safe and this is what I do. This is not to be discussed. But I meet many people a during walk in the forest, or on the street who have no idea how to act when in the company of such a dog. In this post I want to outline just few basic tips and helpful (for both sides) ideas how to make our coexistence mutually enjoyable. These are the most common issues I encounter with my dog.



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1. Listen to me. I am a person who spends almost 24 hours a day with my dog. I know him best. You can be the best and most famous dog trainer in the world, read all the books on this topic but you will never know my dog better than I do. So if I ask you to keep a distance, respect it. It is not a whim, I am not being mean or malicious. Sometimes what works for most dogs will not work for this particular one. If I ask you not to bend down and stay aside, I do it for a reason. I know what books say, I know most of dogs prefer if you turn you sight away or bend over when you greet them but it does not mean mine, too. It is not a critique of your abilities or knowledge, I just ask you to respect my decision. Remember it is my dog. I am responsible for him and I know what is best for him.

2. Do not take things personally and do not judge a book by its cover. If my dog barks at you, growls at you or behaves in any unpleasant manner. Do not blame me or my dog. Do not take this behavior personally. It may happen that you will walk pass by us and my dog starts barking at you. Do not be surprised, I do not calm him down or “correct” him or turn away his attention. You may also hear that I praise him and reward him. Not for barking at you but for this tiny moment when he shakes it off or looks at me. Believe me, I wish my dog liked other people and dogs but he does not. I try my best to work with him, but he has the right to be afraid of something or someone. Do not judge me or my dog just after the blink of an eye. You do not know our story, our path, you have no idea what my dog has been through. There are no bad dogs. My dog displays aggressive behavior because he is afraid or he is in a bad mood. Breed and look has nothing to do with it. A Chihuahua can be as aggressive as a Great Dane. Do not classify dogs on good and bad breeds just after one encounter. By the way, are you always in a good mood? Do you like all the people or dogs in the world? Are you always nice to others? No… It is the same with dogs. And it is absolutely normal for both of you.

3. Do not be a bully. Do not comment. “Killer”, “What a stupid girl, who has a dog like this”, “Such dogs should not be allowed in public places”
These are quotes from a real life, I heard repeatedly while walking my dogs. It is no
t nice to hear. It is not helpful and it does not change anything. Mostly I hear these when I am with Gunia. She is unlucky to resemble a breed, which has been doomed by painful stereotypes. Mostly these comments are made when she is being really nice or I say something to her. I do not feel bad because I work with my dog. The fact that I give her treats, praise her to the sky because she chose me over a temptation, means how much I love her and how great a relationship we have. Often I encounter people who comment on barking. It is a dog. Dogs bark, dogs bark the same as people talk. This is the way they communicate, it is perfectly normal.

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4. Do not try to make contact at all costs. If I ask you to go away by all means do not try to make friends. I understand you may like my dog or me ;) but if I ask you not to look at him, not to whistle, not to wave at him, just do not do it. Do not treat me like I am being mean or evil . If you do not listen to me, do not be surprised I am being firm and assertive. I work with my dog and you with your behavior are ruining my work.

5. Do not follow me. If I run away, change direction, when seeing you, it means I do not want to meet you. Even if you just want to ask what time is it, or how to get to the city. If you see my reaction do not try to catch me. Recently I was walking my dogs on a huge, empty field. I saw people on a horizon so I took my dogs on a leash and slowly started to move in a different direction. But the people decided to follow me. They could go any another way. They saw I did not want to have contact with them , but they tried to catch up to me. Just to ask about directions. Put yourself in my shoes, I do things for a reason. You may think it is stupid or illogical but please respect it. If you see me putting a leash on my dog, when I see you and move away from the path it is a clear signal I do not want your company.

6. Leash your dog. It is very important and it relates to all dog to dog interactions. Not only with aggressive ones. It does not matter if your dog is friendly, mine is not. By the way, how am I supposed to know yours is friendly. I have mine on a leash. I have put a huge amount of work and time into making him feel safe on that leash. It is his safe zone. It does not matter if the approaching dog is friendly or not. Please respect it. If you have a problem with calling your dog back, just do not let him loose. If something happens and your dog runs to mine, just come and take him, react :). I understand accidents happen, but if you start to blame me for having an aggressive dog when it was yours who came to us, do not be surprised if I do not agree and make a comment :) I understand that your dog is social and you want him to have as many interactions with other dogs as possible but put yourself in my shoes.

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7. Keep a distance. There may be a situation when I will not notice you. You could be behind me. If you see me walking with a dog, please go around us. Keep a distance even if a dog has a muzzle on him. It is really helpful and will help my dog to feel comfortable. It is enough to loop around me.
If I was the one who saw you first, I would do it myself. It is very important. Do not walk close to a passing, strange dog. They may get scared. Respect each other, our space and just be kind.


8. Do not act nervously. Do not shout, scream, make any gestures, open umbrella, kick a ball or get on your knees (yes it happened to me). Dogs see the world a little bit different than we do. If I see an umbrella in your hands I know you may open it. My dog does not. If he is fearful and reactive he may panic if you open it while passing us. It is enough if you walk 2 steps further

9. Smile! I like when people smile, my dog also likes it. Positive energy is helpful and great! If you smile I will see that you are not mad at me because my dog has issues.

10. When you have to – react! If you see someone harming their dog. You have the right to act. No one has the right to beat an animal. No interfering in training methods is a one thing but acquiescence to abuse is a totally different thing. If you see someone abusing a dog react!
It seems to me that many dog-human communication problems could be avoided if we were better educated in this field. At school we learn about amoebas, but we get no information how to communicate with dogs, who are all around us. It is crucial to teach our kids how to behave when in the company of animals. But at the end of the day, it is all about respecting each other.

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  • Ann Vanderlaan

    10 dewclaws up from The Thundertail Tribe.