Lead etiquette when out walking

It can be really hard to know what do to with our dogs and their leads when we’re out walking. Of course there are no official rules, but here’s what I’ve learnt from years of walking reactive dogs, great advice from colleagues, and my own training.
Note: you’ll find that many people have very strong opinions about when and whether to have their dogs on leads. Over the years I’ve learnt to trust my instincts, based in knowledge, and not engage in a horrible verbal scrap if things go wrong. It can leave you feeling really unsettled and ruin your day – it’s just not worth it. So have a think about your priorities and approach, and then you can implement them with confidence when you and your dog are out walking.

The basic ‘rule’

If you are approaching dog(s) that are on lead, please call yours back and put them on too. Even if there is one dog on and one dog off, the best thing to do is to leash yours. There is very likely a reason why that dog is on lead, whether that’s because they’re reactive, shy, bouncy or something else. Speaking as someone who has reactive dogs, it can be really stressful when my three are literally straining on their leads, baring their teeth and giving every conceivable canine indication of stress, and yet still strange dogs are allowed to come bouncing up to them ‘wanting to play’. Not only is it horrible and frustrating as an owner, but for those spookier, more reactive dogs it can be profoundly stressful and contribute to longer-term behaviour issues. There have been times when I’ve been close to letting mine off when they’re being crowded by non-leashed dogs, because at least then they have the option to escape if they want to. Also I’m less likely to be bitten in the fray.

I can appreciate this can be hard to judge, as since becoming a dog walker I’m now on both sides of the fence, and walking dogs who just want to play with everyone! Of course as an owner you’re encouraged to let your dogs socialise as much as possible. I think the trick is to read the dog’s and the owner’s body language as they approach. I’m sure when I’m walking mine I visibly tense up (even though I try not to) and will change direction, hide in a hedge etc! It’s fairly easy to see / sense the tension if you get into the habit of looking.

If you really don’t want to put yours on lead as a matter of course, call ahead and ask the owner if they’d like you to put yours on. It seems really simple but most of us don’t do this out of embarrassment, and it can avoid horrible situations for all parties.

Following on from this, as a more general point let’s talk to each other more when out walking! If you detect any discomfort in your dogs, or in the owner of the dogs coming your way, just call out and ask if things are ok, if they’d like you to change direction or step to the side etc. People really appreciate it – I know I certainly do – and again it can save getting into situations which leave everyone feeling angry and upset.

Most obviously – always put your dogs on a lead if you detect any livestock.

And really that’s it! I think the major ‘take home’ is that we all want to have happy walks. I’m sure there are very few of us who head out on a walk looking for an altercation and hoping our dog bites another one! Let’s try and be a bit kinder to each other (and I completely include myself in that). For those of you with calm, friendly dogs, cut us ‘reactive dog people’ a bit of slack. Nine times out of 10 it’s not because we’re terrible owners and we ‘can’t control our dogs’. It’s a really complicated mixture of nature and nurture, with genetics and breed playing a huge part. And likewise, for us ‘reactives’, remember that people with well-socialised, genial dogs have been told how massively important it is for dogs to interact with each other, and some dogs do just LOVE to play. It’s been an eye-opener for me learning to walk these types of dogs as well as frightened, anti-social ones, and helped me to realise that it’s far more difficult than I previously thought.

Happy walking!

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