When walking Jonas, my male shepherd mix, we sometimes
meet people who want to pet him. Sometimes he is OK with
a stranger petting him, but sometimes he growls.
Yesterday he snapped at a very nice man. How do I fix
Is there really anything that needs to be fixed, Ken? It
seems Jonas is working hard to tolerate the direct
contact of strangers, but doesn’t really enjoy it.
Growling is simply his way of communicating his unease.
When this information is ignored, Jonas feels he isn’t
being "heard," so has to amplify the message,
which is the snap.
dogs dislike the direct interaction with strangers due
to breed tendencies, poor social skills, fearfulness or
shyness, previous rude encounters, etc. This doesn’t
mean they are aggressive or bad dogs. We seem to have
collectively forgotten that dogs are not small, furry
people, and that they have different wants and needs.
But we ignore those needs and force our dogs to accept
the sometimes inappropriate or rude advances of others,
with no escape option (on leash), and corrections if
they dare to do anything other than submit. Even the
most kind and gentle approach can be a stressful event
for the dog that doesn’t wish to interact with
already have all of the information you need — Jonas
has done a good job of "telling" you in the
only way he is able. Therefore, your job is to be his
advocate. I suspect that what he appreciates most about
his walk is enjoying the environment and, of course,
spending time with you. So continue to provide this
without subjecting him to the direct approaches of
strangers. This will take some practice for you, but
here are some options: When someone asks to pet your
dog, say something like, "No thank you," or
"He really doesn’t like to meet with
strangers," or "He’s in training," or
every dog trainer’s favorite, "No, he’s
contagious." As you are replying, take a few steps
backward, away from the approaching stranger. You might
even give Jonas a treat or two during this time, to keep
him focused on you, and to reward him for tolerating the
presence of the stranger while you are working on
getting space between you. Once the stranger gets the
message and backs off, you can continue forward. If it’s
a persistent stranger, change course and keep moving in
the opposite direction. This is how we parent our dogs
— with consideration of their needs, wants, likes and
Which is better, walking my dog Sophie on a regular
leash, or on a retractable one?
Depends on the situation, Sonja. If I want to give my
dog some extra distance, to explore while hiking or in a
wide open space like the park, then a retractable leash
is super, as it gives my dog additional freedom while
still having her safely attached to me. If I’m walking
in an environment crowded with people, other dogs or
obstacles, I switch to a shorter lead and have my dog
walk at my side.
retractable leash can be a great way to give Sophie some
additional exercise, as it allows her to explore and
move at her own pace, but it can also be dangerous if
not used properly. First, never ever grab the line with
your hands, as it is made of nylon and can injure you
with just a bit of friction. Instead, apply the brake
when needed to stop your dog from moving forward.
Second, retract all of the length of leash before
allowing your dog to interact — if she wishes — with
other dogs or people, to prevent tangling of the line
around legs, which can result in injury.
of my favorite ways to exercise a young or exuberant dog
is to use a retractable leash, and then increase the
amount of distance they cover, while decreasing my own.
For example, I can walk very little while my dog
explores at a distance. Then I call her back to me,
treat and reward her, and then give her a cue to begin
exploring again. Back and forth we go, she essentially
running laps, and lazy me not moving a whole lot at all.
Plus, I’m getting some good training repetitions in of
the very valuable recall. Sometimes I’ll even hide
from my dog while she is at a distance. When she
realizes she’s lost sight of me, she’ll come looking
for me, and there is a big, happy bit of play that
occurs when she finds me! So go ahead and use that
retractable leash, Sonja, and practice using the brake
and reeling in all of the line on occasion, so you can
keep you, Sophie and others around you safe and