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Saturday, February 8, 2014

To Keep Our Dogs Safe, We Should Work on Our Reflexes and Practice Avoidance.

Last year, I was walking my nervous dog and a couple hundred feet ahead, I heard a ruckus. By the time I figured out what it was, 4 dogs had burst out of a screen door. 
My heart sank and I froze for about 2 seconds.  Even if these dogs were "friendly," if they had run towards us, they would have traumatized my little 30 pound, 13-year-old.

If you live with a nervous dog or a dog who might bite strangers or a dog is afraid of cars, or even if your dog has no issues, it's best to practice for scary times.

In the 2 seconds that I was freezing, I could have:
-done an emergency U turn and turned off onto a side street
- Hid behind a parked car or some bushes
- tossed my dog into a trash can
- Etc..
But instead I wasted precious time by just standing there. 
(sometimes, humans aren't even aware of that extra second or two that they freeze)

Firefighters, law enforcement, military personnel, etc.. don't wait until the real thing to do their jobs. They practice safe simulations over and over. So when the real thing happens, they are able to think on their feet.

We can do the same things to keep our dogs safe.  The faster we can move, the better our dogs can handle charging dogs, intrusive adults, unattended, screaming kids, etc..
Often times, we can get our dogs away before our dogs have a chance to become reactive.  Of course when dealing with charging dogs, reactivity on my dog's part is not a concern for me - getting my dog to safety is.
This is one reason that I like comfortable harnesses for my dogs.  Ideally, I want to cue my dog to turn (I don't' like using a leash as a tool), but when safety is an issue, I might need to yank my dog away.

Humans can practice their reflexes without their dog if they so choose.  Just have a friend or family member jump out from behind a building and practice immediately moving away.

Although I froze that day, I'm normally ready for such incidents.  And I usually don't wait until a door is opened before I move away.  Because I never know what's on the other side of a door, I move away as soon as I hear a knob click or as soon as I hear a garage door about to come up.

If I see a parked car with humans in it, I don't pass by it. I wait from a distance for people to exit (you never know if a dog is going to come bounding out)

I also generally don't turn blind corners.  If I come up to a corner that i can't see around, I usually take a very wide arc or I cross the street. 

But blind corners could also be good practice for humans. If we don't have a helper, we can just pretend that a dog is bounding around the corner and practice how we should react.

BTW, those 4 dogs - they were on retractable leashes (they just looked loose) and they didn't head in our direction and my dog never noticed them.

We can use our reflexes to move away from intrusive humans as well (this is especially important if we have a dog who might bite). If we tend to be too nice to strangers, it can help to practice moving away.  Come up with a phrase ("in training", "no thank you", etc..), then practice that phrase over and over. Then practice saying the phrase then turning around. You can even teach your dog that the phrase means to change directions.  So the next time you are trying to save your dog from intrusive humans, you can say the phrase, then move away. Don't wait around for a response (such as "it's okay, all dogs love" ).  Just say your phrase, then move.

Although we want to move away quickly, it's best not to yank on our dogs because we can cause negative associations. And tight leashes can create aggression or reactivity.  See this playlist for ways we can shorten our leash without tightening our leash

Next: Muzzles

And see more on how to practice avoidance in this group of videos

If you have any questions about avoidance, please ask in the comments section below.
Send general questions to


  1. Oh wow this was a great read. I always worry about other dogs so I walk my girl in a large baseball field and have my eyes focused for any loose dogs that might pop up. I have had this happen once and I saw the dog before she did so I made a quick uturn and put a fence between and started walking the opposite way while checking to make sure the other dog wasn't following. Your right though, how do I protect a 75lb pittbull from an unknown dog that may or may not be aggressive. I know my pitt will be if the other dog just bounces over. ugh. My worse case scenario list just overwhelms me sometimes.

    1. Thank you for posting, @Anya Stella
      Yeah, it hard when you have the big dog. You can get blamed for trouble even when another dog starts it.

      Sounds like you are being very careful
      Great job!