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Dog-intolerant Dogs

What to do if your dog is uncomfortable or reactive around other dogs

Just like people, dogs have different comfort levels when it comes to socializing. While some dogs enjoy interacting with any dog they come across, others are more selective in who they play and interact with. There are also dogs who don’t like being around other dogs at all, and some who are unsafe around other dogs, and that’s okay! They can still live a full, happy, enriched life. However, it is important for you as their guardian to be aware of their preference and manage their environment to prevent accidental dog-to-dog meetings. 

Managing your dog-intolerant dog includes overseeing your dog, being aware of the environment, and remaining observant of other dogs in the area. To determine how much management is needed, it is helpful to have an understanding of your dog’s behavior with or around other dogs. If you are unsure, either seek the help of a professional or err on the side of caution for the safety of both your dog and any others who may be in the area. Some dog-intolerant dogs are comfortable in the same space as others as long as they don’t have to interact with them, while others cannot see or be near another dog without a behavior change (ex. signs of stress or reactivity). 

In-home management

Managing a dog-intolerant dog in your home includes setting your home up so that your dog does not have the opportunity to escape. It’s dangerous for any dog to get loose, but especially so for dogs who don’t get along with others, as they could harm any passing canines.

To manage the home, place barriers (ex. baby gates) as extra reinforcement, blocking access to entrances/exits, reducing the likelihood that your dog will slip out when someone comes in or leaves. Even if door-dashing is not a behavior you normally see in your dog, it is an important preventative measure.  See our resource on Escape Artists for more information on setting up barriers around exits in your home. 

Be aware of open windows. Many dogs will choose to push through a screen in a window and jump out if there is something outside they want to chase. If opening windows in your home, only open them a few inches and ensure they don’t have enough room to squeeze through if they become motivated enough to try. If you want to open a window wider or you don’t have a means of securing it in a given position, block your dog’s access to the room with gates or closed doors while the window is in use.

Do not leave your dog outside unattended. Even if you have a fenced-in yard, it is important to be outside supervising your dog. If your yard is not fenced, have your dog on a leash or longline. Do not let your dog-intolerant dog off-leash outside. Even if they consistently come when called, there may be events where something motivates your dog to run off and not respond to your recall cue. In this situation, you are putting other dogs that may be in the area at risk. A longline (usually a 20- to 50-foot-long lightweight leash) is a great tool to allow your dog space to run around and chase toys but still have them connected to you for safety.

In the world

Your dog can still enjoy walks, hikes, and other off-property adventures, however, it is vital that you remain aware of your surroundings. Many dog guardians have not experienced a dog-intolerant dog and will not provide your dog the space they need without prompting. Be an advocate for your dog and direct others in the area to give you and your dog space. Pay attention while walking and have a plan to move out of the way – ideally across the street – to allow others with dogs to move past while giving your dog the space they need. Bring high-value treats with you on your walks. If you come across another dog and you are moving out of the way, feed your dog yummy treats to make this event a fun activity. Some dogs will react toward other dogs while on leash. This reaction may consist of barking, growling, or lunging. If you experience any level of reactivity on leash, see our resource on Leash Reactivity for more information on how to work with that behavior. 

Remember, even if your dog is comfortable walking by other dogs and people, you cannot guarantee other dog guardians will maintain space. Many individuals walking social dogs will allow their dog to greet while passing dogs without consideration of how the recipient may respond. This is where your observation skills come into play. If you see someone walking near you who is either not paying attention to their dog or is allowing their dog to approach passing dogs, move away or ask the person to keep their dog closer to them while you pass each other. This is not the time to be subtle, as this is for everyone’s safety. Speak loudly and clearly when telling the other person exactly what you would like them to do. If possible, cross to the other side of the street. 

If your dog is not comfortable walking past other dogs, consider taking walks during off hours when sidewalks or pathways will be less crowded. This way, the likelihood of having to pass a high volume of other dogs is lower. In many neighborhoods, 5-6 p.m. is a very busy time, as owners are coming home from work and letting their dogs out for the first time since the morning, so plan to avoid this rush hour. 

In the case of a loose dog approaching yours, always carry animal-repellant citronella spray and extra treats. If a dog is approaching off-leash and their human is unable to call them back, throw a handful of treats at the approaching dog. Many will stop and eat the treats, giving you time to move farther away and the other dog’s human time to reach them. If the oncoming dog does not stop to eat the treats and continues to approach, spray the citronella toward them while moving yourself and your dog away. The sprays designed to deter animals do not harm the oncoming dog, but instead surprise and distract them. This will deter the other dog from approaching and, once again, give the other dog’s human time to get to them and put them on a leash. 

Places to avoid with your dog

Even if your dog is comfortable in close proximity to other dogs and you are a responsible dog guardian, you cannot predict what other people will do or what level of awareness they will have of their dog. If your dog is tentative or reactive around others, it’s best not to take them to the following places, as these can be uncontrollable environments with high dog populations, leading to unsafe situations:

  • Dog Walk Events or Pet-Friendly Festivals | There are many dog walk events and fundraisers being held throughout the year. With the high volume of dogs, it is not a safe space for a dog-intolerant dog. Your dog will inevitably encounter unwanted greetings and unsolicited butt sniffs, making the experience highly stressful and potentially dangerous. There are simply too many people and other dogs to be able to support your pup with the space they need.
  • Dog Parks | If your dog has any level of dog intolerance or dog selectivity, they should not be going to dog parks. This environment is not fun for a dog who has any level of discomfort with other dogs. Repeated, forced exposure will not make them “get used to it” but can instead make matters even worse. Not every dog is a dog-park dog, and that’s ok!
  • Picnics/Cook-outs | When family and friends gather together, the focus is on socializing with other people. Even if your dog is the only one there, your focus is likely not fully on them, and other dogs may wander into the park or yard. A friend or family member may show up with their dog unexpectedly, leading to a surprise encounter. It will be less stressful and safer for both you and your dog if they stay home. 
  • Pet Friendly Stores | Most stores have narrow aisles and lots of blind corners, not to mention how distracted we typically are as we seek out what we came to buy. It’s a hectic situation for even the calmest of dogs, but especially so for dog-reactive ones. You may not expect many other pups to be there, but even a single unanticipated encounter around a corner can be dangerous. Once again, it’s best to leave your dog at home for errands like this.

Remember it is important to follow the level of management your dog needs. Avoid uncontrolled environments and situations that may lead to accidental dog meetings. Do not feel bad about leaving your dog at home when going to crowded, pet-friendly areas. If they are not comfortable interacting with other dogs, that event is likely to increase their stress level and they would prefer to stay home anyway. Always remember, being dog-intolerant doesn’t make your dog bad, nor does it lead to them missing out. These dogs simply find reinforcement in other activities and can live very happy lives without other dog friends. Resist the urge to force your dog into the mold you envisioned for them, and instead have fun discovering what they do enjoy. Their happiness will increase and your bond will grow as the two of you navigate this journey together!