Dog walking etiquette: the dos and don’ts when out with your dog

June 1, 2021

Did you know that if you see another dog on a lead, you shouldn’t allow your dog to approach, no matter how friendly they are? In 2018, after witnessing and assisting with the aftermath of a dog fight,  veterinary nurse Zoe Blake started a campaign called Respect the Lead to highlight the importance of good dog walking etiquette. She explains more about why greater awareness of this issue is needed.

Why are some dogs kept on a lead?

Dogs can be kept on the lead for a number of reasons. This can include being young, nervous, reactive, recovering from surgery, getting old and losing their sight or hearing; or having a lack of recall training. 

Why might a dog react differently on a lead?

Just like us, dogs need to protect themselves from danger and keep themselves safe. If presented with a potential danger or fearful situation, a natural response from a dog may be to run…like we would if we were being confronted with something. However when a dog is on a lead it takes away their ability to run; so they may then use another one of their fear responses, which is fight. 

If my dog is friendly, surely it should be fine on the lead?

Regardless of a dog’s temperament, they will still feel vulnerable if they are unable to express and show their normal behaviour. For that reason, you shouldn’t assume that your dog is fine about being approached by another dog. Being mindful of the situation and learning to interpret your dog’s body language can be really helpful in these situations. 

My dog is friendly so it should be fine if he is off lead and approaches a dog on a lead…right?

Regardless of your dog’s temperament and how confident you are that they will be fine, it is still not right to allow your dog to approach another dog that’s on a lead. It is always best to ask first; and, if that person is too far away then play it safe and recall your dog back to you and keep them close. If possible, reroute your walk slightly. 

How should you interact with dogs that are on the lead?

When you are walking your dog, it is important that you remain vigilant and are aware of other dogs and owners around you. If you are approaching another dog that is on a lead, be mindful of that dog and owner’s space. Ideally, don’t allow your dog to engage with the other dog unless you have verbal consent from the owner. If the owner has assured you that it is ok, then approach and keep the meeting brief. Just a quick ‘hello’ for a few seconds is enough, and then distract your dog away so as not to worry the dog that is on the lead.

Is it ok for dogs to interact if they are both on a lead?

The same applies for two dogs on a lead. Each dog is conscious of their own space, and you could now have two dogs that are presented with a situation that brings them tension and fear. Again, you should always communicate with the other dog’s owner to ask permission, and remember to keep the meeting brief.

Is it ok if both dogs are meeting off the lead?

It is important that all dogs have an outlet to run around; and expend some energy, and there is nothing more pleasurable than seeing a group of dogs doing zoomies, chasing, pouncing and rolling around. Generally, dogs that do meet off of a lead can communicate effectively amongst themselves and will hopefully not feel threatened. 

However, stop and think first about whether you have good recall.  If you call your dog back, will they come straight away or will it take a few attempts? Good recall is really important for managing interactions and making sure your dog stays safe when out walking. 

Is there anything I can do to help my dog feel safer on a lead?

It’s best to try and avoid stressful situations as much as possible – and keep a watchful eye out when you’re out walking. This can be very hard if you are limited to where you can walk your dog and are likely to be faced with other dogs on your walks. There are special collars and harnesses available to buy to indicate that a dog is nervous. However, they may not be as effective if an owner is too far away to see them and allow the dog to approach. 

One thing you can do is help to raise awareness with other dog owners – spread the word by telling them about the Respect the Lead campaign. Ultimately, we want everyone to stop and think: ‘That dog’s on a lead for a reason, so I’ll take control of my own dog and not risk any problems’. You can find Respect the Lead on Facebook and Instagram

Zoe Blake is a registered veterinary nurse and works in orthopaedic referral; she also runs her own business ‘The Friendly Pet Nurse’ helping local Sussex and Surrey based pet owners. Services include nail clipping, pet-sitting and helping owners medicate and manage their sick pets. Mother of eight year old Jacob and owner of Dylan the dog in addition to 3 cats, 2 guinea pigs and 2 rabbits, Zoe also studies feline behaviour and undertakes consultations to try and help cats and their owners with problem behaviours.