In an earlier newsletter issue on hiking (Summer 2021), I offered tips on how to deal with encounters on hiking trails, bearing in mind that with a new dog, the dog is always leashed and interaction with unfamiliar people and dogs is restricted. Recognizing that there are times when such trail encounters will be difficult to avoid, the earlier newsletter detailed three strategies:
- Avoiding encounters entirely by going the other way, taking wide berths etc.
- Stepping aside to allow people and dogs to pass, while keeping our dog focused on us with food and/or verbally.
- Walking through in close quarters, only if we feel the situation calls for it and our dog can handle the direct contact.
To these I add a fourth strategy: Politely asking for space to walk on through. You have my complete permission to ask for what you need, in pursuit of your dog’s best interest.
Here’s the thing though, we do not need to justify ourselves nor invite unnecessary conversation by explaining why we need some space. We do not need to answer questions or comments about whether our dog is “friendly.” I know it can be difficult to speak up sometimes, but we have every right to ask for space from people and their dogs. In fact, when handling dogs of any kind, with or without behavior issues, asking for room to move safely is the responsible thing to do.
Conditions that require requesting space include:
- There are people lingering on the trail.
- It’s not possible to go back around.
- It’s not workable to go another way.
- We have a dog who isn’t quite ready to walk near a crowd.
In addition to evaluating your dog and situation, consider the people in front of you. Do they look like they can handle a polite request? Remember to review all contingencies before embarking on a hike with a new dog and/or a dog with reactivity issues you’re working on. Calculate the likelihood of it being a positive experience overall. Factor in:
- The weather
- The trail
- The people and dogs who frequent that trail
- The time of year
- Your dog
- Your bond at this juncture
Ask yourself whether avoiding the situation entirely might be the better choice at that point in time. Considering the many healing properties of hiking with our dogs, analyzing contingencies ahead of time is well worth it.
Note: Stay tuned for Managing Trail Encounters – Part 3 in an upcoming newsletter, on dealing with loose dogs on hiking trails.