Don’t Assume My Dog is Friendly!

It happened again. I was walking along a park trail with Bodhi, enjoying the 6 a.m. calm. That the park is largely empty at that hour is something I really enjoy. But suddenly, a man walking 3 dogs appeared, headed toward us on the path. As there was plenty of room to move over, that’s exactly what we did in hopes of avoiding them.

Upon spying us, the two cocker spaniels continued to prance along with their cockers-don’t-care attitudes, while the Lab mix acted as though Bodhi was a long lost relative who owed him money. In his over-the-top enthusiasm, the dog pulled free of the man’s grip. Flexi leash banging along behind him, he began to run toward us. Now, Bodhi is not an aggressive dog, but when I adopted him from the shelter five years ago, he was very dog reactive. I worked long and hard to teach him alternatives to lunging and barking at other dogs, and he does very well now. He’s still insecure around other dogs (which is what the behavior was really about), but now when he sees them he voluntarily places himself by my side and looks at me for further instructions. Great, right? Sure. Until despite our best efforts, another dog rushes up to Bodhi or otherwise invades his space. Then, depending on how worried he is, all bets are off and violence could ensue.

As the Lab headed toward us I called to the man, “Please grab your dog!”
“Oh,” he replied, “Don’t worry. He’s friendly!”
“Mine might not be!” I called back.
The man looked surprised, and finally managed to get the dog back on leash.

Unfortunately, this is far from a rare occurrence. I wonder, if I were walking a 200-pound black mastiff with glowing yellow eyes, how many dogs would end up wafting our way on clouds of intended friendliness. I remember when Mojo, my soul dog who passed in 2008, was alive. Walking my very tall, handsome 120-pound, mostly-black, German shepherd-Rottweiler-Malamute-wolf mix down the street, people would often cross to get out of our path, even though Mojo was not at all aggressive towards people. I do not, however, remember dogs flying toward us and people telling us not to worry.

In this particular case, the dog pulled the leash out of the man’s hand. Mistakes happen. But more frequently, it’s a case of someone walking a dog off leash and ignorantly assuming everything will be fine. And to clarify, I’m talking here about areas where dogs are meant by law to be leashed. It’s irresponsible to put your dog in the way of potential harm by assuming that other dogs are friendly, even if they look as though they are. You wouldn’t let your child run up to every stranger you pass. Why would you possibly let your dog do the same? Do everyone a favor and don’t assume my dog—or any other dog you pass—is friendly. It’s the truly friendly thing to do.
You can Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs and blog at and find Nicole on Facebook and Twitter. Nicole also runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in Santa Clarita, CA.


39 Responses to Don’t Assume My Dog is Friendly!

  1. k.a. haynes says:

    I have a long term foster dog that came to me because she was going to be euthanized. She was found in the local town square with her head split wide open – we did not know if it was a machete, car accident or what. But we managed to get her to the vet who fixed her. By this time she was so fearful she would show anger at anyone and any other dog. She was not biting but what I call fear nipping at the backs of legs. However she was very aggressive towards other dogs and in several fights.

    She responded well to me so I ‘adopted’ her and have had her with me over a year. With lots of training of my own and with a trainer, socialization and careful introductions, she has made enormous progress.

    However… and a big HOWEVER, she will react to other dogs when we are on walks or in places new to her. She is always on a leash and I can control her if she starts to lunge at another dog. But if the other dog is not on a leash they tend to react to her with more violence.

    I wish everyone else would understand that it is a safety issue for their dog and mine to use a leash in public places. I would not ever take her to an open dog park because I know she will not handle it well. So if your dog is good with other dogs, by all means do that. But in public areas where there are other dog walkers, please keep the leashes on. My girl is trying hard to be a good citizen and she is most of the time but some of the damage caused her to be fearful and reactive when she feels unsafe.

    I don’t know if she will ever be able to be completely free of her fears – she is 2 years old now. But we are working towards that end. In the meantime we are very careful to control her environment.

    • wildewmn says:

      What a tragic start your girl had. And how wonderful that she ended up in a home where love and patience has helped her so much to feel more comfortable in the world. It’s unfortunate that others can’t see how much work goes into that “friendlY” look so many of our dogs have, and that they set us all back so much through their negligence.

  2. Cyndi says:

    I understand. I had an English Setter bitch who did not like stranger dogs. I used to tell people with dogs that she would not start a fight but she WOULD END IT. That usually did the trick.

    • k.a. haynes says:

      Unfortunately Paloma (at this point) would start and end it! She is a Mexican street dog that has doberman markings. Very sweet girl to me and anyone else she now knows. She has learned to sit when another dog approaches and even does it when I don’t say anything. At dog school she will do a sit/lay/stay for long periods with all the other dogs moving around her. I am very proud of her. But…. it is the other dogs that run over to her on the street that she reacts to; and some men.

  3. sschiavoni says:

    Sadly I’ve given up walking my 170 pound saint bernard for this very reason. Henry is reactive to new people and new dogs. He goes to doggie day care three days a week (where he is a model citizen), but I don’t trust the dopes around my neighborhood. When I do tell strangers that he is unfriendly they look at me as if I’m a criminal. Ugh.

  4. Al Magaw says:

    we do behavior therapy for dogs with a wide variety of problem behaviors – when the time comes in our program, to take a much improved, but still possibly dangerous under some circumstances, dog out into public, we muzzle the dog for it’s own protection and for the safety of other dogs – when people see a rottie wearing a “Silence of the Lambs” muzzle, it’s amazing how few people don’t have control of their dogs – lol – it also makes an ideal situation where it’s easy to control how dogs meet each other

  5. hbender26 says:

    Respectfully, I have to disagree with your closing. If the park in which you are walking mandates a leash, then yes, a person letting their dogs run up on you and your dog is in the wrong; potentially ignorant as you say. But if I am in an off-leash area, and here in Northern California there are many, the onus falls on the owner of the unfriendly dog. My dogs are running around and saying hello to people and other dogs. Thats what off-leash is all about. If your dog isnt friendly with other dogs, then perhaps finding a different place to walk is more appropriate than saying someone is ignorant because they let their fogs freely greet others.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks for your comment. I assumed it was clear I was talking about areas where dogs are supposed to be leashed but perhaps it wasn’t. In this case, there are signs posted all around the park to that effect. And actually, it’s a regular public park that does have a small enclosed dog park in one corner but we’re talking about the public areas here. If I were taking a dog to an off-leash area I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for having a dog off leash! 😉

    • Jenny H says:

      Nup! Even off-leash parks do NOT mean that every dog has a right to rush up to other dogs ;-(
      Off leash parks are places where dogs can run around at their own pace instead of being tethered to a human being.
      If you are talking of those horrible places I see on the Internet that look like over-crowded children’s playgrounds, then you would not be ‘taking a walk’; in them. (A
      nd I personally would never go into one.)
      I have one mad dog who believes that every other dog is friendly — so I walk her on a long lead. My other dogs do NOT want other dogs in their faces are they walk off-lead where permitted.

    • Siberians 2001 says:

      I am sorry, but you are wrong. If you are talking about a designated dog park, yes, you agree by entering that every dog can approach your dog. Many don’t go to dog parks (= dog play grounds) for all the risks they involve. If you are talking about a park, where dogs are allowed off leash, you are absolutely wrong. Off leash doesn’t mean they have the right to just run up to anyone, human or other dog. It means they are allowed to run without a leash. The owner still has the duty to have control (verbal) over their dogs and the duty to not get into other humans’ or dogs’ space or face. It’s a matter of courtesy and respect.

  6. Barbara says:

    This has happened to us so often. I have a great Pyr, and everyone assumes she is as sweet and cuddly as she looks. She is to people. But she has no use for other dogs, unless they are male and properly introduced. She could kill most dogs we meet, if she wanted to. People are so careless. Fortunately she simply wants to be left alone.

  7. derrycats says:

    As someone who walks dogs for a living, including my own, I have encountered these loose dogs and clueless people many too many times. Makes me crazy some days.

  8. Beth says:

    I have two cavalier spaniels they are forever accosted by larger dogs who’s owners assure me are friendly. They have been stepped on , knocked over, and dragged after their leashes get tangled around the ” friendly ” dog. This never happed when I walked my dobe/ Dane cross😳 I marvel at the lack of dog etiquette out there!

  9. Jenny H says:

    We would be absolutely appalled if when we are out in public (doing the grocery shopping? walking our dog?) in other people rushed up to us and touched us, insisted on playing with us, demanding our attention. So why should anyone assume that just because a dog is off-leash that it is acceptable for another dog to rush up to them?
    Not rushing up to strangers is polite social manners for both humans and dogs (as well I believe in every other animal — rushing up is considered aggressive).

  10. petal'smum says:

    I’m in the Newcastle area of NSW Australia, and we have very few ‘leash off’ areas here. I am fortunate that I am on acreage or my girl would never get out of the house yard as there are many neighbourhood dogs out in the street, or being walked ‘off leash’. My girl is an Australian cattle dog, bred to bite (resistant cattle) on a Northern Territory cattle station, and was to be shot because she was too ‘savage’ at 8 months of age. She is now 7 years old and is actually extremely protective, not savage, and as a single woman who regularly travels in the outback alone, I have appreciated that characteristic on several occasions. She will bite if another human or dog approaches me, and I carry a muzzle for times when we need to be with others. With vigilance I can stop her from biting or fighting, provided the other person/dog doesn’t try to touch her or me, but our attempts to walk up the street with uncontrolled dogs have been so stressful for both of us that we simply don’t do it. I empathise with your frustrations towards those who don’t control their dogs.

  11. Mary says:

    I’m really running out of patience with people like this, they seem to have an attitude that if your dog doesn’t like to “say hi” you should keep them home. It’s really frustrating and emotionally painful to have to defend your dog to these people. If you’re in a leashed dog area obey the rules. If they put in half the time training their dog that I have trying to build trust with my insecure dog there wouldn’t be a problem, their dog wouldn’t be out of control. Sorry for venting, but if even one clueless owner gets the hint it was worth it.

  12. Linda says:

    I have two dobes that are great with people but reactive to other dogs. We often walk on the beach and there is a leash law which few people obey. Over Easter, while walking my dogs, several yards away a dog was running free looking like he was having the time of his life. Seeing this, I chose to get my dogs to the side and wait for the dog to pass. Unfortunately that was not the right choice. The dog came right towards us, hair raised, tail up. He went for one of my dogs and they protected each other. I would not put a muzzle on my dogs and leave them defenseless if attacked. The owner was too far away to even notice. I don’t care how “friendly” your dog is, unless you are in a dog park, they should be on leash.

  13. Luv my dawgs says:

    Don’t get me started on this subject! You should send this to all the major newspapers to post.

    Thee old “my dog is friendly” excuse. Then when you try to avoid their unleashed dog/s, the owner looks at you like you have the plague or worse. Why should you have to apologize?

    Dr. Phil McGraw calls these types “Baiters”. This is where the offender turns things around and all of a sudden it’s your fault when a fight breaks out. I get so tired of this scenario. Leash laws keep everyone involved safe. No bad dogs, just bad dog owners!

    • Jenny H says:

      When Mad Millie rushes up to other dogs I ALWAYS profusely apologise. I would never blame the the other dog or its owner if Millie DID get hurt. It is the Beagle that makes her love other dogs, and the Cocker that makes her silly 😦
      I don’t know whether or not I find her harder to manage in public that my other dogs who have been “aggressive”‘ (aka don’t like other dog in their faces). 😦 (German Shepherds, Cattle Dogs and one Kelpie)
      I have had a few dogs who behaved impeccably in public – tolerant of being approached, but never went up to another dog or person without being invited 😦 (Kelpie, Lab/Kelpie Cross, Heinz Variety.)

  14. Storulven says:

    Thank you sooooo much for sharing this!
    I have the same happening almost daily with flex-leashes-people and their dogs getting too close to one of my two huskies for her liking. Sometimes even dogs running lose. I don´t know how often I have to hear “he´s friendly”, “he does not do anything” only to have to yell back “well, she ain´t”.

    What to do?

  15. Nancy says:

    My job is to protect my dog and therefore, I do not let him greet other dogs on leashes, no matter how friendly the owner says they are. I’ve had dogs who were deemed friendly, lunge at my dog’s face while they were on leashes, so now I’m a dog snob and stay away from all dogs on leashes.

  16. Rugby James says:

    Excellent post!! My dog is dog and people reactive as well, and there are very few places that I feel safe to walk him because of what you describe!! I am afraid to muzzle my dog for fear of leaving him defenseless in the event that an off leash aggressive dog should charge and attack. I’ve trained and trained and trained to teach him to be calm, using positive re-inforcement/counter-conditioning methods, but he just can’t connect the dots and has made very little progress forward. As a result, we do most of our exercise at home and keep his world small.

    • mnbd says:

      I’ve had a rescued Dog Fighting ‘bait dog’ for years. I know many of her triggers but cannot know them all. Therefore, she has the house, fenced yard and the car as her territory. I do not want to put her in a position where my carelessness endangers her life.

  17. Kristin says:

    Yes! This hits it on the head! I have had this happen soooo many times it boggles the mind! I have a dog that is both human and dog reactive, and I have had people tell me their dogs are friendly as they’re charging toward us at breakneck speed and my dog is doing everything he can to stay calmly by my side and let me handle it. If the other dog clobbers us, it’s never good for that dog, or for us. And I’ve had people get mad at me for not letting them or their kids pet him. Sometime so have to tell them he could bite them to get them to back off, and often they’re still upset. I think they don’t believe me because he’s sitting quietly and looks to them to be calm, but really he’s only calm because they’re an acceptable distance. Step inside that zone and it’s a whole different story. I was walking our dogs this morning and had to turn around because someone had their dogs off leash, and I just didn’t have it in me to deal with it. So thank you! I wish people would get this through their skulls. thanks for helping to make the point!!!

  18. RosanaHart says:

    I knew I would enjoy your post when I saw the title. You nailed what I go through all the time. Our 9 year old Rottweiler loves everyone but our 7 year old Sheltie-Papillion rescue is terrified of other dogs. The only difference between what you wrote and what I do is that when people assure me that their dog is friendly, I snarl “Mine are NOT!”

  19. MandJ34 says:

    This happens to me all the time. It really doesn’t matter what breed you have, I have an Am Staff and a Staffy Bull, and people still let their dogs run up to them. I have also been told that saying your dog is not friendly is not a good idea because you are admitting that you know your dog is not friendly. Not sure about the legal reasons if your dog is properly leashed. I have had to pick up my dog and kick the oncoming dog (not that I like kicking dogs, but my foot will be much less damage than my dogs teeth) I tell people that my dogs are working or that we do not greet dogs we do not know. I have also had a springer and a portie, on separate occasions, charging me, my child, and my dog while growling and with very aggressive body language. All this while the owner was yelling from down the trail that their dog was friendly. I find that the people calling out that their dog is friendly, usually are NOT. I watched two dog owners telling each other that their poodles were friendly, just as they started to attack each other. I always tell people their dog is supposed to be on leash, that there is a sign, and they always look so angry. So as I stand next to the sign that says dogs must be leashed while I’m holding up my dog and trying to balance a stroller and your dog is climbing up my leg to get at my dog, you get to look annoyed….thanks.

  20. starwarsanon says:

    OMG I totally get this. Completely, 100%. We adopted a dog that was aggressive towards other dogs. We trained her well enough that we could walk by other dogs without her lunging and growling but all bets were off if a dog came up without a leash. I would do the same thing and ask people to keep them away and what is with that response of saying their dogs are friendly? Um, okay, big deal but mine isn’t. It was so frustrating.

  21. juliabarrett says:

    Sounds like none of us is alone! Happens to me all the time. When leashed, my German shepherd will ignore other people and other dogs if they ignore him. He will not ignore them if they get in his face. Unfortunately other leashed dogs tend to be very reactive to him. Jake won’t start a fight but he does hold his own.
    I hate seeing an unleashed dog running towards us, out of control, far from the owner, and hearing the owner call out – He’s friendly!
    Puts me in an awful position. I have worked hard with Jake. He will sit, stay, and nine times out of ten he will not react to the other dog. But then there’s that tenth time…
    On the other hand, he loves to be off-leash at the beach (an off-leash beach) and he is not aggressive with other dogs. He has a grand old time. He will, in fact, run away if another dog acts aggressively towards him. But even in an off-leash area, I will leash him if someone is walking a dog on leash. It’s commonsense and courtesy. Leashed dogs do not appreciate unleashed dogs. I never assume anything. I especially don’t assume that my dog is always friendly. He’s a dog. Dogs are not people. They have a different set of rules.

  22. Amy says:

    Thank you for this blog. It’s nice to read it and the comments of others that have similar experiences. I have felt like I am the only one (where I live, at least) that has a dog like this. The number of times I have been told, “but my dog is nice” and I have to reply with “Great, but mine isn’t” is quite high. I always feel bad saying he isn’t nice and that I have branded my dog as the evil dog. He isn’t, he just doesn’t like other dogs off leash.

  23. 100 Steps says:

    This is actually the reason that my next dog will be bigger. I love Papillons and have had them for most of my life, but the fear involved in walking them is simply not worth it.

    My own statistics showed some 86% of my walks involving an encounter with an off-leash and usually completely unsupervised large dog. I even had a dog literally break down its front door.
    I cannot walk my two girls alone as I cannot protect both of them AND ward off a strange animal.
    They are exceptionally well behaved with me, but not dog friendly at all, no surprise due to their experiences. Once I was not quick enough and my smaller pap was shaken from side to side by a very large dog with a very large jaw- breed does not matter. I thought she was dead. Those experiences cannot be unseen. So sadly, my dogs do not get walked as often as I or they would like, simply because it is not safe enough.
    Also, one has extreme anxiety, so walking them one at a time is not a possibility. They must be together at all times.

    Western Australia

  24. shirosangel says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have the same problem and it’s a common occurrence! It ticks me off to no end!

    My husband and I adopted a Miniature Schnauzer/Cairn Terrier cross, who when we first got him 2 years ago was a bit dog reactive, and unpredictable with who he liked. So to make sure everyone was safe I would constantly tell people – “Please don’t approach, my dog is reactive and may attack your dog.” Some people listened, while others would respond with “My dog is friendly, it’s fine.” Ummmm, no it’s not fine. Find and dandy that your dog is friendly, mine may not be and I don’t want to find out and pay for someone else’s vet bill because I’m not fast enough to separate my dog from yours.

    2 years later, he’s a lot better with dogs provided they are 1 at a time. The other night my husband and I were on a walk and a guy just approached us with his two little dogs. My husband told him to not approach as our dog was already showing he was stressed and overwhelmed, again reaction was “my dogs are friendly it’ll be fine.” My husband said “no, don’t approach please.” As it was the guy told my husband not to worry and these two dogs were all over our dog not letting him escape. There was no aggression, but we had a freaked out dog for the walk home.

    People just don’t seem to get it. Thank you for your post.

  25. Reut says:

    This exactly what we try to explain to people with dogs around us. We find ourselves asking them to put the leash back on, and perhaps not walk straight to us. I find myself often crossing to the other side of the street or turning in another corner just to avoid the tensions because my dog is very reactive and mistrusting of other dogs, and it takes her time to get used to each one of them. She’s also a German shepherd mix weighing 40 pounds so not easy to handle if and when she gets reactive. My partner just tells those people once or twice, and if they don’t listen and still say “but my dog is friendly”, he lets her react once so that his meaning is actively clarified. This is VERY annoying to us – just like people, she wants personal space, and I think others should respect that.

    (She was in a shelter for 1.5 years from when she was a puppy, before we took her in)

  26. Gev says:

    I also think people can over react to the opposite of this. I recently had a conversation with a dog owner who said she would always be wary of being near a stuffy and a lady who told me how people treat her while out with her well behaved and sweet American bull dog. I think people should always be responsible dog owners and not so judgemental.

  27. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing. I had an alpha female who looked very friendly. It was so frustrating to exercise her with all the uninformed dog owners out there.

  28. DJ says:

    We are in the same situation but are at a loss with the training to overcome the anxiety. Any tips for us please?

  29. M. LeClair says:

    I had a very similar situation happen while walking my pups in our local woods. Both of my dogs are larger mixed breeds (Golden Chow, 80lbs and Beagle Collie, 50lbs) and both are rescues. My Golden mix had an extremely abusive background and was near death when we rescued him. There are many great hiking trails in these woods and my boys love it. Despite their horrible beginnings they are super sweet and there is nothing a PERSON could do to them that would cause them to be aggressive (God bless their trusting hearts). But one particular day my boyfriend and I each had a dog and were coming up on a curve in the trail when FOUR medium size dogs came running around the corner, no owner in sight! Now my boys are dog friendly, but being run up on by 4 strange, hyper dogs CLEARLY was stressful for them and shocked them to say the least. We yelled for the owner who came happily bouncing around the corner clearly finding nothing wrong. When we asked him to grab his dogs he gave the same response of “don’t worry, they’re friendly”. He then said “what? You’re dogs aren’t friendly?”. Luckily we know our boys and had them heeled by our side and kept them reassured while these strange pups jumped all over them. I explained to the man that my pups are plenty friendly but asked him how he would feel if he were restrained and 4 complete strangers came running up to him hyper and off the wall? People need to realize that dogs have different backgrounds. It’s great that his can apparently run into any person or any animal in a completely uncontrolled environment and he has no worries, but not all are the same. A dog park is one thing, but in a public place it’s unfair and dangerous to put other people’s dogs in a situation that is meant to be controlled. Leash laws protect your pet as well as everyone else’s 🙂

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