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Keeping safe around other dogs

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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Monday, 1 February 2021
When you’re out and about, there can be times when a dog may approach you in an unfriendly or threatening way, whether you’re with your dog or on your own. We’ve heard this has been happening more during the pandemic – it’s understandable that the stress, anxiety and changes to daily life have been affecting our canine companions as well. 
When a situation like this does happens, it can be scary and potentially dangerous, but there are also a few things you can do to keep everyone safe. 
When walking your dog 
Keeping your dog on a leash is always a good idea. It can sometimes take some time and patience to teach your dog to walk comfortably on a leash if they’re not used to it (dogs often like to explore the world at a much faster pace than we do!), but we have some helpful advice on our Knowledgebase. A short leash minimises the risk of getting tangled, helps avoid getting too close to other dogs, and allows you to socially distance from other people. 
As the pandemic continues, it’s a good idea to help get you dog used to seeing people wearing masks, if this is something they’re not familiar with or if you’re in an area where mask use has increased. We have some tips on how to do this on our Knowledgebase. 
Make sure you’ve trained your dog to have good recall – in other words, to come when called. This is important if they do get away from you or if you drop the leash. 
Look ahead and survey the path you are taking to check for other people, dogs and traffic, so you can be prepared. If your dog tends to get excited or nervous about people, cars, cyclists, or other dogs, you can always cross the road or move to a place that avoids close encounters, and use your voice to soothe and ask your dog to sit until they pass. You can distract them and reward them for sitting and staying calm with treats. 
How can you tell if a dog is uncomfortable or aggressive? 
Some early signs that a dog is anxious or uncomfortable include if they are licking their lips, have their ears backwards or flattened on their head, yawning, showing the whites of their eye, or have a low or tucked tail. Also watch out for body language like turning their face away, standing crouched or walking low to the ground, avoiding eye contact, or lunging towards you – not a friendly bouncing towards you like a dog that wants to play – but a lunge forward, often with a stiff tail, tense body position, ears forward and/or flat, direct eye contact. 
On top of this, signs that a dog is not just anxious or uncomfortable but likely to be aggressive include growling, snarling, snapping or baring teeth. 
What to do if there’s conflict 
Avoiding an unfriendly or aggressive dog is always best – try to avoid getting too close and, if possible, put a visual barrier between you and the other dog (like a car, gate, hedge or fence). 
If conflict cannot be avoided, stay calm and try not to panic. It’s important you don’t try to physically separate dogs who are fighting – that’s likely to end with you being injured and causing more injuries to one or both dogs. Try to call your dog away and, if the other dog’s owner is present, they may be able to do the same.  
It’s best to try distracting the dog from a distance – such as with a loud noise such as a clap or jingling keys forcefully. You can even be prepared and carry something with you that you can use as a distraction, such as a can with coins in it that you can rattle. If you have something like a large coat with you, you could throw this over the fighting dogs, or throw water over them.
We have lots more tips for how to avoid and manage these situations – including how to respond if you’re walking on your own and are approached by an unfriendly dog, and what to do if your dog is aggressive to another dog – on our Knowledgebase
This article originally appeared in Australian Community Media newspapers
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