Is there a particular dog in the neighborhood your dog really does not like? This is pretty common, in fact so many of my clients have shared with me that their dog really dislikes a particular dog in the neighborhood that I jokingly refer to this as “the neighborhood nemesis.”
The truth is that what may seem like a relaxing experience for you – a walk around the block – may be stressful to some dogs. The last time I took Firefly for a short walk we were barked at by 3 dogs, and one was literally just a foot away barking intensely behind a fence adjacent to the sidewalk. These dogs were certainly not saying “hello, welcome to the neighborhood.” In fact most dogs are communicating “get out of my space!” with their barking. Unfortunately, dogs do not understand property lines the way we wish they would.
Imagine if you were being yelled and threatened by many people while you were walking. Would this make you feel nervous? Some confident dogs may not be bothered by it and realize that they are safe since the other dogs are confined. However, some dogs react by starting to show aggression themselves. In fact I suspect this is part of the reason that dog-dog aggression is the most common behavior request I receive. I remember one particular neighborhood where I worked with no fewer than 4 dog owners, all with dogs that exhibited dog aggression. They all lived within a few blocks of each other. I think that in some neighborhoods there are so many reactive dogs it becomes very challenging to avoid having this behavior triggered by the other dogs in the environment. Over time, when a dog is barked at repeatedly by the same individual dog very intensely, the emotions start to build and both dogs may begin reacting to each other. Voila, the neighborhood nemesis.
Many neighborhoods in Northern Virginia are really not set up to promote positive inter-dog reactions. Dogs need space, more than they have here! Dogs also don’t like surprises and most of our neighborhoods have large shrubs and vegetation that prevent dogs from having a good sense of what lies ahead. Combine that with narrow sidewalks and dogs whose exercise and behavioral needs are not met and you have a recipe for a lot of frustrated dogs behind barriers!
So, what is a pet owner to do? Sometimes the solution is simple, avoid the areas in your neighborhood that stress your dog. Look for local parks where you can hike in a truly relaxing environment with your dog. You also can teach your dog to look at you for a great treat when it hears a dog barking. If your dog has a particular dog he is starting to become nervous about, be proactive. Bring extra great treats on walks so you are ready to start to turn his emotions around and keep as much distance away from the dog(s) he seems sensitive to as possible. If your dog is already showing signs of significant stress or aggression on walks it is a good idea to get some professional help for your dog’s behavior. Firefly and I are on a mission, looking for a peaceful path in our neighborhood. It is not easy to find one, so wish us luck!