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Dog walking etiquette

Walking your dog can (and should) be one of the most enjoyable, relaxing times of your day, but it can also be one of the most stressful, and not necessarily through any fault of your own! When other people do not have proper control of their dogs, this can make walks stressful for both us and our dogs, particularly when we are working with reactive dogs.

There are several overarching laws that govern how you should act when walking your dog:

  • Firstly, section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence for any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place, whether or not they cause injury. However, unless there is a serious altercation between two dogs, the police are unlikely to take any action under this legislation and it is generally reserved for situations where people are at risk of being injured.

  • There is also provision to prosecute for attacks on other animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Criminal Damages Act 1971, and it is a criminal offence to allow your dog to worry sheep under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

  • Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 the police and local authorities can issue community protection notices (CPN) to address anti-social behaviour involving dogs, such as requiring the dog to wear a lead or muzzle in public or attending dog training. This legislation also allows local authorities to make Public Spaces Protection Orders, which can exclude dogs from certain areas, require that they be kept on the lead in certain public spaces and restrict the number of dogs that can be walked by one person at any time.

But other than is, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to how you should act towards other dog walkers when out and about. Being a responsible dog owner is more than picking up your dogs poo and not letting them bite other people. It includes having an awareness of other owners and dogs and having proper control of your dog at all times.

Rule number 1: Don't let your dog off the lead if they don't have good recall

If people just followed this one golden rule, life would be a lot easier for most of us! Don't get us wrong, we absolutely love seeing our dogs having fun off of the lead and just being dogs. However, off-leash freedom is a privilege and it comes with responsibilities such as not chasing other animals, jumping up at people and recalling when asked. If your dog cannot recall away from other dogs (or indeed any other distraction) then they should not be off lead. This is for their safety as well as others; it only takes one time for your dog to chase another animal, end up on a road and cause a car crash.

Admitting that your dog is not ready to be off lead is not something to be ashamed of, it is absolutely the responsible thing to do. Your dog can lead just as a fulfilling life whilst they are on a long line, and there are plenty of secure dog walking fields around nowadays if you want to give your dog the space to run around safely.

This rule applies to all dogs, whether they are good with dogs or not. Just because your dog is friendly, this does not negate the need for a good recall and it does not make it ok for it to run up to other dogs without permission. You need to be able to recall your dog if you are asked by another dog owner, and if you knowingly let your dog off the lead without being sure that you can do so this is incredibly irresponsible.

Rule number 2: If a dog is on lead, don't let your dog go up to it

Dogs can be on the lead for many reasons, whether that be because they are reactive, nervous, recovering from an injury or don't yet have a recall. It is unfair on both the dog and owner to allow your dog to run over to them, and you also risk putting your dog in potentially dangerous situations if they run up to the wrong dog.

Equally, we don't tend to recommend on-lead greetings. This is because the lead restricts your dogs movements and prevents them from feeling like they can walk away from an uncomfortable situation (flight). It can therefore push them into feeling like they need to react to the other dog (fight). [If you want to know more about this then head over to our blog post on understanding your dogs drives]. For other dogs, it can cause frustration, especially if there is always tension on the lead when the dog meets another dog. This is why a lot of dogs are reactive on the lead but fine when off-lead.

Now, there are some exceptions to this rule, as otherwise friendly dogs with no recall would be unable to meet other dogs on the lead. Similarly, reactive dogs may need some additional socialisation but if they don't yet have the confidence or responsibility to always make good choices then the lead is a great way of helping them out. The key piece of advice here is that if you are letting your dog meet other dogs whilst it is on the lead, you should never allow them to do so on a tight lead. This is where longlines can be incredibly useful, because they allow us to retain control of our dog, but they prevent any frustration or conflict from building up because it is easier to maintain a loose lead. So, if a dog is on a longline and its owner doesn't mind your dog approaching then there is no problem letting your dog say hi.

Rule number 3: Don't assume that off lead dogs are fair game

Just because a dog is off lead, this does not give your dog a free pass to run over to them. I have had a situation where my two dogs were off-lead playing together, and a lady walking her dog on lead on the other side of a field decided that this was a sign that she could let her dog off the lead to run over and join in. Needless to say that the dog didn't have a recall either, and this could have been a recipe for disaster with some dogs. Off lead dogs may just want to mind their own business and don't want to interact with strange dogs, and so long as their owner has proper control of them then there is no reason for them not to be allowed some freedom. Their dog is their responsibility and your dog is your responsibility.

We do not intend to be a party-pooper with this rule. There is no problem with dogs being able to meet other dogs when out and about, and for most dogs it is important that they remain social and are able to interact with others of their kind. The message is to be aware that not all off-lead dogs want to be approached, and if in doubt there is no harm checking before letting your dog approach.

Rule 4: Learn about body language and what polite greetings look like

A lot of problems arise because owners are not able to properly read their dogs, and they do not know what is acceptable dog behaviour. Lets take the above example of a friendly dog that is allowed to rush up to another dog's face, with no consideration as to whether the other dog welcomes the interaction. This is rude behaviour on the part of the friendly dog, but if the other dog corrects them and tells them to get out of their space then they are often blamed. Conversely, if the other dog becomes very submissive and rolls on its back for example, people don't see this as an issue and this can result in the dog feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

A polite greeting is one where both dogs take the time to read the other dog's body language and take account of whether the other dog actually wants to interact. We see a lot of questionable interactions between dogs where it is incredibly fortunate that the situation hasn't escalated, and because the situation doesn't escalate, owners tend to be completely oblivious to the fact that there was a problem in the first place. Then, when a situation does escalate in the future the owner believes that their dog's behaviour is unusual because they have never done that before. Whilst it is true that they have never done it before, all of the signs have been there but have been missed. If owners were able to better read their dogs and were aware of what is acceptable behaviour in "dog language" then dogs would be a lot better understood and there would be a lot fewer reactive dogs around.

Rule 5: Don't let dogs "sort it out between themselves"

A lot of people believe that you should let dogs sort out any potential tension or conflict themselves. Whether or not this strategy is successful or not depends on whether the dogs are balanced and social. A balanced, social dog that understands other dog's signals will likely be able to diffuse a situation well, whereas an insecure or pushy dog may cause the situation to escalate further. Therefore, if you expect two unknown dogs to sort things out between themselves then you are taking a massive gamble; on one hand they could successfully diffuse the situation but the worst case scenario is that this ends in a fight.

Similarly, some people allow their dogs to be rude or too much and then say "it's ok they need to be told off" whilst expecting other dogs on their walks to teach their dog good manners. This is absolutely an effective way of teaching dogs to be more respectful around other dogs, and there are some things that dogs can teach that we just can't. However, you cannot expect other, unknown dogs to take on this role without first checking that they are happy and also equipped to do so. Some dogs are excellent teachers and will teach your dog a lot, but some just aren't. If a nervous dog snaps at another dog they are not doing so from a balanced perspective - they are often insecure and want the dog to move away. Whilst this could teach the other dog to back away, it will also teach the nervous dog that snapping works. If the nervous dog reacts excessively, or reacts even when the other dog is being quite polite, then this could result in that dog getting issues of its own.

Just because we have to step in and help our dogs does not mean that they won't learn anything. The more we help them to make good decisions, then the more likely they are to make those decisions on their own. At the same time, finding another well-balanced, stable dog that can teach your dog how to behave is invaluable but it is not something that you should just assume other dogs will do.

Rule number 6: If you know your dog doesn't cope well with some dogs, don't put them in that situation

A common situation that we find is where someone's dog kicks off at another dog, and the owner then explains that the reason they did so is because "they don't like other males" or "they don't like black labs". If you know that your dog doesn't like particular dogs, then it is your responsibility to recall your dog (see rule 1 if your dog doesn't have a good recall) and either pop it in a heel or on the lead until you know more about the other dog and have checked with its owner whether your dog can approach.

I have had plenty of situations where off-lead dogs have approached my boxer Harley, and then proceeded to behave aggressively towards him. Most owners are apologetic, but once they realise that he is an intact male they explain that their dog doesn't like intact males. If you don't know the dog that your dog is running over to, then you must always err on the side of caution, otherwise you are taking a chance every time you allow your dog to do so. Because of situations like this, Harley lost a lot of confidence around other dogs and I have therefore had to work extra hard to build this back up again. This is frustrating because he has suffered as a result, and whilst I am lucky enough to know how to deal with this, a lot of people end up with reactive dogs as a result.

Rule number 7: Don't let your dog out of sight

Unless you can guarantee that your dog will not cause any problems out of sight, for example working gun dogs who will ignore everything because their job is to retrieve the item, don't let them out of your sight! If your dog is out of sight then you have no idea what your dog is doing and who they may be approaching/what may be approaching them and you won't be able to abide by all of the other rules on good dog walking etiquette.

If everyone abided by these rules then dog walking would be much more pleasant for everyone! The important take away here is to be aware that you and your dog are not the only ones trying to enjoy a walk, and that all dogs have different needs. If in doubt, communicate with other dog walkers and have sufficient control of your dog that they do not disrupt others. Do you have any other rules you wish people would follow when out walking their dog?


I ask so many owners to recall their dog and please don’t let them approach us. Often the dogs off lead do not recall effectively and the owners look me and say “I’m trying” or “they’re usually so good” or I’ve even had “you need to chill out and let your dog socialise” or the classic “mines friendly” (to which I respond “but mine are not”). It’s so incredibly frustrating, ruins our walk and sets our training back.


Brilliant piece of writing Clara and you are so right “when other people do not have proper control of their dogs”!!! If everyone had to learn these seven simple rules before owning a dog what a different world it would be!

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