By Dr. Becker
A recent study conducted by scientists at a Czech university revealed some interesting findings about what factors shape dog behavior on walks.
The study, recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, involved almost 2,000 dogs and their dog-to-dog interactions while walking with their owners around the city of Brno in the Czech Republic.
What the research set out to explore, according to lead researcher Petr Rezac, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Morphology, Physiology and Genetics at Mendel University, was whether dogs behave differently with one another depending on who is at the other end of the leash.
"We propose that the occurrence of threat and biting in dogs on a walk may have some connection with aggressive tendencies and/or impulsivity in people.
Dogs are able to perceive subtle messages of threat emitted by another dog.
Simultaneously, dogs are unusually skilled at reading human social and communicative behavior."
What the Study Found
It will come as no surprise to dog parents that body sniffing is far and away the most popular form of interaction among all dogs of any age.
Findings regarding specific sniffing and marking behaviors are also no surprise:
- Off-leash dogs sniffed other dogs more often than leashed dogs.
- Male dogs sniffed females more than the girls sniffed the boys, and also more than same sex dogs sniffed each other.
- Males urine-marked more often than females regardless of the gender they encountered.
Study results in the area of canine playfulness included:
- Puppies that met up with other puppies played together twice as often as adults and 11 times as often as senior dogs.
- Opposite sex dogs were more apt to play than two or more males together.
- Dogs tend to play with others of the same size.
- Aggression was twice as likely between dogs on-leash as between unleashed dogs.
- Dogs threatened same gender dogs almost three times as often, and bit them over five times as often as opposite sex dogs.
- When dogs were with men, they were more than four times more likely to show aggression and bite than dogs walked by women.
These research results seem to point to the significance, in particular, of sex of the owner and use of a leash in how dogs behave during walks.
Why Being Leashed May Make a Difference
According to Inga Fricke of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), dog-to-dog aggression among leashed pets is probably the result of frustration. Dogs have innate greeting behaviors they can't express when on a leash.
Given the option, dogs will run around each other when they first meet. Per Lisa Peterson of the American Kennel Club:
"They can't do this run-around behavior when on a leash and they likely feel more threatened. They are also more inclined to resource guard, with the owner being the resource. It's as though they are communicating, 'He is my owner. I don't want you to have him because he feeds and cares for me.'"
Many pet owners find their dog is actually better behaved off leash than leashed.
The same is often true for dogs that are crated or behind a fence. Confined, they demonstrate aggressive behaviors like barking or growling that they don't exhibit when able to move around freely.
Being confined or leashed and therefore unable to fight or take flight if necessary very likely feels threatening to some dogs, resulting in aggression. Many animals, including humans, become fearful and hostile when they feel they aren't able to make decisions for themselves.
Male Owners and Aggressive Dogs
There could be any number of reasons why the dogs walked by men in the Czech study were so much more aggressive than dogs owned by women.
Ms. Peterson of the AKC theorized it might have to do with the way men train their dogs in that region of the world.
Ms. Fricke of the HSUS offers this possible explanation:
"The increased incidence of bites when dogs are being handled by males, rather than females, may simply be a reflection of dogs mirroring the emotions of their handlers; if their handlers are acting either defensively or assertively upon meeting, their dogs are likely to sense and reflect that."
Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and the founder of PetBehavior.org, offered this insight to ABC News:
"For the average owner, males probably rely more on strength in controlling their dogs, whereas women have to rely more on skill and anticipation of what a dog or dog owner is going to do.
"So, female dog owners may develop their own more acute sense of surrounding. That may be part of why dogs with male handlers behaved more aggressively in this study. Dogs with male handlers may not get the same kinds of cues that they would if they were walking with a woman."
Another important consideration according to Carlo Siracusa, a resident at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, is the dogs in the Czech study as well as a good number of dogs across Europe are not spayed or neutered. Per Siracusa, "This hormonal component may have a significant influence on the interaction between two dogs."
Helping Your Dog Relax on Walks
It may not be obvious, but your dog is picking up on your mood and energy whenever you're together. Dogs also tend to mirror the behaviors of their owners.
So if while walking your pet you feel distrustful or wary of other owners and their dogs, your canine companion will pick up on that energy and become hyper alert and 'on guard' as well.
Some men are more likely than women to remain aloof and avoid eye contact with other dog walkers.
Women are more apt to smile, nod or say hello, and generate friendly, non-threatening energy toward oncoming humans and their dogs. Their dogs, in turn, don't learn to view approaching dogs as a potential threat. Women who do perceive other dog walkers and their pets as potentially dangerous generally have a fear-avoidance response. This energy has the potential to create the same fear-avoidance response in an otherwise calm, well-adjusted dog.
No matter your gender, if your walks with your favorite furry friend aren't pleasant, it's a good idea to check your own emotions – conscious and unconscious – and take note of what kind of energy you're transmitting to your pet.
Don't walk your dog when you're feeling anxious or angry. Make a conscious effort to view fellow dog walkers as friends vs. foes, and make it a practice to smile or exchange a few friendly words with passersby whenever you're out with your pet.
If you encounter a dog behaving in a threatening or unpredictable manner, take calm, firm control of your dog so he knows he can lean on you.
Ignore the other dog while making your way past him, and consciously return to a calm, relaxed state of mind.