Are you a safety advocate for your dog? Do you step in when needed to ensure your dog not only IS safe but FEELS safe? If we want our dogs to remain calm and not bark, lunge, snap or do other things we might consider “aggressive” or “reactive” or “excitable”, we need to ensure that our dogs know we are looking out for them. If I want my dog to relax and trust me, I need to show I am handling things so he does not feel the need to do so.

In  my classes, I try to ensure that my students understand that dogs should NOT be allowed to charge up to other dogs unless both handlers are prepared and have given permission. I still see it happen a lot. I can't be managing everyone every minute. I depend on my students to be respectful and follow the rules. If someone is approaching you, be polite about stopping the other person from allowing their dog to approach. However, if someone is uncomfortable or has a situation they need help with, I hope they will talk to me. I am always happy to intervene when needed. It's important to me that everyone be comfortable and feel safe in my class environment.

I was reminded of this when I was at the Rally drop-in class with Romeo last Friday (April 2011). Most of the time we are with our dogs sitting around waiting for our turn for a run-through. During that time, I am always vigilant about dogs passing by or nearby, keeping an eye on both them and Romeo and signs of any potential problems. The dog sitting next to the right of us had growled several times at Romeo and other dogs nearby. The handler said he had “space issues” and would sometimes scold him for growling.

When it came time for our course walk through, we tie out our dogs and walk the course alone. The first walk through, I took Romeo to the other side of the room and tethered him to the wall away from other dogs. The second walk through I had Romeo tethered at our station since the handler to our right was elsewhere with her dog. As I was walking away to do my walk through, she brought her dog back over and was about to tether him next to Romeo – close enough for them to be able to get to each other on their tie-outs. I politely walked over and asked her to tether her dog away from mine. She did so, but I sensed she was a bit upset with me for daring to ask her to take her dog elsewhere.

Many people might not have done so. They might have simply tethered their dog and walked away, even if they felt uncomfortable about it. After all, it's not my class. It's not my place to say anything. Right? Wrong! If the safety of my dog is at stake, I need to protect my dog first and foremost. I could have taken Romeo elsewhere. I could have spoken with the instructor and asked her to intervene. I had options, but I had to ensure that whatever option I chose did not endanger my dog. Her dog already had indicated there were space issues. She should have taken the initiative to ensure the safety of the other dogs knowing that her dog had space issues. But she did not. It was up to me to be Romeo's advocate.

Don't be afraid to act (politely, of course!) in your dog's best interest. If your dog is the one who might cause issues, ensure you are looking out for the safety of others. If you need assistance, don't be afraid to ask. Don't put your dog in harm's way and wish you'd done something about it after it's too late. Be your dog's safety advocate!