First off if your dog is displaying any of the following towards other dogs, I would advise seeking professional help from a dog trainer or animal behaviourist on a 1-2-1 basis rather than a class situation:
- Lunging forward
The above are signals I would use to describe how a dog is REACTING to a situation. And in my experience, a dog behaving like that is pretty insecure and unhappy. They're behaving in much the same way you or I might get cross and shout or yell if we felt vulnerable or threatened.
There is a misconception amongst dog owners, that all dogs should want to play and run around with each other when they meet on a walk. In my experience I don't believe that this is the case. Not all people are loud and gregarious, some are naturally quieter and more introverted. Some love the spotlight, others would prefer to watch from the wings.
It doesn't make a person good or bad, right or wrong - its just the variety of life. It's just the same with our dogs.
Dogs have four different ways of dealing with a stressful situation - you might well recognise the first two:
Flight is pretty straightforward. If you don't like something, you look to get away from it. Quite often the reason dogs are more reactive on the lead is because they've had the option of flight taken away from them.
Fight is the second most recognised response someone might give in a stressful situation. Some breeds are more likely to use this earlier than others. But generally speaking, dogs don't like to get into fights. If dogs have reached the point where they're giving off signals such as I've listed at the top of this page, then lots of other, more subtle signals have been missed by their well-meaning humans. Here is a great book on how to recognise what our canine friends are trying to communicate to us:
Freeze is one that you might not have heard of, but if you watch your dog the next time you're out on a walk you may well see them demonstrate this - even if only briefly. Animals in the wild freeze if they are in danger to make themselves invisible to whatever threat they have perceived. Dogs do this if they're feeling uncomfortable too.
Flirt is the response countless gun dog breeds I teach use when they're feeling a bit overwhelmed. Think court jester trying to entertain the bored King who could have your head cut off - you'll go over the top to amuse him. Dogs do the same to appear harmless and unthreatening to other dogs - acting crazily and slightly out of control. Stress can be a big factor in why they find it hard to be calm and sensible around other dogs.
This article is designed to help you understand WHAT your dog is telling you when it sees another dog, but doesn't deal with the WHY because there are often other factors involved that a good trainer or behaviourist will be able to help you with.
Would I muzzle a reactive dog? Possibly if it was a short-term solution to the problem and I addressed the cause of the dog's reactivity (which may include better training so that I can let it off the lead safely), but I would feel a bit mean to muzzle a stressed dog that I then let other dogs rush up to and frighten it more without the right to reply so to speak.
Whilst a growling, lunging dog can be a source of embarrassment when out walking - imagine if the roles were reversed and the person you were out walking with ignored your distress. Your relationship with your dog will be better for addressing the root of the problem - and walks will be a whole lot more FUN as a result :)