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Copper is a rescue and is very fearful. He's come so far since we adopted him a year and a half ago and we are very proud of him but he still just doesn't like other dogs. He doesn't love people he doesn't know either, so he is really just a 'dog in need of space'.

Other dog Zoe (who Copper has learned to tolerate) is a social butterfly. She has good manners and she loves meeting new dogs.

They both LOVE hikes. There's one hiking area very close to our house that has many off-leash trails. It's great exercise for Zoe, who can sniff every single tree to her heart's content, and there's a river where she loves swimming. Copper is content to trot along next to me.

I just don't know the appropriate response when we encounter other dogs. The first butt-sniff is usually okay but if the dog doesn't walk on from there he bares his teeth, then growls. If the dog doesn't respect his clear boundaries and continues getting in his face he snaps and, while he's never bitten another dog, I could see a quick nip happening.

What is my best course of action? He's not a danger to other dogs but the growling makes owners understandably uncomfortable. Is it appropriate to keep him on-leash so I can lead him away from a nosy dog or will that create further tension?
 

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The first butt-sniff is usually okay but if the dog doesn't walk on from there he bares his teeth, then growls. If the dog doesn't respect his clear boundaries and continues getting in his face he snaps and, while he's never bitten another dog, I could see a quick nip happening.
Seems like a totally normal dog interaction. In fact, I would be more concerned about the dogs who lack the social skills to politely move away when your dog gives such clear and appropriate signals. I WISH my dog-selective dog was this lenient :D

I would recommend praising Copper after ALL interactions and immediately giving him a few treats... when the other dog is safely out of your space, of course! This probably won't teach him to love other dogs. But you are at least associating other dogs and greetings with positive outcomes.

When I first started reading your post I was thinking to write 'only bring Zoe to populated areas' but honestly Copper sounds fine. He might not love other dogs but it sounds like he enjoys being out with you and he isn't totally overwhelmed by dog greetings. He just would rather move on, is all.
 

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Seems like a totally normal dog interaction. In fact, I would be more concerned about the dogs who lack the social skills to politely move away when your dog gives such clear and appropriate signals. I WISH my dog-selective dog was this lenient :D

I would recommend praising Copper after ALL interactions and immediately giving him a few treats... when the other dog is safely out of your space, of course! This probably won't teach him to love other dogs. But you are at least associating other dogs and greetings with positive outcomes.

When I first started reading your post I was thinking to write 'only bring Zoe to populated areas' but honestly Copper sounds fine. He might not love other dogs but it sounds like he enjoys being out with you and he isn't totally overwhelmed by dog greetings. He just would rather move on, is all.
I totally agree. I just feel (needlessly, I guess) guilty and end up apologizing to other owners for the growling when it's their pushy dog that is exhibiting bad manners.

I will get on praising him after encounters--thanks for recommending that!
 

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I am totally in line with Canyx on this. I was also ready to say "don't bring him to off-leash areas at all" but honestly he sounds like a very appropriate, normal dude who doesn't want others all up in his business. Sounds a lot like my house- my Boston is the world's most social social butterfly, and my Lab is dog-neutral but very "get out of my person space" with dogs he doesn't know. He takes awhile to warm up to new dogs, though he's gotten better since we've gone through 2 fosters in the past few months.

I would agree with praising and rewarding good interactions. When my Lab was growing up (and still VERY tense when meeting unknown dogs) I made a habit of allowing a few seconds of sniffing and then calling him back to be treated before being released to greet again, and it seems to have worked well.

I also find movement is extremely helpful in these situations. With my Lab, if I feel like the other dog is going to come on too strong and make him uncomfortable, we just continue on our way and I ask the owner to please call their dogs back to them.

It's also (IMO) perfectly acceptable to tell owners your dog doesn't want to say hello to theirs. A simple "sorry, my guy is kind of shy and gets a little uncomfortable with dogs he doesn't know" communicates your message accurately and also puts the fault onto your dog versus theirs (even though its ALWAYS their dog causing the problem, at least with me) and makes them less likely to be defensive. You might get the odd "well how dare you leave the house with a dog who doesn't want to say hi to every dog he meets" person, but oh well.
 

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Everything they've said above. I do have two nuggets for helping to manage the situation though:

If the other dog is running towards you quickly (even if you can tell it's friendly), put yourself in its path, so that it has to detour around you. It will stop the dog from running at your dog (which a lot of dogs don't like), and will also, most of the time, encourage a gentle curving towards your dog, instead of a face-on greeting.
 

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Even when you are in the right, it doesn't hurt for you to apologize. If the owner is within sight, you can announce that your dog is not yet good with other dogs, giving the owner a chance to respond. Although a snark may be appropriate, You don't want to nip another dog, so you may need to protect your dog, or call him away, if things look like they are about to escalate.

My dog was onleash in PetsMart and another dog was getting more pushy than a common meet and greet, so Mikee gave a warning growl. The other dog growled back and began to escalate, so I simply partially picked up Mikee (75 lb !!!) and pulled him 10 feet backwards out of harm's way. No warning, no reprimand. No harm, no foul.
 
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