It’s all about the curve
Face-on meetings with dogs, people or environmental triggers is unnatural and potentially very stressful for your dog.
We’re not even talking about dogs actually coming into close contact with one another; even walking on the pavement in one direction and a dog/person passing you in the other direction can be a stressor. The research showed that this even applied for dogs that don’t seem to have any worries about other dogs or people.
Passing the trigger in a curve is a more natural pattern for dogs than walking in a straight line. It really takes the pressure off.
Going straight towards a dog is threatening in the language of dog. Curving is polite! It’s a calming signal, communicating that the curving dog is avoiding conflict.
Research by the Budzinskis has shown a staggering difference between dogs’ pulses when a person walks directly towards them, compared to when that person curves past.
10% above baseline on direct approach, 5% below baseline when curving!
If a dog is unable to curve when they want to (e.g. because they’re on a short lead), the pulse rises dramatically.
In the video you can see an example of curving. The two dogs were walking straight towards each other so the Australian Labradoodle and her owner took a wide crescent around the A-Frame while the Staffy and her owner in the foreground continued walking straight.
The Budzinskis also found that dogs are amazing at performing simple behaviours to lower their own pulse rate on walks.
The pulse depends on the activity of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system accelerates the heart rate, the parasympathetic system slows it.
The heart can beat faster during stress e.g. activity, or emotion e.g. excitement or anxiety.
Self-initiated activities that made the pulse come down on walks included –
- Chewing grass
- Laying down (there was a huge drop in pulse rate from sitting to laying!)
- Shaking off
- And of course… sniffing!
It’s important to allow your dog to carry out these self-calming behaviours. Then have a look around, can you identify what made them feel the need to do it?