Why Should I Yell At My Dog Because Your Dog Is A Jerk?

Imagine you’re on a bus or shopping. A stranger walks up to you and does one of the following:

  • sniffs your neck while asking about your perfume,
  • puts their fingers in your afro, or
  • touches your pregnant belly.

What’s the right response?

An indignant yell? Running as fast as you can in the opposite direction? A slap? All three?

And if we agree that it’s okay to call people on their obnoxious behavior, why do we expect our dogs to tolerate the same or worse?

In other words, why should I yell at my dog because your dog is a jerk?

Honey the golden retriever and a statement about jerk dogs.

Some People Dogs Are Just Rude

Have you ever read something that changed your life?

Suzanne Clothier’s “He Just Wants To Say Hi” transformed my understanding of dogs. It is the best article I’ve ever read about dog behavior.

Clothier starts her article by describing an imaginary event where a stranger starts groping her on a bus bench while her husband ignores what’s going on. When finally pushed too far, Clothier lashes out at the obnoxious man. Her husband responds by dragging her off the bench and yelling at her for her rude response.

And yet haven’t many of us done something similar when our dogs snarked at someone else’s dog who was “just trying to say hi?”

But who’s really the rude one?

Is it that goofy, off-leash Lab mix who comes running up to your dog while you’re walking on the beach? Or is it your dog who after pulling back her ears, looking to you for help, and curling up a lip finally lunges and barks to warn off the “friendly” dog?

Honey the golden retriever makes allowances for Bandit the foster dog.

I won’t make allowances for you forever, Bandit. You’re almost as big as I am.

Not Reactive, Just Smart

Occasionally someone will describe their dog as reactive but I don’t believe them.

I don’t think a dog is reactive when he snarks at another dog for coming up in his face on a walk. I think he’s smart.

Shadow was a beautiful mutt.

Shadow would bark and lunge at dogs across the street. Yep, she was definitely reactive, not just responding to jerks.

A smart dog knows rude behavior when he sees it. And he won’t tolerate it.

Some dogs just want to be left alone while they’re doing something important.

I’m an extrovert. And even I understand that.

Leave Me Alone

I love people. I love my husband. But I’m a little touchy when I’m writing.

Once an idea flows, I don’t want to lose it.

I’m kinda ashamed to admit it. But when my husband comes in to the office while I’m writing and kisses me on the head, I say to myself, “Okay, are we done being affectionate here? (I waiting to read all the angry comments from single people who rightly complain that I’m a total female dog for not appreciating the love of a good man. I know. I deserve it.)

If he asks me a question, I’ll answer. After the third question, I get a little prickly and tensely remind him that I’m working here.

If I were a dog who didn’t want to be bothered by another dog, I’d start by looking away. I might move my seat. Follow it up with curling my lip, give a little warning growl, and finally pull on my leash to give a warning snap.

So is your dog really reactive? Or do they just want to be left alone?

My Rude Dog

That friendly dog who just wants to say hi but is really being rude? That was Honey.

As a pup, she wanted to greet and play with every dog she met.

Honey the golden retriever puppy meets another golden.

Thank you for being my mentor, Riley. Now can I bite your ear?

It wasn’t too big a problem when she was a puppy. Most (but not all) dogs will tolerate behavior from a puppy that they would never accept from an adult dog. But we needed to teach Honey that she should wait for an invitation before jumping on the face of another dog.

We started by taking her for play dates with other puppies and older dogs with good communication skills. By scuffling and growling and being warned off, Honey learned to read dog body language. And figured out how to read signals that she needed to rein in her enthusiasm.

Honey the golden retriever puppy plays with a friend.

You call it socializing. I just call it fun.

We simply added to the education other dogs gave Honey by rewarding her for staying calm and polite near other dogs. And taught her to follow our directions to break off play when things got too exciting.

I just want to be sure that no one ever yells at their dog because my dog is being a jerk.

Who’s The Jerk

While you’re out and about watching dogs, try to spot the jerk.

Which dog is invading the personal space of other dogs? Approaching them head on? Keeping a stiff and upright posture?

And which dog is hanging back, looking away, licking her lips, trying to get her person to step in and deal with this jerky dog so they don’t have to?

When you learn how to spot the jerk, you understand dog speak in a whole new way. And hopefully you’ll never find yourself yelling at your dog because someone else’s dog is a jerk.


Get the PDF of Suzanne Clothier’s “He Just Wants To Say Hi.” I’ve been tempted to put copies in my backpack and hand them out to people on walks.


Your Turn: How do you respond when your dog snarks at another dog? 





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  1. This is a great and accessible post! I no longer freak out/yell at my dog when he says “ENOUGH!” He used to say it much earlier in interactions, and it startled and panicked me and the other dog owner… but he has (a) matured, (b) gotten somewhat more tolerant, (c) learned how to say “enough!” in a convincing but not initiating way, (d) all of the above… I have also matured and I offer him options before “things” get too uncomfortable for him: I offer a “split” (also known as a walk through) to help break the face to face jerk approach when I can; I offer a “walk away” reminder to him as I see him catch sight of the oncoming dog – even when they are miles apart from each other, I know/have learned that they are well aware of themselves; and I call him into a command he knows well (not a down, or an elevated move), so that he too can break off from sending tension vibes to the approaching beast. If he does not respond to my request, I TRUST him (now): he knows he can’t handle this incoming the way I ask, and he knows he has options (especially when we are ALL off leash… when we are ON leash, I have to manage some things for him, and he trusts me!).

    Thanks for your posts, I am new to you and enjoying them!

    • Sounds like you and your dog have a wonderful relationship. You’ve really learned to talk to each other.

      He’s lucky you’re looking out for ways to keep him out of the way of jerks.

      And thanks for reading and commenting. It’s always nice to find a new S’Wagger. :)

  2. Okay, I can no longer drink coffee and read your post at the same time. I choked at your first paragraph! Why? Because I have had someone poke their finger in my afro LOL This was such a great post. Love it. I’ve always felt the exact same way. I would think “maybe Harley didn’t want your dog smelling his junk” Thanks for starting my day off with a huge smile Pam. Love it – love you too! Hope to one day meet!

    • I promise not to stop until I make coffee come out your nose. :)

      Sadly, all those obnoxious behaviors have happened to me or friends. I tried to keep it on the light side by avoiding actual sexual harassments.

      I’m sorry you’ve had people digging in your hair (although it is beautiful). Perhaps someone will invent a little trap to teach those freaks a lesson. I was certainly tempted to stick my fingers up the nose of the stranger who sniffed my neck.

      Harley is lucky he has you to talk for him when he doesn’t want another dog smelling his junk. Maybe someday we will get a chance to meet. Charleston? :)

  3. Wonderful post!

    Maybe I’m a jerk who lacks social graces, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to discipline my dog for someone else’s benefit. I’ve had Nala for about three and a half months, and while her social skills are pretty good, she can sometimes be a little bit overbearing with her conviction that most dogs want to be her best friends.

    Strangely, I just found myself in kind of the opposite situation: Nala was charged and attacked by a small, angry muppet dog that had slipped his harness as we passed his house. It was a terrible, upsetting encounter for me, bc it took the dog’s owner so long to collect her dog that after we tried to escape and were pursued by the barking, snapping menace, Nala had time to go through trying to dance away, to looking helplessly up at me, to lowering her head and preparing to tell the small dog off…and she’s a 62 lb german shepherd. Fearing that she would hurt the little dog with her correction I was about to swallow my impulses and kick him away–better kicked than killed, right? And I knew that if I reached in he would bite me–when the woman finally got hold of him.

    I was shaken and upset, but I wanted to just walk away–I know how hard it is to have a reactive dog. But the woman starts saying, “BAD DOG” to him, and so I got mad. I gritted my teeth and told her off for blaming and yelling at her dog, who was clearly fearful, instead of herself for letting him endanger himself in that way. Then Nala and I ran away and I shoveled cheese in her mouth and told her how brilliant she is to calm us both down. Sigh. I probably mishandled the situation, but yelling at her dog for feeling bad was just the last straw for me.

    In short, Nala definitely isn’t reactive, but I might be. 😛

    • Wow, Meghan. If Nala is already looking to you for support when faced with a rude and stressful experience, you’ll have a wonderful life together.

      So sorry you had to go through that. Hopefully you won’t let it make YOU reactive. After all, you want to be a calm presence for your lovely girl.

      • Thanks for the kind words!

        Nala is the best dog in the world, and we are so lucky to have her. She really amazed me, both with her patience for the other dog and with the way she immediately sought my support and comfort when we got away. She’s just wonderful, and I can’t stand the thought of failing her.

  4. Excellent point. I have a dog, Jack, who has important business to conduct while he is out and about and he does not like to be interrupted. He’ll tolerate to a point and then will snark back. At first I was mortified – he’s a LAB after all…but then I realized he’s very polite about it, so I stopped worrying. I warn people and if they don’t take the warning, then it’s their fault. BTW – I have the same work bubble that my husband disrupts too…

    • If more people understood dog communication, I wonder how much better life would be.

      Jack is lucky you understand him so well. So’s Steve. :)

  5. Great piece, Pamela, and since you’re all about the gentle corrections, I’ll give you one. The reason some of us are single is precisely because we do not want a good man — or woman — coming in and nuzzling us while we are working. The guilt at wanting/needing to ignore them is overwhelming. I feel bad enough about telling Madeleine I’m busy but she always forgives me when I give her a treat. Not so most humans…

    • Point taken, Edie. A friend is feeling desperate to couple and that influenced my comic aside.

      Mike read today’s post and took the “gentle correction.” But if he forgets in the future, can I tell him that Edie says that single writers don’t have as many interruptions (hint, hint)? :)

  6. Great post Pamela. We don’t interact a ton with other dogs, but Roxy is the queen at “leave me alone”. She does not tolerate other dogs very well, and will give a warning snark pretty fast and easy.

  7. A good way to socialize dogs right from the get- go is to have the puppies stay with their mother until they are at least 12 weeks old. Having watched my Moms raise many litters, I can tell you that a puppy aged 8 to 12 weeks learns invaluable lessons from its mother during these crucial extra four weeks. Since they are usually almost entirely weaned, Moms devote themselves to teaching their pups to get away from the tit, and please -just- leave- me alone…and this is the last stage of socialization from the Mom. She snaps at them when they are too rambunctious, when she’s tired, when she is eating, teaches them to avoid snakes, bees, and poop in one place outside, and even plays with them occasionally. Even the aunties and uncles,what we call the other dogs in the household, will give priceless information to puppies about how to behave, since some are more or less tolerant than others. (These lessons translate easily once they are no longer puppies and have to live in the adult dog world.)

    Mostly pups play with their litter mates, and here they are learning to accept and respect each other’s status, moods, types, etc. So much is learned now, I don’t see why it isn’t a law…no puppies sold until 12 weeks of age. In fact, I have been asked by Vets what I have learned raising puppies, and they like the anecdotal evidence that twelve weeks is vastly superior to eight. (Of course, under 8 weeks is against the law at least in Ca., and is basically criminal. The reason breeders start selling at eight weeks or under is because they’re tired of poop patrol, the pups are eating more, and people insist on getting a “baby”. I hate that one. Puppies stop being “babies” at four weeks. They’re dogs.

    Additionally, if you wait to adopt a puppy at 16 weeks, good breeders…the kind with just one or two litters at a time…will have taught basic commands. Teaching basic respect and polite dog behavior, when all is said and done, comes best -from -the -nest…. just like with people.

    • That’s a really interesting point, Ann.

      We brought Honey home at 8 weeks but I remember her mom correcting her and her litter mates for being pains in the butt. And her breeders socialized her to all kinds of household noises and even a long car trip in her early puppy days.

      Because we knew how important those early weeks were, we worked hard to give Honey many of the experiences you mention. She was house trained in the first two weeks. And we took her both to supervised puppy play times at the SPCA and play dates with well socialized adult dogs.

      Maybe her mom would have done a better job than we did. But we did our very best to match her. :)

      • You would have been my dream buyer. I spent a lot of time educating my puppies’ new owners about what to expect and what to do, sending them home with my personal tips and insights, and being available night and day for questions, problems, etc. it was great to have a relationship with the new “Moms”. Sounds like you went the extra mile to give Honey excellent training, socializing, support and love!

        • I was already learning about the importance of socialization when we decided to get our next dog from a breeder. But Honey’s breeder emphasized it strongly.

          In the weeks while she was vetting us to make sure we were suitable to take one of her puppies, Ms. Breeder sent us an article on dog socialization and asked me to write an essay responding to it.

          There’s no way she would have let me take Honey if she didn’t like my answers.

          Most people have no idea how much a caring and responsible hobby breeder does to ensure the success of their puppies. If only more people took that level of care, we’d have a whole new world.

          • Yes, I’m afraid we’re all tarred with the same brush. But that’s ok if it makes more hobby breeders conscientious about breeding well, and doing the best they can to send happy, well adjusted pups out into the world. Personally, I don’t think there should be industrial size breeders…nobody can give that much time, care and consideration to the social needs of dogs when they have fifty to one hundred cages full of breeding dams. I feel the same way about the industrialization of cattle, poultry, pigs, chickens and mono culture agriculture. Aghhhh! Don’t get me started!

  8. I’m not big on getting a sniff over from a strange dog and I give out my growl, but so often no one pays attention, so I give a warning snap. Mom usually tells the other human I prefer to be left alone, but most never listen. I do get a bit of reprimand, but mainly Mom blames the other dog and human.

  9. Great article!! I am actually in the process of writing a very similar one. I read that original article a few weeks ago and loved it. :-)
    Ziva is definitely reactive but we’re working on it, sometimes she is more doggy tolerant but just depends. She hates rude dogs.

  10. I am learning so much about dogs and their behaviour from reading your blog. Although I know my stuff about guinea pigs, I’m not up to scratch on my doggy knowledge. Reading this I feel more confident walking dogs for my Aunt and friends and also for encountering dogs in the street.

    Maybe you can help me with an issue though? I have a younger brother who was attacked by a pair of yorkies called Elvis and Presley. They belonged to a family friend who laughed and said they were playing until she realised they were biting hard and had him on the ground and then started yelling which got them all riled up. My brother is now nervous around small dogs, especially yappy one’s. What could I have done to deal with the situation better? Could I have stopped things from escalating?

    ~ Amy

    • I’m so sorry that happened to your brother. I hope he will get over his fear in time.

      Here are some ideas for avoiding dog bites from the Humane Society: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/avoid_dog_bites.html.

      Although the Yorkies might have looked cute and like they were having fun, it sounds like their level of arousal ramped things up. So the suggestions about no running (remember, Yorkies are terriers and they have a strong prey drive), being quiet, and giving them something (like a jacket) might have helped.

      Hopefully you’ll never need this information again. But knowledge is never wasted.

      Does anyone else have any suggestions for Amy? Particularly something that would be effective with a tiny and excited dog?

      BTW, I shared your recent Noah’s Arc post with my sister and I think they’ll be getting a guinea pig friend for their girl Olive soon. Thanks so much for all the great cavy info. :)

  11. Well you know where I stand on this. Delilah does not like other dogs coming up into her face. I stopped correcting her when I realized that. I do try and remove her from the situation and when all else fails (and we are encountering a jerk dog) I drop the leash and let her make her own decision. Mostly that is to get away from the other dog.

    With dogs on walks I try and treat her past them.

    Sampson is the jerk dog. Our training when he was a puppy was to bring all the dogs into the room and let them go at it. There was no polite introductions and sadly most of the dogs we encounter on our area have the same approach, so it’s been difficult to teach him the proper way.

    • So you have a jerk and a jerk spotter. Good thing they have such a dog savvy person to help them navigate all the other crazies out there. :)

  12. It doesn’t happen with every dog we encounter (obviously or I couldn’t do agility) but Jimmy is a preemptive snarker. He rushes in to get the first strike. The best defense is a good offense, maybe? So pretty often he is the jerk. He even has a nickname of JJ…Jimmy Jerk. I try not to put him in a situation where his snarkiness will have a chance to strike. I can read him pretty well, and I don’t tempt fate. John on the other hand doesn’t have a clue. The bad snarks happen on his watch and he’s not nice to Jimmy when it happens :-(

    • Have you noticed an appearance or behavior that triggers Jimmy to “preemptively snark?”

      Sorry to hear John doesn’t manage things as well as you do. It’s true that it’s much harder to train people than it is to train dogs.

  13. I loved that article, too!! I usually just circumvent any issues by putting myself between my girls and any approaching dogs; and, if necessary, just move further away to keep more distance between them.

    • Just be careful, Sue. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle if the dog coming your work is more than just a jerk.

      But your girls are lucky that you look out for them so well.

      • I probably should have prefaced my comment this way: “When we are at the park and I see a dog and its human approaching…”

        One good thing is that there is a leash law inside the park (except in the enclosed dog park) which most people I’ve seen do abide by. In fact, I’ve only ever seen one dog off leash at the park; and he was busy playing frisbee with his humans. He never even noticed Callie, Shadow, or me.

  14. It was that very article that changed the way I deal with BD (luckily I read it in the early days of him coming into my life) that’s why I never tell him off if he growls or ‘reacts’. I always reassure, tell him he’s a good boy and how clever he is. However, it does leave you in a bit of a conundrum, and gets you some very evil glances from other dog owners, when you’ve got a ‘reactive’ dog on the lead and your telling him, “good boy, it’s all ok”.

    Weirdly, I don’t see reactive as a negative word, and have no worries about using it to describe BD. If your dog is a jerk he will react.

    • We’re always told we can’t worry about what other people think of us. It’s never more true than when we’re trying to be good people for our dogs.

      BD is very lucky that you learned to validate his perfectly reasonable feelings so early. I screwed up badly with my dogs for years before I learned those kinds of lessons.

  15. I love this post! I’m guilty of both sides, letting Haley greet other dogs without having manners and blaming her for being snarky when other ‘friendly’ dogs would sometimes approach her. I have to credit my parent’s dog Lucy for helping to teach Haley some manners when she was a puppy. My parents would feel so bad when Lucy snarled and growled at an over-excited Haley, but I’m so thankful for her lessons. Even today, Lucy will sometimes give a little growl when we visit and Haley instantly calms down and listens to her wise teacher.

  16. Hmmm…I never thought about it that way, and it makes me wonder if maybe our beagle Cricket is not reactive. She’s only had issues with off leash dogs that run at her. If they just leave her alone, she’s fine.
    I also don’t appreciate my hubby’s affection or talking when I’m writing or working! I just try to nicely tell him that I’m really focused on what I’m doing and when I’m done we can talk. :)