Interview With Zoe Blake Founder of Respect the Lead

So Zoe can you tell me a bit about yourself

I started my veterinary nurse training when I was 16, qualified in 1996 and have continued in the profession ever since. I currently juggle my time between running my own business, ‘The friendly pet nurse’, working night shifts at a local Orthopaedic referral centre, studying for my advanced feline behaviour certificate and being a mum to my 5yr old son.

You started your ‘Respect the lead’ campaign earlier this month, what made your start this?

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This is something I feel quite passionate about for several reasons but was highlighted over the New Year holidays when I got involved in an incident at a local beauty spot. We had been on a family walk with my dog (who sadly spends a lot of time on a lead as he chases deer), and on heading back to the car, we heard a dog fight quite near to us. My instinct kicked in, and I ran over to the incident as people were screaming for help. Luckily as I got there, the dogs had stopped, and I checked them over for any injuries. Fortunately, both dogs were ok however, sadly one of the owners had been bitten quite badly during the process and needed hospital attention. The incident had occurred after an on-lead dog was approached by a very bouncy, exuberant dog that persisted in trying and jumping all over it. The owners kept shouting for the dog to be taken away as their dog that was on the lead could be reactive. Which sadly on this occasion their warnings rang true …..HOWEVER,, this could have been prevented by the off-lead dogs owners acknowledging the request and taking the dog away. I had had the same thing happen to me on the walk with the same dog on several occasions bounding up to my dog. So I can imagine how this reactive dog would have felt.

My latest rescue dog came off the streets of Croatia, and I had to put a lot of work into training him when he first arrived. He was very reactive on the lead and would lunge at nearly every dog he saw. He was lovely and sociable off lead, but as soon as the lead went on, he changed. It took a lot of time and persistence, but he is better now. I am mindful and read my walks, watching ahead, and so if I sense he will get dashed when he is on the lead, I put my training into place. This works well for my dog, but I worry about all the other dogs that have their issues and maybe the owners haven’t been lucky enough to get training help. I felt I wanted to speak out for these owners.

During my job as a veterinary nurse,, I get to see many dogs that have sadly been in dog fights. Many of these can be from on-lead/off lead altercations, which unfortunately may have resulted in injury to the owner.

This is why I started my ‘Respect the lead campaign.’

What were your initial hopes when you started the campaign??

I wanted to try and make dog owners aware that they should be mindful and respectful when out walking, especially towards other dogs that may be on a lead. Dogs can be kept on a lead for many different reasons, recovering from surgery, puppies in training, older dogs who may have hearing/sight problems, dogs that are anxious around others, dogs in training….. The list can go on. So with the campaign,, I wanted to highlight this and make people realise why a dog on the lead may be uncomfortable when being approached by other dogs. Hopefully,, this would mean that many dogs and their owners could carry out their walks and have a better understanding of the others around them.

How has the campaign been getting on?

I have been blown away by the response I have received. It has been shared worldwide on Facebook, and I have had so many positive comments and feedback. It seems that it is quite a common problem amongst dog owners.

What sort of people have you had feedback from?

The engagement has been broad, ranging from dog owners, dog trainers, pet sitters and dog walkers. I have been approached by various companies keen to display one of my posters on their public noticeboards.

How does your campaign differ from ‘Yellow Dog UK’?

The yellow dog campaign is great, and many dog owners are aware of the yellow collar/lead/bandana that a dog will show to reflect that they need space. However, when you are walking, depending on how far away other dog walkers are, you may not see the yellow signage. Or you may have forgotten to bring the correct collar/lead on your dog walk. What would you do…not go on your walk or hope that people are more mindful of the fact that your dog may be on a lead for a reason…so respect that.

Have you any handy tips for dog owners who may have dogs that need to stay on their leads?

I will always have a pocket full of treats when I walk my dog, and I think this is vital. As soon as I see a potential problem up ahead, I gain my dog focus and start feeding him some high-value reward treats (not their everyday food as that’s dull…something that’s seen as a special treat). The ‘watch me’ command, I feel is one that is underestimated and should be trained as much as a ‘sit’ or ‘down’. To start this, you hold the treat up to your face, and when the dog looks at you, reward. You then add in the ‘watch me’ command. Therefore any time you want to gain your dog’s focus, you can use the command. You could also use other commands like ‘touch’ and get them to touch a part of you. Anything really to distract them from what is up ahead, remember you need to be more inviting than whatever is around them. These are things you should be working towards at home when there are no distractions. It is always a harder challenge to gain our dogs focus on us when they are distracted or anxious. If they are finding something too much, they will not even eat. If you have a dog which is at this stage in arousal, I would seek professional help. Yes,, it will take time and patience, but it will hopefully all pay off in the end. Please remember….dodon’t set your dog up to fail….you need to work slowly and methodically, taking it a step at a time.

I would also avoid as much as possible approaching face on to another dog on a lead. This is obviously depending on where you are walking at the time even if you arc off slightly and bend your route, that will help. Lead to lead encounters can also cause great problems. If you meet someone with all dogs on a lead, keep the introductions brief, 3 seconds, then go on your way. Don’t let the subtle tension escalate between the dogs, leading to an outburst.

{Edit if you are looking for one2one dog training, then I would recommend Tip Top Dog School}

So Zoe, what next for your campaign?

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I am keen that everybody can have access to my resources so they can share and copy my posters and use them as they wish. I have been in touch with lots of different organisations, i.e. National Trust, Woodland Trust, RSPB, to see whether they would consider displaying a poster on their notice boards. I also feel that any dog-related establishment could display a poster, i.e. pet shops, veterinary surgeries, and dog training classes. Respect the Lead Resources

I am hoping that with public awareness of the issue and all dog owners being more mindful of the situation, we might be able to ensure happily, relaxed dog walks. I would encourage any owner who has problems with their dog regarding any behaviour issue to seek help from a qualified trainer/behaviourist. There is help out there, and many dogs and their owners would benefit greatly if they got some help….am sure the dogs would be thankful for it.

Here at Finchley Dog Walker, as we offer Bespoke One to One Dog Walking and fully support the Respect the Lead Campaign