Here’s an Idea
Dare I say it’s a radical idea?
How about we consider NOT taking our reactive dogs to places where they will encounter so many of the things that trigger them?
OMG! What? Not go to certain places? Avoid the dog park you say?
Yup. So if my dog is scared of large groups of people or a lot of kids running around, how about I NOT take her to large group gatherings or walk by that playground full of screaming children?
How about instead of blaming that fuck-tard for letting his off-leash dog run up to my leashed dog, I not be a fuck-tard myself and insist on walking my dog on that trail on the weekends where it seems everyone and his brother takes their dog to walk, and most of them are not leashed up?
Again. Radical ideas here.
Let me clarify that I used to be that fuck-tard that insisted on taking her dog to the parks or the popular trails even though it was very clear that she was a bully and was approaching other dogs inappropriately. I quashed the suggestion that maybe my dog’s crouching behavior and then sudden explosion from a crouch into a full-fledged frontal affront accompanied by frantic barking on an approaching dog was somehow wrong. She’s just being playful, I thought.
Nope. She was being an asshole. And it was completely unfair. Unfair not only to the other dogs and their owners that had to deal with it, but also unfair to my dog to keep putting her in that setting and allowing her to practice this behavior, then to scold her for doing it.
Finally, one day a woman scolded me and confronted my response that my dog was simply being playful (even though in my heart I knew she wasn’t) and told me that that my dog was being a bully. The exchange rattled me. But it also brought me to my senses. Although Jasmine was perfectly appropriate in certain environments, she was most definitely not within others.
Furthermore, I finally realized why Jasmine was behaving so inappropriately. She was afraid. And doing what a lot of fearful dogs do, she was going on the offense to alert other dogs that she didn’t want them in her face. After I put the pattern together, I realized she acted this way only with certain breeds and dogs that were her size or larger. She never did it to small dogs, most of whom she was sweet and gentle with. Upon further retrospection, I recalled the time she was chased down by a pair of German Shepherds at the dog park.
She’d been trying to tell me something for a long time.
So when I got Brady, I was a lot wiser. But I still had lessons to learn. Luckily, I caught on a lot faster.
With Brady, I developed the philosophy I presently live by.
My philosophy is a bit different. Instead of blaming others for their dog’s behavior, and ranting that other people are not controlling their dogs, I acknowledge fully that my dog is, or in the case of plural, my dogs can be, a complete jerk or jerks and that John Q. Public and Susie Q. Public do not in general possess nearly the same knowledge about dog behavior that I do. Therefore, it is my responsibility to assure that my dog or dogs behave appropriately. If I cannot assure that to be the case, especially when I have all four together at the same time, then we do not go to places where we may encounter others.
It is simple. My dog, my responsibility.
Of course I wish others would take the same position, but the reality is that they do not. Ignorance may not be a defense under the eyes of the law, but in life, ignorance really is often bliss. Maybe it’s my tendency to see things from so many perspectives, but is it really so wrong for John and Suzie Q. Public to be so offended when they see me trying to control my knashing beast because we are in the presence of their uber friendly clueless retriever and I yell at them to get their dog away from mine? Is it really fair for me to be so pissed off at someone who just has absolutely no idea?
In addition to not wanting to take the fall for the potential behavior of my own dogs, I also do not want them rehearsing certain behaviors. Nor do I want them feeling threatened because I – the being with the allegedly larger brain – put them in a position where they have no choice but to react in a potentially inappropriate way.
I know that my dog snarling at an approaching off-leash friendly dog is not entirely inappropriate. Especially when said friendly dog is bounding up to within a few inches of my dog’s nose. My dog is communicating that he/she does not wish to make a new friend, especially a new friend that is such a close talker. You know, like that person at a party that you just met who squeezes into your personal space and insists on speaking at you within inches of your eyes. And you can smell what they had for lunch. Yeah, dogs don’t like it either.
I just don’t want to put my dogs in the position of having to throw the first punch. It’s not fair to them.
Therefore, I do not insist on take my quartet on packed park trails on summer weekends and on sunny weekends the rest of the year. That way, I don’t place my dogs in a stressful position, or stress myself out, with the expectation that we’re going to be on a level playing field. The issue is quite simple really. Most of the public just has no clue.
Of course it’s not right and of course those with knowledge should continue to try to enlighten those without. But really – is you taking your fear-aggressive dog out to the park and expecting others to abide by a 20-, 40-, 100-foot bubble of space really fair? To your dog? To other people? Especially when you know that there is a high likelihood of the presence of off-leash dogs? What are you trying to prove? That you are the superior asshole?
Is it fair to your dog and to other people and dogs to continue to insist you can take your barking, snapping fearful dog on a run through a public park?
So that’s my rant. My apologies for those that this may offend, and I expect that could be many. I admit I’ve thought about this for a very long time as I know so many people with dogs that don’t necessarily play well with others. I’ve sympathized and gotten angry with you. I get the frustration of dealing with the sudden appearance of an off-leash dog when you are out minding your business with your own dog. I also get the frustration of walking peaceably with your own dog in an area that is signed for dogs to be on leash at all times, when some asswipe shouts how friendly their dog is as he runs into your dog’s face and pays no hither to the calls of his owner to come back.
I’ve been there too. I’ve been shaken as well by those moments. But here’s where my philosophy differs. I don’t keep putting myself, and my dog(s), in those situations and expect a different outcome.
Being righteous doesn’t make you any less of a prick. And it doesn’t do your dog any favors.
Management is key, as is practiced behavior. Brady for instance, never went out, except in my yard, before 6 pm for an entire spring, summer and fall, and often it was much later. That was a very deliberate action on my part, prompted when I realized that being righteous could actually endanger my dog, and others.
When I got to the point where I was comfortable practicing some of the protocol for reactive dogs that we’d learned, I deliberately chose a place that is actively patrolled by state park officers for off-leash dogs to assure I could manage the space Brady needed and proactively work with him and have positive experiences. Very gradually, and I mean very slowly – as in over a year – we worked our way up to more unpredictable places.
I credit that slow, steady and solid foundation, as well as the trust built up over a long period of time, to Brady not taking a huge slide backwards after last year’s dog attack. And even after the attack, because I was worried about the impact on him, I started right back at the beginning, taking him only to well-controlled environments during precise times of the day for the sake of a predictable and managed outcome. The good news is that as we’d built such a good foundation that he demonstrated his ability to handle our normal life – which is still well managed – with no negative consequences from the attack.
So, I’ll continue to abide by my philosophy. But because responsibility is often such a heavy load to carry, and sometimes I want to be carefree, I walk secluded trails, don’t usually go to the pretty places and often walk or hike with my dogs during off-hours, such as moonlit nights.