Two months ago, I wrote about Lilly’s progress toward reducing her reactivity to approaching dogs and how the lessons learned were not just her’s, but my wife’s and mine as well.
Attention finely focussed on the ever-changing environment on our walks and fully loaded with an arsenal of diversion techniques and good timing, we have not only averted unpleasant encounters with other dogs, but actually set the table for our girl to make new friends.
This would not have happened had we not accepted the fact that our Boston buddy came to us with limitations. This was not an easy process; no one likes to be the parent of a “problem” child. However, by reminding ourselves of our own limitations - some might say “challenges” - and how we have compensated for them over the years, we have afforded Lilly the room to grow into more of a canine “good citizen.”
We owe a debt of gratitude to those dog owners/parents who are keenly observant and tuned in to our training of Lilly. Some people just “get it.” They respect what we’re trying to accomplish. Many are or have been in the training trenches themselves. There is a tacit, mutual understanding when one of us doubles back or picks up our dog because the tension of a sudden encounter with another dog can spark a flurry of barking and whirling.
Unfortunately, the world is not completely occupied by conscious people.
There’s the teenage girl on the next block who I swear never looks up from her cell phone while walking the family dog on a retractible leash. Then there’s the steely-eyed commando who tromps undeterred through the neighborhood with his chow on a choke chain. One is not aware that there’s a brick wall ahead and the other does not care.
But my favorite is the blithe and ditzy suburbanite of either sex who allows their unleashed pooch to follow their every flight of fancy. Invariably that includes bounding gleefully up to Lilly for a quick sniff - or something more.
“Don’t worry! She’s friendly!” an unconcerned voice titters from a distance as my wife or me quickly scoops Lilly up to avoid a catastrophe.
This person definitely does not get it.
He or she does not understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with how well their dog gets along with other dogs. What’s wrong is the assumption that every other dog in the world behaves just as “well” as theirs (or as well as they think they do). Permitting this behavior also assumes that everyone else in the world - dog and human - welcomes an impromptu visitor under any and all circumstances.
What can you say about someone devoid of respect for private space or individual processes? Frontal-lobe dysfunctional? A narcissist?
Tempting as such personality assignments are, we’ve found that a proper response is much more constructive. There are several things you can do should an unleashed and impassioned pooch that you do not know gallops up to you and your dog:
- Size up the situation in an instant. The vast majority of the time, the approaching dog means no harm. Still, that does not guarantee that there will be no harm. If necessary, sweep your dog into your arms and turn away, shielding your dog.
- In a firm, even voice, shout, “No!” Stick your arm straight out with your hand palm-up, in a “stop” signal. Many dogs will respond to this visual cue - even if their ill-mannered owners don’t.
- Tell the other dog owner that you are training your dog and trying to avoid sudden, unexpected encounters. Be cordial, but direct; inform without punishing. The goal is to get them to think twice about their actions. That’s what ambassadors of responsible pet ownership do.
- If the situation arises again with the same dog owner, you may need to adjust the timing of your walk or your route. There’s no point in engaging in power struggles with clueless people and possibly endangering you and your pet.
We’ve had to adjust our paths once or twice while walking Lilly. But those little detours have taken us all a long way toward making healthy acquaintances of the two- and four-legged kind.