In the six months that Sasha has been with us, we’ve encountered dozens of dogs and their owners. (Hundreds, if you count the veritable sea of wagging tails at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ fundraising celebration in the park.) We’ve encountered them on neighborhood walks, along the trail system, in community parks. We’ve met them in kennels, vet clinics, and in training classes. We cross paths at Lowes, PetSmart, and a few other dog-friendly businesses. Usually, the dogs are leashed, the owners are polite, and everyone goes about their day. Good dogs, responsible owners. Those are the happy times.
And then there are the dog owners who are, frankly, clueless. You’ve seen them, and I’ll venture a guess you’ve seen them more often than you’d like. The clueless are often glued (metaphorically) to their smartphones instead of focusing on their dog. They’re the ones using fully-extended flexible leashes in crowded locations, leaving them too far from their dog to intercede if trouble begins. And then there are the owners who think leash laws apply to everyone except their dogs.
When Sasha and I come across those clueless ones, I’ll change direction to avoid crossing paths or getting tangled in those long leash lines. If a detour isn’t practical I’ll move off to the side and out of their path, then put Sasha in a sit-stay until they pass. When an unleashed dog comes our way, I do my best to warn them off with a loud “NO!” or “GO BACK!” Add a sharp thump of my walking stick and that’s often enough to deter a dog that’s unwilling to confront an angry human. Sometimes, though, that’s just not enough.
Make no mistake: I am my dog’s advocate. I will not allow any person or dog to cause her harm in any way. And that most certainly includes those clueless owners who allow their dogs to run unleashed, and who think they can excuse themselves by yelling “It’s okay, don’t worry. He’s friendly!”
News flash: it’s not okay, and I worry about owners who don’t respect boundaries, or who are offended when told to control their dog. If I’m in a good mood and know Sasha is safe, I tend to view these interactions as “teachable moments” for both human and dog. But if I have the slightest doubt about our well-being, I’ll do whatever’s necessary. And after reading the following post by Doranna Durgin (dog trainer, writer, and overall peace-loving person), I’m thinking of adding a few items to my dog-walk kit!
And I’d Do It Again
Congratulations, Dog Owner! You pushed your dog’s luck until you broke it.
You know, eventually you were bound to run into someone who was ready for you. Today, that was me.
Of course, you knew there would be trouble the instant you saw us. I saw you freeze as your off-leash dog noticed my quiet smaller dog. I heard the hint of panic in your voice as you said, “Dog! No!”
Undoubtedly you already knew that even from a mere ten feet away, you would have no control over your pet. I also saw your failed body block, your full-length attempt at a tackle. You are young and athletic, and the tackle was impressive.
But your dog had no trouble evading you.
Dog Owner, there’s a reason I carry a handful of surveyor flags when I track on campus, and you are it. Your dog is it. Of decent size, of a lineage that includes reactive, snappish, and intense behavior. And, of course, off-leash.
Usually when a dog comes our way, I have time to smack the ground with those surveyor flags, or swish the air. Little orange flags on short wire sticks—they make a satisfying swoosh and a big lot of noise, and no dog has tried to get past them. But your dog ran at us with such speed and intensity that for the first time ever, I had no choice but to strike.
I whapped my surveyor flags hard across his nose. It probably hurt. Maybe even a lot.
Your dog was stunned. He tucked tail and ran back to you, just as I meant him to do.
You were stunned, too. You said, “You hit my dog!”
I said, “Yes I certainly did.”
You said, “He wouldn’t have hurt you!!”
Let us both stop and absorb the absurdity of this claim for a moment. Never mind that my dog was still baying alarm and warning, and would never, ever have welcomed yours. What, exactly, did you think your dog intended to do at the tooth end of his charge? Do you have any understanding of dog body language at all?
No, don’t answer that.
I said, “This is a leash area. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near me.”
For instance, closing in at top speed so I didn’t even have the time to warn him off. My arms are only of a certain length, you know. If your dog isn’t well inside my bubble, there’s no way I can do anything but warn him. That’s certainly the way I prefer it.
By now you were trying to collect your dog, but since you had no leash and no control, your only option was to pick him up. You said, “You HIT MY DOG!!”
I was moving on toward my start flag. I said, “Yes, and if he comes back over here I’ll do it again.”
You said, “Shut up!!”
I said, “No, I won’t. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near us.”
You repeated yourself and I said again, still moving on, that I wouldn’t be silenced.
Props to you. You didn’t resort to cursing or try to intimidate me. Mostly, I think, this was because you were trying to gather the Frisbee while still carrying your dog. Once you had it, you left, forced to carry the dog all the way back to the pleasant spot you and your friends had staked out as Frisbee Base One.
Look, Dog Owner. I get it. I actually think you reacted pretty well in the aftermath—given your state of cluelessness, I mean. You contained your dog; you didn’t shriek or scream or threaten. You were truly horrified that your dog had been hit. And then you left.
But here’s the thing. I’m not sorry I hit your dog.
I did the right thing, with exactly the right force, at exactly the right moment. I protected not only myself, but my own dog. It’s possible that your dog carries welts; it’s even possible that an eye was scratched. You’re incredibly lucky that I had the presence of mind to bring those flags down across his muzzle instead of across his head and eye area, or it could indeed have been worse.
I’m pretty sure you don’t see it that way. I don’t imagine you have even one friend in the Frisbee crew with enough sense to say, “Dude, your dog went for her. What was she supposed to do?”
I’m not sorry I hit your dog.
However, I’m very, very sorry that you failed your dog so badly. I don’t dare to hope that you learned something from it, but I hope that he did. Because the next person you come across might not have any protection at all, or she might have a gun (it is, after all, an open carry state). Either way, you don’t often get second chances.
And yes, I’ll do it again.