Have A Safe Walk with Your Companion Dog
Reality sometimes stinks. We live in such a different world than the one I grew up in. In my rural childhood, if an aggressive dog challenged me or anyone I knew – it was more than likely that it would have been shot. It was simply understood that human life was valuable and canine aggression would not be tolerated. As there were no buyers for them very few aggressive dogs were bred. Dogs with stable temperaments who could work were the norm. Today, quite a few people buy or rescue dogs who may endanger other dogs or people.
Nothing is 100% safe anything in our world any longer – so let’s look at common sense suggestions that might help you avoid trouble.
First, let’s think about dog parks. This illustration comes from a great dog trainer and good friend, Allison Denlea of Long Island, New York:
“Say you are driving along the Cross Bronx Expressway on your way to a family Thanksgiving celebration in Staten Island. You see a group of children in the distance, playing. They appear to be about the same age as your children, who are safely belted in the back seat. You get off the expressway, jump out of the car with your children in tow, and say, ‘Go play and have a good time’.”
Would you do that? I hope not! It wouldn’t make much sense. But that is just what you would do if you go to dog parks unprepared. That is, you haven’t found out anything about the dogs you see there, their temperaments, their training, their vaccinations, or their owners. But, in spite of that, you let your beloved pet loose and say, “Have fun, Fido!” Would I or most other professional dog trainers do this with our dogs? Not so much.
This shows what can happen when you go some place new with your dog. A few years ago, I began to visit Thompson’s Field on Cape Cod in Harwich. It has miles of woods, fields and should be a glorious place to take your dog. I didn’t go to socialize with strange dogs – but just for an outlining with my own dog. Ruby, a service dog and a therapy dog, was bitten, without provocation, on two different visits in two weeks by the same Lab/German Shepherd mix. On both occasions, there had been no interaction between him and Ruby before he ran up and bit her. I was heartbroken to see my soft tempered Irish Setter cower and hear her scream in pain. The owner of the dog that bit her (I will never forget his words) said, “Don’t worry about it. That’s how he greets every new dog. He is an Alpha and he’s letting your dog know he’s the Leader of the Pack.”
First, he isn’t an Alpha. And second, he couldn’t have been the Leader of the Pack because there wasn’t one! The owner tried to state that it was a temporary pack. Nope, sorry, there’s no such thing.
Since that incident and a few that have followed, I have continued to teach the laws, good manners, and safety to dog owners. Sometimes I do admit I get very frustrated with dog owners who jeopardize the safety of others, I sometimes speak harshly to them. If you have ever had your dog attacked, you will probably find such rudeness forgivable. In any case, I do try to apologize after I verbally “let them have it.” I usually try to teach first and show exemplary manners – but sometimes rude people just don’t get it and won’t let things go.
I hope that some of the following proactive things will help you while walking your dog, whether you are protecting your dog from people, other dogs who are charging or menacing, or wild animals or whatever. Be confident and cool and have a good walk!
The Safe Dog Stance. Every dog owner should be proficient in using my Safe Dog Stance. It’s easy to learn. Just put your dog in a sit-stay and stand right in front of him/her with your feet a foot or so apart. Numerous dog owners tell me they have used it and protected their dogs from harm. I had occasion to use it a few years ago in Dennis Port when I was walking Ruby through a parking lot. She was off-leash trained and heeling right beside me.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of a dog running as fast as he could right toward us. Knowing the neighborhood, I was concerned that an aggressive pit bull who lived nearby might get loose and charge us. Sure enough, what I was hearing was a gorgeous brindle male pit! As he came up to us, I placed Ruby in the Safe Dog Stance and protected her. To maintain position that position, I had to keep turning with Ruby behind me. After I stopped the dog, he had not come any closer, but he kept trying to come around me. So I spun Ruby in a sit-stay for what seemed like an hour but was probably only 2-3 minutes. As the male owner finally came up to his dog, he glowered at me and said, “Not every pit bull is a killer you know.” I smiled as sweetly as I could and said, “I know that. And your dog is incredibly handsome. But I notice that he is not neutered, and my female dog is in season.” With that, the owner apologized profusely, grabbed his dog and left. An argument was averted, my dog was safe, and life went on. Was Ruby in season? No. I hope God will forgive me for telling a lie. It was a lot easier to say that than to get into a discussion about pit bulls.
Carry an air horn. Marine supply shops sell small air horns that fit right into your jacket pocket. I love them. A friend from out West recommended I carry one since I walk in the woods on a daily basis. Air horns are great for moving wild life away and generally are effective with charging dogs. First, desensitize your dog to the air horn. My own dogs and my Residency dog clients love the air horn. To them, it means Cookies! Even with my experienced dogs, I blow the air horn in the woods weekly to keep them used to it. The directions for teaching your dog to accept the air horn are found in the next pages.
Cell Phones. Don’t go anywhere without one!!! Most cell phones nowadays have camera capability. Learn how to use yours! It is an awesome tool for a safety-minded dog owner. Let’s say you are out walking – in a park, on trails, wherever – and a dog menaces you or your dog. Take a picture! When you describe an incident to the local officials, that photo is worth a thousand words. The local officials may even know the owner’s identity, especially if there have been other complaints. It’s hard for a recalcitrant dog owner to deny his dog was the aggressor when you have its picture.
Description of vehicle. If you can safely follow the dog and owner to their vehicle, note the color and make, and the model if you can, and most importantly, get the plate number! If you don’t have pencil and paper handy, repeat the plate number over and over until you find someone with something to write on, and jot it down. Or use your cell phone, call home, and leave a message with the vehicle information.
Description of house. If the dog owner walks home instead of to a vehicle, try to follow him at a safe distance and write the down his address.
Write a quick report on the pertinent information: what happened, what time, where, who and how. Or leave the information on your voice mail. Just the facts for now, please.
Walk with a friend. If you can, walk with another person or two. “There is safety in numbers” is a truism. That way multiple eyes and ears can witness and report the facts of any incident. Don’t confront offenders if you are alone. That could be dangerous, or at the very least, frustrating.
Work as a group. There is one dog park that I actually love. Many of the regular dog owners are have formed a group to stop aggressive dogs from coming to the park. Previously, when these dog owners had tried calling the town officials without any knowledge of the offending dog’s or its owner’s identity, the officials’ hands were tied. Now group members take photos of dogs that attack or harass other dogs. They also take photos of the owner of those dogs who try to intimidate them. They even take photos of them when they don’t pick up their own dogs’ waste. The group wrote one owner a well worded letter with a copy of the photos. It basically stated she was not welcome at that park until her dog was obedient and had learned not to be aggressive and until she cleaned up after her dog and stopped yelling at and intimidating other dogs owners.
This worked so well on the first dog owner that the group paid an attorney to write a more formal letter to protect them when against future offenders. After the word got out that inappropriate behaviors and inappropriate owners would not be welcomed or tolerated, they quit going there. Even the local town officials have come to like the park and the dog owners – which can be a rare occurrence!
Now, following these suggestions, you can go out and walk your dog with confidence, and have fun!