Have A Safe Walk with Your Companion Dog!
Reality stinks sometimes. This is such a different world we live in than the one I grew up in. Back in my rural upbringing, if an aggressive dog challenged me or anyone I knew – it was more than likely that that dog would have been shot. It was simply understood that human life was more valuable and aggression would not be tolerated. Breeders did not breed aggressive dogs as there were no buyers. Stable temperaments and dogs who could work, were the norm. Nor did everyone buy dogs – most people didn’t. People seem to assume nowadays that they have come up with something new, because they rescued a dog and not purchased it – not so true, folks. People have been rescuing dogs for many generations.
But I digress and selecting a dog is another chapter.
How to keep yourself and your dog safe when out walking or playing in a park – is this chapter’s subject. There is no 100% safe anything in our world today – but let’s take some time and look at common sense suggestions that might help us.
First- if you take your dog to a dog park:
1) Go at a time when you have gotten to know other dog owners and their dogs. Stop and think about the whole subject of dog parks. Even though I do not like to “humanize” dog issues, I’ll draw a little picture for you. This actually comes from a good friend of mine, a great trainer in Long Island by the name of Allison Denlea.
Say you are driving along the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York, on your way to a Thanksgiving celebration with family 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 CBE, and jump out of your car, with your children in tow, and say “Go play and have a good time”. Would you do that? Most likely, NOT! It doesn’t make much sense.
But that is what you do when you go unprepared to dog parts. You know nothing about the dogs who are there, the owners, the dogs’ vaccinations, temperaments, training. You let your beloved pet loose and say “Go have fun, Fido!” Would I or many other professional dog experts do this with our dogs? Not so much.
However, ask me if I have ever done this before and I will admit - YES!
Years ago on Cape Cod, I used to visit a beautiful place called Thompson’s Field. It was so many acres of natural Cape Cod glorious beauty but because of one awful dog owner, I quit going.
Between the trails, woods, and fields – it was a glorious place to take a dog for a wonderful romp. I didn’t want to socialize while I was there – I just wanted a place to take my dogs for a run.
My own personal demo, training, service, therapy dog – was bitten twice in two weeks by the same dog – AS WE WERE JUST WASLKING BY! There was no playing or interaction, but the same Lab/German Shepherd X felt the need to run up to my dog two different times and bite her. I have soft tempered dogs, Irish Setters, and to see your dog cower and scream – is heartbreaking.
BUT, to hear the owner of that dog say (and I will never forget the words) “Don’t worry about it. That is how he greets every new dog. He is an Alpha and he is letting your dog know he is the Leader of the Pack”.
First, he isn’t an Alpha. And second, he is not the Leader of the Pack- because there ISN’T one! The owner tried to state that it was a temporary pack. Nope – no such thing. AghHHHHHHH!
So after that incident, I worked on trying to protect my dog and myself more in situations such as these. I believe in being pro-active, rather than reactive, if I can (I’m not perfect and sometimes I just get frustrated with ignorant dog owners who jeopardize the safety of others. When that happens, I apologize to everyone, but if you have ever had your dog attacked, you have a better understanding).
2) I developed the Safe Dog Stance which I suggest you read carefully. It’s actually a very easy position to learn and use. I have had numerous dog owners tell me they used it and believe it may have saved their dog from harm. I myself, had an occasion to test it a few years ago in Dennis Port. I was walking my dog, Ruby, (the same one) through a parking lot. She was off leash trained, but right beside me, heeling.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of paws running as fast as they could, in our direction. Knowing the neighborhood, I admit, I was concerned about an aggressive pit bull getting loose and charging. Sure enough, it was a gorgeous brindle male pit! As he came up to us, I placed Ruby in the Safe Dog Stance and protected her. As I worked the position, I had to keep turning Ruby as the dog did not come any closer once I stopped him – but kept trying to come around me. I spun Ruby in a Sit Stay for what seemed like an hour – but was probably only 2-3 minutes. The owners finally came to get their dog. As the male owner came up to his dog, he glowered at me and said “Not every pit bull is a killer you know”. I smiled sweetly and said “I know that. And your dog is incredibly handsome. But I noticed that he is unneutered and my female dog is in season”. With that, the owner apologized profusely, grabbed his dog and left. An argument was diverted, my dog was safe, and life went on.
(PS – was my dog in season? No, and I hope God will forgive me for telling a white lie. But it was easier to say that, than to get into the whole pit bull discussion).
I suggest every dog owner should be proficient in the Safe Dog Stance for a first step.
3) Carry an air horn with you. Boat shops sell the cutest small air horns that fit right into your jacket pocket. I love them. A friend of mine from out West recommended I carry one since I walk in the woods on a daily basis. They are great for moving wild life away and generally, work well with charging dogs!
Desensitize (that is such an overused word in the dog world, but appropriate here). your dog to the air horn. My dogs and my client Residency dogs love the air horn. To them it means Cookies! Even with my experienced dogs, I still blow the air horn in the woods weekly to keep my dogs used to it and very responsive.
The directions to teaching your dog to accept the air horn are found in the next pages.
4) Cell Phones. Don’t go anywhere without yours!!! Most cell phones nowadays have camera capability. Learn yours and use it! This is an awesome tool for today’s safety minded dog owner.
Let’s say you are out walking – park, trails, wherever – and a dog does try to menace or attack you or your dog. Take a picture! It’s worth a thousand words when trying to describe the incident to your local officials. It’s hard for an irresponsible dog owner to deny a picture. The local officials may even know who the owner is, especially if there have been other complaints.
5) Description. of vehicle. If you can safely follow the owner and dog to a vehicle- get the color of the vehicle, make and model if you can see what it is, and most importantly – GET THE PLATE NUMBER! Even if you do not have any paper – keep repeating the plate number over and over and find someone with a pen and paper to write the info down quickly. Or use your cell phone and call your home, leave a message on your voice mail with the vehicle information on your voice mail.
6) 5) Description of house. If the dog owner goes to a residence, instead of a vehicle, write the information down.
7) Write up a quick report or leave the information on your voice mail – as to what happened, what time, where, when, who and how. Just the pertinent information.. Stay away from writing up all the non important emotional feelings you went through. Just the facts, ma’am, for now please (J)
8) Walk your dogs with another friend or friends. If you are able at all- go with another person or two. The old saying “There is safety in numbers” – is quite true. If an incident happens, there are multiple eyes and ears to report the facts. Please don’t confront offenders on your own. That could be dangerous, or at the very least, quite frustrating.
9) Work as a group. There is one dog park that I actually love. Many of the regular dog owners have gotten together and are working as a collective, to stop aggressive dogs from coming to the park. They have photos of the dog attacking or harassing other dogs. They have photos of the owner of the dogs yelling at everyone else. They even have photos of the owner not picking up her own dog waste. They wrote a well versed letter to her with a copy of the photos – which basically stated, she was not welcome there until her dog had learned not to be aggressive, was trained, she obeyed the law and cleaned up after her own dog, and that she no longer verbally harassed and intimidated other dogs owners.
It worked so well on the first dog owner, which they paid an attorney to write up a more legal letter (protecting them) that they used for future offenders. After the word got out that inappropriate dogs, their behaviors, and inappropriate owners would not be welcomed or tolerated – they quit coming there.
This group of dog owners had trying calling the town officials – but without any knowledge of the dog owner’s identity, the dog’s identity, or anything else – the official’s hands were tied. By working together, tempers remained even, dogs were protected, and the park grew to have a great reputation. Even the local town officials came to like the park and the dog owners – which can be a rare occurrence!
Go out and walk your dog with confidence, education, and have fun!