Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sometimes People Suck

I'm normally pretty easy going. I draw the line at off-leash dogs. If I'm walking the "normal" dogs, you're lucky if I ignore you and flip you the bird as I walk away. If I'm walking the reactive dogs, you'll get an earful about what a horrible, stupid, scummy person you are. I realize this probably isn't the most helpful of reactions, and since this has been a particularly rough week (we've been lucky to meet just one off-leash dog on each of our walks), here's my attempt to be constructively - instead of destructively - pissed off. So, tips for dealing with off-leash dogs:

This is a picture (by Paige!) from Jai's Gotcha Day Party.
I just felt like there should be pictures of off-leash dogs
in my blog post about off leash dogs.

Set Yourself Up For Success:

  • Scope out the route before you take your dogs out. I take my normal dogs with me when I check out a new area, but if you don't have normal dogs (god love you), go by yourself. Most off-leash dogs tend to be repeat offenders, so knowing the blocks and trails to avoid can be a big help. Off leash dogs are less likely to hand out around busier roads, or during the early morning or late night. 
  • Take your cell phone. Have animal control or the cops' number programmed into it. In my experience, most off-leash dogs have owners lurking about somewhere, but some don't, and I'd hate for someone else to walk into the same situation I just did. Not to mention, emergency numbers are important if there's ever, well, an emergency. For that matter, know the location of your closest emergency vet. 
  • Have control of your dog. Train important things like auto watches, emergency retreats, and to walk on both sides of you before you risk running into off-leash dogs. If your not 100% certain of your dog's training, make sure you have physical control over them. I use gentle leaders with my dogs because I am not a perfect trainer - but I am a scrawny white chick with a gimp arm and big, strong dogs. 
  • Carry a spray deterrent and practice using it. I like citronella sprays because they stop most stoppable dogs, but aren't horribly adversive if I accidentally spray my own dog. Or myself. Or the other "owner." Because if you spray the other owner, it's probably assault or something, and I could go to jail. Not that I've thought about it . . . 

Training Jai is fun! Except when there are off-leash dogs.
Then it sucks. Photo by Paige

Take a Deep Breath:
  • Retreat, RETREAT! It's okay to turn around and go the other way. It took me a long time to figure this out, but boy! Walking away before the other dog sees you sure does work well! Remember not to run though - most dogs instinctively notice and chase things that run.
  • If approached by an off-leash dog, try to stay calm. I'm not above yelling expletives at "owners," but I check my own dog and the other dog for signed of aggression first. If people start screaming, it can push a tense situation over the edge into violence, and ultimately, that's what I'm trying to avoid. 
  • Throw treats at the other dog. Preferably smelly, raunchy treats that will give the dog diarrhea all over their "owner's" carpet later on. Make your escape while the other dog is distracted. 
  • If you think your dog will be okay with meeting the other dog, stay calm, keep a loose leash, and let them say "hi." I tend to error on the side of caution here, particularly when it comes to my reactive dogs, but most dogs actually get along fine with most other dogs. Just, you know, not the ones I have. 
  • Use your spray deterrent. Aim for the face. Start screaming. Throw your dog over the nearest fence that doesn't have another dog in it. If I know a meeting is inevitable and not going to go well, all bets are off. And if it comes down to it, I'm going to protect my dog above all else. Not everyone is this way, so make sure you know how to break up a dog fight.  

Let It Go:
  • Go home, give your dog a cookie, and make yourself a stiff drink. Remember, stress hormones stay with you for forty-eight to seventy-two hours. If you had a bad incident with an off-leash dog, chances are either your brain is shot or your dog's is. Go home and spoil yourselves.
  • Don't get hung up on what you could have done better. While I have hope otherwise, the truth is that off leash dogs are sort of inevitable. They're out there, and if you walk your dog, you're going to run into them. Think critically about the situation: Was there anything you could have done better? If the answer if no, think of what went well. And if you can't think of anything that went well - well, any day above ground is a good one, as we say in my profession. 
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most "owners" of off-leash dogs are not intention assholes. They love their dogs and feel that letting them off leash is good for them. These people are just ignorant and inconsiderate, which doesn't automatically make them evil. I find I sleep better at night if I don't hate the whole human race. 
This blog post (which I am not writing while sober - weeeeee!!!!) occurred because Rubi and I had an incident tonight with an aggressive, off-leash dog with no "owner" in sight. B and I escaped to a hockey rink and were stranded there for thirty minutes until the cops were called. No one was hurt, thankfully, including the other dog. After all, it's not the other dog's fault that their owner is an inconsiderate, ignorant asshole. 

Rubi handled herself like a dream, and I know she's not so socially stupid that she doesn't recognize an aggressive dog when it tries to eat her. She followed my instructions to the letter, and once again, I am so proud of her. It might be the training we've done, and I'm sure that's partly why she behaved so well, but I also like to think that her excellent behavior was largely due to our relationship. She trusted me to keep her safe and to look out for her best interest, and I know how hard that is for her. I'm honored and awed by the responsibility she has given me. 

And well, she didn't go ape shit - I'll drink to that!

"If you're a rock star and you know it
Photo by Paige.


  1. What would you have done if there was no hockey rink near you? I'm assuming you used your spray. But if you are in an open area with nowhere to go, what then?

  2. Good girl, Rubi.

    Definitely in rock star territory!

  3. Thank you for the tips on letting it go. :) After a run-in with two loose Rotts, while walking my reactive girl at 6am, I'm still having trouble with that one four months later. Although I hate that others are having to go through scary situations, it's not quite as bad when I know it's not just me. Also, as someone still new to life with a reactive dog, thank you for writing your blog and sharing so much with the rest of us. Sending you good vibes for safer walks.