Judgment is Easy, Understanding Takes Work

When it comes to dealing with other dog owners, sometimes I need an attitude adjustment. Typically I am able to refrain from turning all Judgey O’Judgerson when something annoys me, but every once in a while, that selfish side of me will sneak through.

Walking a reactive dog is hard and stressful. I wish I didn’t know how hard and how stressful. It is triply difficult when you have no idea how to solve the problem, when you don’t even realize the problem has a name. Even though I get all of this, now that Shiva and I are on the other side of the battle I let my understanding slip.

For the past few weeks I have been inwardly raging at people who don’t get their dog has issues. When walking in our neighbourhood, I normally check out any approaching dogs and owners for the obvious visual signs of reactivity. It’s just habit. As it is easier for me to read people than strange dogs, I let the owner’s reaction to our appearance on the sidewalk guide my own response. Obviously, if the dog is going nuts, I can tell without the human’s help, but when far back, it’s hard to gauge the more subtle cues the dog may be giving off. Usually, humans with reactive dogs will see us coming and move up a driveway or cross the street.

Usually.

If they don’t and the dog doesn’t have his eyes bugging out of his head, I will continue forward. Score! I think. A chance to practice calmly passing another dog!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go so well. And the fault is not Shiva’s. She has come a long way since the Canine Good Neighbour test, if I do say so myself. But I can’t set her up for success if the dog we are passing is frothing at the mouth to rip her apart.

This is when I get annoyed and start to inwardly rant. After all of our years of hard work, I feel like Shiva and I have earned our spot on the sidewalk. I shouldn’t have to bolt onto a lawn or turn around in the other direction. We should be beyond that by now. I am tired of finding quick getaways and crossing streets. I don’t want to be so alert all the time. Whine, complain, rant, stomp. If people would just realize their dog is miserable and take the necessary steps to help…

That’s where I have to stop myself. I try very hard to assume that if a person is walking her dog, she has the best intentions. It’s very easy to give up and just  dump Fluffy in the backyard. Trust me, I thought about it. Dog walking intimates to me that the person sincerely cares. People who make that effort are not people who are not concerned about their dog’s behaviour. They may have no idea what they are doing, but I didn’t either. My quick judgment based on irritation, is not making anyone’s life any better.

Last night Shiva and I were wandering through a new neighbourhood with unfamiliar dogs. I spotted a miniature schnauzer up ahead and observed him carefully. He seemed okay, a little energetic, but he was walking with a loose leash and his person seemed unfazed by Shiva. So we carried on as usual. At the crucial moment, where the two dogs were on the point of passing (Shiva on my side furthest away of course) the schnauzer decided he was very unhappy and started barking and lunging. The person did nothing, just kept trying to move forward with her yapping dog.

Instead of glaring and stomping away – which did occur to me as I am childish like that – I rewarded Shiva for staying cool, and tossed a piece of dried liver at the reacting schnauzer as we walked away. I don’t know if that helped or did anything, but it made me feel better about the situation. A situation I probably could have prevented if I’d been able to read the dog’s body language better.

The thing is, none of us are perfect dog handlers. We all screw up. As someone who’s been through it all and turned out okay, I now realize it is not my right to keep my place on the sidewalk. Indeed, it is my honour and my privilege, if not my obligation, to do what I can to help others out. If I see someone struggling to maintain control, I will no longer roll my eyes or swear at them in my head. I will simply cross the street.

Not because my dog is reactive, but because she isn’t. It’s our job to help others get there too.

Have you ever found yourself raging uselessly at other walkers? Do you have any advice to help me help others?

29 thoughts on “Judgment is Easy, Understanding Takes Work

  1. All the time. Rugby isn’t reactive, but we move out of the way of almost every other dog we pass. If I can tell they have little to no formal training, or if they do and are not utilizing it, Rugby gets moved safely across the street, or into the grass. I have a checklist of things I look for including dogs response to its environment, dogs interaction with its owner, and most importantly type of equipment on the dog. If the dog is out of control, but wearing equipment it can not get out of, I may stay a little closer and use the dog as a distraction. I will be getting far, far away though if they dog is out of control and wearing a flexi, a quick release collar, a harness, head halter, etc. The risk is too great that the dog can free himself in those situations.

    If you feel the owner is competent enough to keep a hold of his dog, you can enroll them in a mini training session. Ask them to be a distraction for Shiva while she practices a stay. Have them walk back and forth and around. Chances are by the time the other dog walks by her a few times, the whole thing will be boring and Shiva won’t be as big of a distraction for them.

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  2. I don’t let another dog get too close to Kita if I don’t know the dog or owner. At 7 pounds she pretty much is undersized compared to many dogs in the area – and even though she is only 7 pounds – she has the personality of a mastiff. The infamous Roach bows to her command. So when I see an owner being dragged down the street – or when a dog is frothing at the mouth when we approach – I pick up my dog – and suggest a really good blog from Nova Scotia that has many great tips and links for assisting a struggling dog owner. You have helped many dogs in this area – keep up the good blogging

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  3. We generally cross the street if we see another dog. Our dogs are pretty good on lead, but who needs to worry about an unknown dog? It is wonderful that Shiva has turned into such a good walker. 🙂

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  4. Reactive dogs don’t bother me as they can be avoided. Offleash psycho dogs do bother me, mainly because I don’t want to see any of them be hit by a car. People who use harsh physical corrections on their dogs make me angry. No matter what I am doing I will stop to question/yell at someone for hitting or kicking a dog. The poor dog can’t stick up for itself, so I will do it for them!

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  5. lately, the thing that has me swearing is the gross old dog poop next to Gwynn’s fresh deposit when I’m picking it up in the morning. I know it’s dark out, and that it’s hard to see, but you can get a cheap small light for under 5 dollars, pretty much anywhere. And picking up your dog’s gross soggy cold poop along with my dog’s makes my morning suck.
    As for approaching dogs, I ask everyone I appraoch if their dog is friendly. Regardless of whether the other person wants to do the dogs-sniffing-and-then-move-on thing, or just keep walking, that way I don’t need to worry about a strange dog lunging for gwynn – or, for that matter, finding out too late that their dog is nervous, and having gwynn going too close to it.

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  6. In our neighborhood, the bigger problem is loose dogs. Toby is reactive, but not in a nasty way. No growling. But he pulls, pants, and sniffs like mad when we even pass homes with dogs barking behind fences. To me, it appears to be some sort of anxiety, and he HAS been bit several times in the past, so who can blame in? So when a loose dog runs up to him, he goes into his own world and won’t respond to me at all. Needless to say, I HATE free roaming dogs. Or rather, I curse their owners for being irresponsible…. I guess that didn’t help you much – LOL! – but see, everyone has their rants about OTHER dog owners. Glad you are finding a way to be more compassionate. I should really try to take a lesson from you. Although, as you say, those owners are actively walking their dogs and hopefully trying to help them. The owners in my neighborhood just let them run free, without any regard to the responsible people who might be trying to fix a dog with issues….

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  7. While my dogs aren’t reactive, I sometimes walk dogs who are, so I totally understand. Luckily, most of the people I encounter at least seem to try somewhat to control their dog (shorten leash, move dog to other side). What really bugs me is not even people with their dogs off leash, but those who make no effort to control their off leash dog when an obviously hyper-intense/reactive dog is approaching. That damn call of “she’s friendly” to which I have to respond “mine’s NOT” while wrestling with a lunging, barking, growling dog is the point of my annoyance.

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  8. We live in a small city neighborhood. Like you, I have to constantly be on my guard and try to avoid assertive dogs on leashes and loose dogs. It is rather stressful. The loose dogs especially. I actually had a woman yell at me because I crossed the street rather than passing by her and her pitbull. Sure, her dog may be sweet as sugar, and the breed maybe unfairly judged, but I wasn’t about to take any chances, knowing that Kelly is not comfortable in close proximity to some other dogs. You bring up an interesting point about judging the dog’s body language. I still cannot accurately judge which dogs Kelly is going to like, and which will make her fur stand up on end.

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  9. Hmmm…we look for signs from the approaching dog as well. Usually, if that dog is reactive, the handler will swing a wide berth of cross the street as we have depending on who my mom and dad are walking at that moment. And even then, my dad will always ask when we are relatively close, whether their dog is “friendly” or not. If they sat, “well….”, my dad says “maybe next time” and we’re off again. Both my brothers are reactive, one more so than the other and my sister, well..let’s just say that she’s “bossy” and only likes some dogs. My mom and dad are still working on our issues. It’s not always easy but they’re trying.

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  10. Sampson and Delilah are reactive to other reactive dogs. So if the dog is behaving calmly they may want to go get a quick butt sniff, but normally I can keep them under control.

    Sometimes I just make them sit while a dog is going past and that works well if I have only one dog under my control even if the other dog is reacting, I can usually keep Delilah calm by stroking and reassuring her. If the other dog is reactive, then she is reacting and I am practically dragging her. 😦

    There are two dogs in an invisible fence on our neighborhood walk. One just stands there and watches us pass by, the other one runs back and forth, forth and back…little Miss knows where this is and gets her head up and is basically looking/encouraging it.

    That is when I try to distract with treat.

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  11. I usually pack up my guys and take them for walks on a nearby campus where I can let them romp off leash for a while. Their tendency is to smother other dogs with attention which can be intimidating for a lone dog on a leash. You’re doing good things for your neighborhood dogs and their walkers. Keep being patient.

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  12. My biggest mistake with Elka is that I did not find other dogs for her to socialize with when she was a puppy. So, she doesn’t really know what to do with other dogs. Sometimes if we’re walking and have to pass on the sidewalk, I just keep her attention and we march past, which I’m very proud of her for. Sometimes, depending on if the other dog is loose leash, or bouncing around at the end of the leash, we’ll cross the street or pick another direction. I do not typically try to do a meeting on the sidewalk; the leash is too short and Elka doesn’t have room to do her own bouncing around and she just doesn’t like it. We’ll do so at the park once in awhile, on the 20 foot leash, because she does better if she has room to do her own investigation and retreat.

    And sometimes she’s just completely fine, and she in the dog run in a big crazy circle together, because that’s apparently the most awesome thing ever.

    I try not to judge as well, but there are times when a dog, leashed or not, is literally snarling and the owner appears to be doing nothing in response. I judge like heck then!

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  13. It seems to me that a lot of other dogs around here must be reactive. Riley is sometimes reactive on a walk…mainly just if the other dog is staring her down or barking at her–although she doesn’t always bark if the other dog is barking at her. Anyway, I’ve noticed on our local nature trail, probably 50% of the people walking their dogs walk off into the woods and stop their walk when we walk by (maybe their dog is reactive or maybe they can sense that Riley can be a little “uppity” sometimes). I do appreciate when they make the effort though. The other 50% of people don’t have reactive dogs because when they walk by us, it is pretty uneventful. I hate to see people out walking their dog in fear of the dog getting loose and attacking another dog…I saw a lady with 2 dogs and both were reactive…I felt so bad for her. I could tell she was embarrassed and fearful that the dogs were going to drag her down the trail after us!

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  14. I too cross the street. Between Maggie’s (ever-improving but still not fixed) leash aggression, Sadie’s Excita-bull nature when seeing other dogs and Hurley’s Bark-Bark reaction to other dogs, being across the street gives me the space to work on their issues without having to worry about the other dog & its owner. I have to admit though – I am sometimes that awful dog owner that I super get annoyed with who says “Don’t worry – he’s friendly”. This I do only with Hurley because his Bark-Bark greeting is just that – a hello. He’s super vocal and the more I can practice calmly meeting other dogs on leash after he barks, the less he barks in the first place. Having reactive dogs, I’ve always hated those dog owners whose dog is barking, pulling or otherwise reacting to mine but still say “oh, they’re friendly”. Because even though their dog was likely friendly, the teensy bit of reaction to my reactive dogs will always set off their worst behaviors. Yet I’m in the situation where the very best next step in Hurley’s training is to practice calm greetings so he can get over the barkies. I try to read the dog & its owner to see what their comfort level is with my barky puppy (who at 70 lbs I should really stop calling a puppy). If they seem unfazed by his barks, then I try the calm pass & greeting. If they seem worried, I cross the street and practice him watching me while they pass. I think being a RESPONSIBLE owner of ANY dog, reactive or not, dictates that we always need to be on watch when our dogs are out and about. I don’t think it’s something that ever goes away because no matter how well-behaved/trained our own dogs become, you always have to be on the lookout for the behavior of other dogs.

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  15. We tend to cross the street when we see another dog so they never get too close. The big thing I have an issue with in my neighborhood is dogs that are off-leash. That bugs me to no end. That’s great that Shiva’s come so far with her leash reactivity!!

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  16. Both Buster and Ty are reactive and I usually yield the sidewalk when we’re out with them. A handful of kibble in the grass is usually enough to keep them occupied as the other dog passes by. I don’t understand the people that let their dogs go into a full-blown outburst as a matter of practice. It happens to us occasionally when I misjudge the dogs’ comfortable distance and it’s embarrassing for me and stressful for the dogs. It’s hard to enjoy a walk after an episode like that.

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  17. Great post, I too have really struggled since getting my second dog – a reactive Border collie. Its gotten to the point where I cant often walk her on the street, because other people are so oblivious to their dogs reactions that it was more harmful than helpful. Its annoying…… their dog barks and lunges at mine, she reacts with her border collie I’m scared bark and they look at me like I’m the worst owner in the world and my dog is going to eat theirs. And the worst place ever for this happening – obedience shows and training.
    Another great post, thanks!

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  18. Poor guy, he must be at a lost, not knowing how he can help his dog. He is only making it worse for his dog by acting this way. Kudos for not venting any emotions towards him, owners of reactive dogs get plenty of those on every walk and it is not helping them either. Lets hope he soon realize he has a problem and he has to do something about it – other than giving up his dog!

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  19. as you know, i’m in much the same position as you. G is 98% good and then will randomly leap on some leashed passing dog thanks to some cue i missed [although it’s possible she’s just a horrible bully].

    a few days ago, on that walk i blogged about to Birchgrove, we met a littledog on a long leash [yes, they do still exist despite my best efforts to turn them into pariahs]. anyway, as we were passing the little furball, it went ballistic! seriously, i’ve not seen that behaviour outside of a movie with demonic dogs. it lunged, barked, snarled, made the most awful noises, bit and pulled on its leash trying to get to our missy. the poor owner. she tried her best and thankfully it probably weighed no more than 15kg.

    all i could think of, judgemental little me, was WHY OH WHY DON;T YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS DOG? send it to a trainer, say something more than “no, no, no.” it was awful. i had a tight grip of course on G’s leash because she WILL react to dogs like this, especially when nothing more than 3 metres separates them.

    to my surprise, missy was cool as a cucumber. she made the tiniest of moves towards it, i said “leave it!’ and she went soft. OMG! pat pat on back [mine and hers]. i was so happy.

    than the lady with the furball calls out, “Is that Georgia? It’s Lily!”

    Lily. My goodness, it was Lily. Lily is a dog with HUGE issues. she’s not ever been able to play with any dog in the area, not one, EXCEPT FOR GEORGIA. Because, apparently, the first time they met, she attacked G and bit her at which point, missy rolled her over and pinned her down at the neck. And that was THAT.

    that’s my rant. well, it isn;t really a rant after all i think. I do the same as you. stay vigilant for snappy dogs behind fences, cats darting out from under cars, possible Trouble coming down the sidewalks.

    aren;t dogwalks FUN?!

    p.s. sorry i took up so much space. this is as long as your post!

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  20. I want to know how you made so much progress with Shiva on the reactivity. Honestly I think you must be magic. I am usually not the person that does nothing (usually I run away or try to distract Pearl with treats) but I have made zero progress and think I am destined to always be that girl with the out of control, lunging, barking dog at the other end of the leash. I wish other dog owners would read my body language and get away if possible! I am definitely at the “recognize you have a problem” stage but not the “figure out what to do about it” stage. I actually prefer loose dogs because for some reason Pearl is totally fine if an out of control loose dog runs up to us (we have thankfully not met any that were aggressive or anything) but if the other dog is on a leash, she goes nuts. How weird is that?

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    • i am 100% in the same boat, karen! desmond goes nuts with on-leash dogs but not with off-leash dogs. all he really wants to do is say hi and sniff and play, etc., and the leash (plus me stopping him from getting to the dog) is the issue.

      we have realized our problem with desmond and know we need to work on it, but have not gotten very far with it in the meantime. and he is reactive even a block or more away from another dog–or house that he knows a dog lives in.

      all the training guides tell you to limit your walks with a reactive dog while you’re starting work on this, so as not to set yourself back when the dog is set off outside, but that’s nearly impossible. without getting the exercise from his walks, desmond would probably go back to destroying our house for fun.

      but i do my part as best i can–i always turn around or cross the street or both when we see another dog being walked. and i walk desmond at freakin 5:30 in the morning to avoid as many people/dogs as i can! what really sucks is that due to the nature of my neighborhood, there are a lot of dead ends and not-wide streets, and my time limit, i can’t always turn around or get enough distance between us and another dog OR it’s too late and desmond’s already seen the dog and is going bonkers anyway. these other people give me the dirtiest looks, and i just want to stop them and tell my whole story so they’ll get it.

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  21. Cali is a tough dog to walk in the neighborhood – she likes to bark as she approaches other dogs and it’s almost like a “hello! I’m coming! I don’t want to sneak up on you!” and then she will circle way around them and try to come up behind them. We have worked and worked with her, but at 13 years old we have pretty much given into the fact that she barks at other dogs (but not ALL of them!). I am always muttering “she’s friendly . she’s just noisy!!” and people look at me like I’m crazy.

    I find myself ranting about people that walk their dogs with absolutely no slack in the leash . the dog can’t sniff – it looks like a death march! There is a lady in my neighborhood that picks her dog up every time she sees us coming – I just have to wonder what she is teaching that dog – BEWARE!!! There is another dog coming!

    I’m glad Shiva has come so far 🙂 You are allowed to rant – you worked hard to have the well behaved dog that you have!!

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  22. I have more issue with off leash dogs who are obviously not under the control of their owners, and owners who are oblivious. A reactive dog that’s at least leashed isn’t as bad as that. I think it’s tough to know where people are in their journey with their dogs, too.

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  23. Having mostly reactive dogs, I’m really more concerned about my dog then theirs. But there have been a number of occasions that it seems others don’t really care or understand what their dog is doing and it seems I am always the one who has to take all the extra measures to deal with the situations. Which really irks me. Since we walk on the road, we usually each take a side, but I have been in situations when I’ve been the neighbors lawn because they won’t move over.

    I really don’t have any suggestions, but I understand the frustration. I have more problems with loose dogs than walkers. Every one seems to think it is OK to just leave their dogs out on their property and then they come after us. That irks me to no end. Even after we have talk to owners, again and again. I could really go on a tirade about that one. So I still go back to my original concern, keeping my dogs safe. That’s really all I can do.

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  24. Really good post. Me and my two dogs just cross the road, every time as a successful walk to me is one where my reactive dog has a calm walk, so I don’t second guess anyone or their dogs anymore. We all have to share the planet. If I want to socialise my non reactive dog we do it at an off lead dog park or with dogs he knows, not on lead in the streets. Too hard basket.

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  26. With a dog reactive dog myself, my greatest problem is with people with off leash dogs, dogs on retractable leads, or the nutters who follow me down the block screaming “Fluffy is friendly and needs to say hi!!” None of this is helped by the fact that Charlie is my dog reactive dog and everyone assumes Poodles are so darn friendly. I regularly tell people to stay away, cross into streets, etc. with my own dogs and client dogs I’m working with – I will also ask certain passersby to help us with our training if they and their dog seem sane. I’ve had some really great training sessions with complete strangers and they often seem relieved to get some training advice in return. I also always bring treats and a clicker with me and do a lot of training walks so often get asked about training and can slip in a few suggestions to people who seem like they could use it. The only times I ever get curt is when people ignore my very loud and clear instructions to stay away, or if someone touches my dogs without asking.

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  27. I inwardly rage at people walking dogs ALL the time. If your dog is freaking out and the owner is trying to do something, fine. It’s the people that sit there and do nothing while there dog is doing it’s best imitation of a kite on a string. Really people, stop terrorizing me and my dog, it’s not cool.

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