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.
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?