I fear I have done Shiva a disservice with the dogs in our neighbourhood. In a way, I guess it’s impressive it took me a whole eight months to damage her reputation at the dog park. In our old walking grounds, I had it demolished within a week.
Maybe I am exaggerating slightly. She kind of ruined it herself in those early days, what with the growling and lunging and general trying to eat people. This time, though, she didn’t do anything. It’s all on me.
We have a dog park that is really more of an off-leash, quasi-trail system but mostly-bush-wacking, area just a few blocks from our home. It’s pretty dang awesome. Understandably, about half of the walks Shiva and I take each week are enjoyed there. I especially love the early mornings when it’s quiet and we have only the moon and Shiva’s little collar light to guide our way. It’s a popular spot with local dog walkers for obvious reasons. In the week day mornings there is only one other dog-human team we ever see because not too many people are nutty enough to get up before six am. But we do see this other dog-human team almost every time we visit.
Usually this would bother my anti-social senses. In this case, I actually like the fact we aren’t alone out there. The other dog walker keeps to himself and his two dogs – one black lab mix, one white poodle mix – get along really well with Shiva. We always stop to let the dogs run around together for a few minutes before continuing on our way. It was the perfect situation.
Until I had to go and screw it up.
The other day, the main path to the park was pretty slick. Tired of navigating ice patches, I decided to head back home sooner than usual. As we returned to the gate and the car park, I clipped Shiva back on her leash. I noticed the man and his two dogs, Slim and Sam, were just up ahead. He was trying to wrangle them up and herd them into his vehicle. Of course, when they saw Shiva they ignored their recall and zoomed over.
Totally not a big deal. It happens to all of us. The only minor worry was that Shiva is not as easy-going on leash as she is off. She hasn’t reacted to another dog in a really long time but if she is going to, it will be in a scenario much like this one.
Since I know my dog, I knew if I just kept moving she would be okay. And she was! I had treats ready to distract however she showed very few signs of stress. She didn’t like the smaller dog rushing into her face and she gave him a few signals to that effect but otherwise, she handled it with grace.
The problem – or my moment of shame – arose when the man approached us to collect his dog. Shiva went on alert and gave him a stare. She refused to look away from him and didn’t respond to my silly, happy voice. In that moment, I felt I only had a few seconds to prevent her from lunging.
Shiva has always been far more reactive with people than with dogs. Especially people, often men, who walk right in her direction, with full eye contact, while she is on a leash. If she had been off-leash and able to move away, I wouldn’t have worried. But she was on – and already a little annoyed with the other dog. It is a situation that always makes me nervous.
As the man came up to us to take his dog by the collar, Shiva moved toward him. It happened too fast for me to really take in the details of her body language. There was no lunging. She merely took a few quick steps and started sniffing his leg. Heck, she might have wagged her tail for all I can recall. He said something to her, I think, but I was already in full handler-of-a-reactive-dog mode.
“Ha, ha, ha!” I am pretty sure I laughed like a moron. “Gotta go! So sorry! She’s a different dog on leash! Ha, ha, ha! Can’t have her freaking out! Ha!”
And then I booted it home.
Since that awkward moment, we have returned to the park several times and I have seen the man’s car in the lot. Only we haven’t seen him or his dogs, not even once. This distresses me greatly. The park is not that big. Besides, he only ever went in one direction all the other times I saw him there. I am pretty sure he is avoiding us. My weird, panicky moment might have cost Shiva her friends. If so, that really sucks. She doesn’t have that many to lose.
Maybe I am wrong? Maybe it’s just all a coincidence? Maybe he doesn’t think I am weird and my dog a crazy monster? Am I just being over-sensitive?
No doubt it is a resounding yes, at least to the last question. If he is avoiding us because of my strange behaviour or any worries Shiva is “dangerous”, it’s not the end of the world. I should probably not care what he thinks anyway. Life goes on.
But I wonder if others have had trouble explaining reactivity to others who might not understand. The above scenario has played out for us in various ways before. I feel like I have to say something if the worst happens but I never know how to word it to keep Shiva’s positive reputation intact. She really is fine with people and dogs when off-leash. It’s only when on that there might be complications. I am unsure how to communicate this quickly without sounding like an idiot with a psycho dog.
Do you have any advice?