This is a plea for help

I have become that which I despise, that which I never thought I could be. There is no part of me that is confrontational. Strangers are dangerous. No matter the circumstances, I will go out of my way to avoid interaction with them. I will even use those dang self check outs when I have a ridiculous number of items just so I won’t have to make eye contact with someone.

I am a ninja with self check out. Fastest scanner this side of Toronto.

And yet! And yet, I have turned into the obnoxious outspoken crazy dog woman. The woman who yells at people and calls them out when their dogs are acting like hooligans. The woman who is just so bloody tired of dealing with ignorant people who think it is okay if their dog chases mine down the street. Something in me has snapped. I won’t, I can’t, duck my head and seethe inwardly anymore. My mouth speaks before my brain gives it permission. I know it doesn’t help; I know it won’t change anything. I can’t remain silent.

In essence, I have become my mother.

Oh, how that smarts.

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Mr. Poodle Man has been a common target. If we head a certain direction in the morning we are bound to encounter him. His dog is beautiful, poofy and black and bouncy and everything a standard poodle should be. Except for the whole barking at Shiva’s heels thing. If this dog was on a leash it wouldn’t be an issue. Of course, this dog is never on a leash. His or her owner doesn’t seem to think this behaviour is an issue. Sure, he calls and tells his dog to stop, but we all know that does nothing. Yelling down the street while your dog harasses another dog, making no effort to retrieve your pet and in fact having no leash on you at the time, does not impress me much. You are putting your dog, and mine in danger. If this was a park, I would let Shiva off to defend herself. It is almost always a residential road. Mr. Poodle Man may be willing to risk his dog getting hit by a car. I am not.

Do you know his response to my request to restrain his lovely dog?

“Mmmmhmmm.”

Mmmmhmmm. Indeed. There was no apology for his dog’s rudeness, no sheephish grin, no acknowledgement of how scary it might feel to be stalked down the road by a strange dog. I almost wanted to encourage Shiva to react, just to show him how risky his laissez faire attitude is. If I knew his address I would have reported him to Animal Control a long time ago. This poodle is going to get hurt.

And then there was the episode tonight with the Pomeranian. Shiva and I were on our usual evening jaunt. To the right of us was a busy parking lot outside of an outdoor swimming pool. We heard high-pitched barking and looked over. A small brown dog ran loose on the road. He or she headed right for us. My first thought was that this dog was lost. Rewarding Shiva, I directed her to my left side and looked around for an owner. I caught sight of a man walking a German Shepherd behind us. Not good.

That’s when I heard the voice of a woman come from one of the vehicles. While the little dog yapped and sped as fast as he could toward the Shepherd, she hollered at him to come back. She didn’t get out of her car, she didn’t even open her door.

The words tumbled out of my mouth before I knew they existed.

Her response was sarcastic, as expected. I told her I was just concerned for her dog’s safety. She said nothing and remained inside her vehicle. Her dog continued to run around the German Shepherd’s heels. The man was silent. Luckily for everyone’s sake, so was the Shepherd.

wpid-wp-1409108221566.jpegHow do I cure this? How do I return to my quiet, keep-my-selflsh-rants-to-myself self?

Even better, how do I help change the status quo? How do I teach people that their neglectful actions are putting their family members in danger? I feel like a jerk when I don’t speak up and a jerk when I do. Is that the way of it?

All I want is to walk with Shiva without fear, without the stress of running into ignorant owners with dogs who don’t know how to behave off-leash. Is this nothing but a fantasy?

Update: What Shiva and I did to avoid disaster

wpid-wp-1407029384819.jpegFirst, I want to thank you again for your amazing response to my question yesterday. I knew it would be fascinating and you proved me right. I loved hearing about your unique dogs and your varied approaches to what could have been a dicey situation. As I read through your comments, I learned several things and none were what I expected.

1. I learned that Shiva’s reactivity – or, assholery – has become much less of an issue than it ever was. There is nothing like a sharp blast of reality to give one perspective. I had forgotten what it was like to walk a dog who loses it at the sight of another dog in the same ten-mile radius. You reminded me and made me realize Shiva can almost pass for normal these days. Perhaps this is why other owners are bugging me so much more. They aren’t running away with their dogs clutched in their arms at the sight of my maniac puppy. I kind of miss those days. But only a little.

2. Space is a personal issue. Everything is a personal issue. Reactivity is one name for very different behaviours and causes. I loved finding out your diverse techniques and ways of keeping stress to a minimum. I had to laugh at the commenter who said she would just wait it out and let her dog bark, she was so used to it that it hardly bothered her anymore. Our fears and experiences lead us down assorted paths but we all have the same goals. I got warm fuzzies from all the supportive comments. It’s lovely to commiserate with people who get it, isn’t it?

3. My theory was wrong. Of all the people who shared their thoughts, no one did the same thing I did. It surprised me. I was most interested by the commenter who chose to go toward the off-leash dog with the lawn mower. That would have been my last choice. It shows how individual every dog-human partnership is.

Now I guess I should tell you how I handled the situation. 

What I did:

I looked at the large off-leash dog and reckoned he was definitely going to approach if we moved any closer. I then looked back at the two medium-sized dogs who were now drifting down the road, noses to the ground, leash handles dragging, as their human balanced her phone in the crook of her shoulder and fiddled with her keys. It took me a second to decide: I crossed the street and took my chances with the dog walker and her wee crew.

The result:

Shiva and I dawdled a decent distance behind the dog walker. I know she saw us and when we crossed she picked up her pace. The dog who had growled looked back at us once but joined his buddies and followed the human’s lead. I made sure to keep enough space between us for Shiva and the other dogs to feel comfortable. At the end of the block, the dog walker turned down another street and we kept going straight. Crisis averted.

Why the dog walker?

Out of all three, the dog walker was the only human paying attention. Shiva’s biggest issues these days are caused by dogs who approach her off-leash when she is on. After she suffered a cut to her eye this year, I won’t put her in a situation in which she feels threatened any more. Not if I can help it anyway. I can’t trust dogs with people who aren’t watching or who are ignorant enough to leave them loose in an unfenced area by a road.

I also had more information than you. The loose dog with the lawn mower was a Doodle we have encountered in the past. I have spoken to his owner and asked him to leash the dog while we passed. He gave me a blank stare.

There is another factor that might apply only to us. Shiva has respect for small dogs. I am not sure why but she will usually back off if a small dog takes umbrage. If a larger dog barks or growls at her, or gets in her space, she will fight back. If a little dog does it, she licks her lips, looks away, and gives any number of other calming signals to show she means no harm. Thus, the Chihuahuas and Manchester Terriers were a safer bet.

All in all, Shiva’s reactivity to other dogs has never been as bad as her reactivity toward strange people. It was an easier thing to work on for us and after a year or two, we could walk down the road several metres behind another dog without too many problems. I would much rather face a pack of off-leash dogs than a crowd of men in hats, or a school bus full of excited children.

*shudder*

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I hope you learned something too from all of the incredible ideas in the comments. I really appreciate you humouring me. I may have to try something like this again.

Polling all reactive dog owners and walkers

Out of pure scientific curiosity, I would like to pose a question to all those who have experience walking reactive dogs. It is based on a scenario I encountered last evening. I have a theory that I might be wrong about and I would be extremely grateful if you are able to take a moment to lend me your opinions. There are, as they say, no wrong answers.

No wrong answers, just like there are no bad dogs

No wrong answers, just like there are no bad dogs

Picture this:

It is a warm summer evening and you are strolling along a quiet residential street, enjoying the soft breeze and the rustle of leaves in the tall trees. Your best canine friend is walking next to you, stopping here and there to sniff at a tree trunk or blade of grass. As you pause to watch him, or her, investigate a pebble, you glance up ahead and realize things are about to get dicey.

On one side of the street you see a single large dog standing in a front yard. The dog is watching you with interest, tail swinging at medium height. This dog takes two steps toward you and you realize he or she is not restrained. Behind the dog you see the owner mowing the lawn.

Easy to handle, right? Cross the street.

Not so fast. When you look over, on the other side you see a five small dogs and another larger dog being walked by one person. The dogs have seen you and your dog and one emits a low growl. The dog walker is moving at a very slow pace and looks to be a professional based on the t-shirt he or she is wearing to advertise a dog-walking business.

Well, it’s unfortunate, but you will just have to go back the way you came.

Alas, when you turn around, you see two medium sized dogs being walked down the middle of the road on extendable leads. The dogs don’t seem to see you and neither does their owner who is talking on a cell phone. The owner stops by a car and puts the leash handles on the ground while he or she tries to unlock the door.

What do you do?

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts. Once I receive your comments, I will tell you what I did and why.

How do you wash a dog leash anyway?

It is apparent I am now immune dog poop. I must be. Every now and then I will end up with some on my hands or on my shoe or on other things that are connected to my body. This used to be revolting. I would run home as fast as I could to wash said item at least three times. But today when a smidge somehow ended up on my hand (I blame the distracting group of cyclists)? I shrugged, wiped my hand on some bark and grass, and then continued on my way, at least thirty minutes from home. Huh. Want to know something really gross? We have been using the same leash for over five years and have never washed it. Not once.

Look familiar? This leash gets around!

Look familiar? This leash gets around!

Is that bad? I assume it’s bad. It would be bad if it was any other item I touched every day for that long. You must be repulsed by me and my doggy grime. But I can reform! After this evening’s “incident” I realized it was time this nylon rope had a bath. Only, I had no idea where to begin. It’s not like I could put it in the washing machine. Right? Nothing for it but the sink. wpid-wp-1406167829254.jpeg   Is this normal? After I’d scrubbed it as best I could with as much hot water as I could, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way. wpid-wp-1406167833388.jpeg Once it was as clean as I felt like getting it, I realized I hadn’t considered the drying process. Surely the metal would damage our electric appliances. I don’t own a hair dryer any more – long story – so that wasn’t an option either. I guess one doesn’t live in the driest province of Canada for nothing!

wpid-wp-1406167823473.jpegHurrah for good old Albertan summer sunshine. I am willing to bet it will be dry before I go to bed tonight.

But is there a more sanitary method? Are there people out there with tried and true leash cleaning skills? I’d love to hear any tips you have to share. You’ve got time, of course. It might be another five years before I get to it again.

What to do when you see a coyote?

Shiva and I met a coyote last week. We weren’t hiking in the mountains or bushwhacking in the woods. It was 6:30 on a Monday morning and we had just begun our ritual walk in the ravine. I saw movement ahead and my first assumption was an off-leash dog. Before I could even roll my eyes, the animal turned to trot in our direction and I knew my initial inclinations were wrong. There was no mistaking the confidence of a wild predator. This was no muttski.

He looked like this, actually, only not as healthy.

He looked like this, actually, only not as healthy.

He, or she, was thinner than other coyotes I’ve seen. Rangier, even, than the photo I nicked from Wikipedia to the left. The animal, whatever his or her sex, was built almost like Shiva. He was the same height and shape, only with less muscle and lacking her adorable puppiness. I haven’t spotted one in Alberta for a long time, not since I lived in the South and I would see them wandering down the side of a prairie road. Shiva and I hear them often but seeing them is rare. In a way, we were lucky.

Shiva doesn’t have a lot of experience with predator-type animals. Or any. Her response to most of the wild creatures we have encountered is much the same. Raccoon… Friend! Duck… Friend! Deer… Friend! Porcupine… Best! Friend! Ever! For the most part, she sees the world as full of animals dying to be sniffed. Her sole objective is to get her nose up the other animal’s bottom as soon as she possibly can. I had hope that she would be smart enough to tell the difference between a rabbit and a species who could cause he harm.

I was wrong.

Shiva responded to the sight of the coyote with the same alert anticipation she responds to off-leash dogs. Cautious, to be sure, but not afraid. Ears erect, tail high on her back, she wanted to investigate. If she hadn’t been connected to me via a thick nylon cord, she probably would have. Would this have been a problem? It’s hard to say. It was just one coyote. In all likelihood, he or she would have taken off and all would have been as normal. Then again, I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk.

I am still unsure as the best thing to do in this scenario. While I have read all the books and heard all of the well-meaning advice, I don’t know if there is any one right way to respond. Sometimes the right thing turns out to be wrong and sometimes the dumb thing turns out to be smart. Show no fear, they say. Don’t look weak. Stand your ground. In an actual dangerous situation, I think all one can do is trust her instincts. More often than not, my instincts tell me to get the heck out of there.

Not that I think Shiva and I were in any danger. The coyote was far enough away and outnumbered. There was no need to do anything. Still, I chose to leave the park and take a different route. It seemed more reasonable at the time. Who needs that kind of stress on a Monday?

It makes me wonder, however, if I need to prepare myself better for future encounters. We live in bear country now and if I am going to follow through with my goals to hit up the back country this year, it is very possible a coyote will be the least of our problems. It’s not just my safety I have to worry about. The quickest way to ruin a good backpacking trip is to watch Shiva run up to a Grizzly and shove her nose up his butt.

Do you have any dog-wild predator encounter stories? How did you handle it? What do you do when you see a coyote?

Soliciting Advice: Time Perception in Dogs, or, Another Dang Post About the Crate

Crate Picture UprightSo Shiva has this crate. I might have written about it once before. It’s hard to remember. This singular item has been a gigantic focus of drama and contention in my life for so long that I have no idea what I have said and to whom. Considering how much I loathe the dang thing, I know I have spent a terrible amount of time defending it.

The thing is, I will always defend it. This bothers me. One of the reasons I hate it so much is the fact that so many people have their own opinions on the subject and each believes she is right. There are a lot of areas in dog training that are factious. The use of the crate is right up there with prong collars and raw food. I don’t like that I automatically leap to the defensive side when it is mentioned. My shoulders tense, my forehead wrinkles, and I feel my lower lip slide into a pout. I like to think I am the kind of person who is open, who questions her assumptions, and who can listen to alternative points of view. When it comes to the crate, the arguments become personal. Thus, my mind remains closed.

No doubt you have your own ideas of the what the crate represents. Some of you may use it with your dogs without question and some of you may look upon it has a cage of horror. You are both correct. Because if I have learned anything during this enterprise of dog ownership, it is that success has more to do with the actions and feelings of the human than it does with right and wrong. There is no perfect way to get things done that works for all dogs. But if you feel like crap about something, your dog will too.

But I digress. I feel like I am repeating myself. Another philosophical discussion is not the purpose of today’s blathering.

As I say, Shiva has this crate. Shiva also has separation anxiety. This same metal box has been an intrinsic part of the formula for keeping her safe for the last five years. Whether you agree or disagree with its use in this situation is irrelevant. We’ve used it, Shiva knows what it means, and we can all earn our pay cheques without worrying she is hanging herself on the blinds. Even though the crate has enabled us to move on, I still hate it. I hate putting her in there every morning. Always have. I made peace with it, yes, but I have never liked it. Not because I think crate training is bad but because it is not the ideal way for Shiva to spend an afternoon. It is one of my biggest personal failures that we are still using this thing after five years.

I feel like I should underline that.

There has been some headway.

The crate is currently located in our bedroom, not because she sleeps in it at night but because it is a room in which she feels safe and comfortable. The light is low and we can close the door to prevent our jerkwad cat from harassing her. She has her blanket and her Kong and her water and she trusts that we will return. She knows that her only job is to lick peanut butter and sleep. Recently, with my heart in her indelicate paws, when we have gone out for only short periods of time, such as to the grocery store on weekend afternoons, I have taken the chance of leaving the door to the crate open.

Crate picture landscape

The routine is just the same. I take her outside for a potty break. I prepare her Kong of deliciousness. I refresh her water bowl and straighten her blanket. Shiva dashes inside the crate like it is the answer to all her hopes and dreams. I wait for her to lay down and then I give her the toy. She forgets I exist and dives in to her snack. On a typical day I would then close the crate, turn out the light, and then shut the door of the bedroom. But now, on the occasional short jaunt, I have been skipping the step with the crate lock.

So far, we have seen very positive success. Not only has she not hurt herself, but she behaves in just the same way she does as if the crate door was closed. With one significant difference: when we return home she is not locked in the small space but she is lying on our bed. It is a much happier sight, let me tell you. She is not relaxed, I wouldn’t say that, but her location cozied up to our pillows looks so much more… Natural?

I would love to give this a try for slightly longer stretches of time but am so scared of what could happen. We have done this before – experimented, played with the process, attempted to give her more freedom – and it never worked out. She just couldn’t handle it. Having free reign of even one room proved to be too stressful.

Is she ready now?

I guess there is only one way to know. But is it worth risking her safety? Should we just continue on as we are? Is it better to give up on my dream of one day walking out the front door with Shiva snoozing on the sofa?

The big question I am hoping you can help me answer is: how do dogs perceive time? 

Is leaving Shiva alone in the house for one hour the same as leaving her alone for three? Do you think she knows the difference? If she can handle 60 minutes without being in the crate, is it possible she could deal with four times that?

I’d love to know what you think. In all of your observations of dogs, in all your tremendous amounts of reading, do you think they perceive time the way humans do? Do you think it feels longer to them or shorter?

Please, if you have any thoughts on this subject, no matter how obscure, I’d be so grateful if you would share them.

Pawprints in the Snow

One of my favourite things about early morning walks in the snow are the signs of wild animals I spot everywhere. Before the bootprints of other humans, or the tell-tale marks of pet dogs, have trod all over the white canvas, it is easy to pick up the more unusual traces of more exotic species. It also shows me a little bit of the reason behind Shiva’s sniffing madness. No wonder she can’t resist the seduction of the hideaway under the branches, when so many animals call it home.

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Most of the tracks are easy to decipher. Squirrels, mice, and birds make up the majority of pawprints in the snow. The rabbits are even simpler to detect, with their larger hind legs and their funny hop. That doesn’t make these smaller animals less fun to track. I take great joy in following a bunny trail, hoping if we can just go far enough, we will find a utopian burrow. Our own Watership Down. 

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There is a certain part of the forest in the river valley that I love to visit the most after a recent snow fall. It could be wishful thinking, but every time Shiva and I visit there – as long as we make it before everyone else – I see small, canine-like prints scattered along the side of the path and leading up a hill. There are no human tracks around these footfalls, so I know they can’t be made by an off-leash dog. I like to believe there is a fox den nearby and dream of catching sight of one eventually, if we are quiet enough.

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Alas, I am sure whatever animal is creating these tracks would run off long before we entered the area. For all I know the prints are those of someone’s cat or a small dog that has strayed too far. But I like to believe in the secrets of a fox den. It makes me smile to think such special creatures could be living near my front yard.

Every once in a while I will come across prints that I can’t interpret. In all my years of dog walking, I have seen raccoon and porcupine and coyote, I know all of the above roam freely in the ravine of our city. But these tracks that Shiva found recently don’t match those of which I have become familiar. I can’t determine what they are or even make a solid guess. This is a northern city with northern animals, I assumed I had seen them all. But I still have yet to even come up with the possible perpetrator of the below prints.

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I wish my photographs were better. They had to be snapped quickly as there were joggers on the path behind us and Shiva was giving them the evil eye. But the toes looked long and there weren’t the normal pad marks from dog paws.

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Perhaps I am wrong and they are canine, maybe a dog with more fur which would not necessarily show in the snow. But I haven’t come across anything like these tracks before and I am curious. I haven’t seen anything like them again, either.

What do you think they could be? Do you enjoy following animal trails as much as we do?