Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mind your manners.

In the off-leash area of the Bruce Pit dog park.
Now that we've got Kane's walking behaviour under control, I'm slowly working on his social skills. Which means I have some learning to do before I can really do the training. Meanwhile, I'm encountering some frustrations.

When Cher (owner/trainer at Street Wise Canine) first visited us, she had us take her on a typical walk: "Just do what you usually do," she said.

Within about 200 metres, she had some pointers for us. One of them occurred when we encountered another dog leaving the park, just as we were entering. I though the two dogs were having a friendly sniff-and-greet, but she pointed out that Kane's body was stiff and that he placed his neck over the other dog's neck.

"That was a dominant gesture," Cher told us. "You need to really control that." It's important because that kind of behaviour could cause a dog fight. Dog fights scare the sh%$@ out of me.

Since then, I've been more aware of Kane's interactions with other dogs -- and of the behaviour of other dogs when they meet him. And you know what? A lot of those other dogs are not well-behaved. And their humans seem to be oblivious. And, much to my frustration, they are almost all off leash!

On Saturday, Kane and I were in a large, open, snow-covered field when a large (larger than Kane), off-leash dog noticed us. (The area has signage that indicates leashes are required.)

He came loping toward us with his head lowered below his shoulders, which struck me as an aggressive stance. The stranger-dog's human called out that he was friendly, so I ignored my gut interpretation.

I had already put Kane into a sit, but he lay himself prostrate, in a clearly submissive position, and whined. (I think he was reading the body language the same way I was.) The other dog approached quickly and confidently. The two dogs sniffed each other's junk and then, before I knew it, there was growling and lunging. I yanked Kane back while the other dog's human was still approaching us.

She called her dog. He did not respond at all.

Once she was beside us, she grabbed her dog's collar and led him away. Still leash-less.

On Sunday, a similar thing happened in a different park, with a different dog. I had let Kane off his leash and was with a friend (and her well-behaved border collie) who, after the growly, barky dog had left, told me that the he was known for that kind of behaviour. But was still off leash.

The on-leash area of the Bruce Pit dog park.
Today, I took Kane to a popular dog park near our home. It has a fenced-in on-leash area, clearly marked with signs at every entrance, and a large, beautiful off-leash area.

I took Kane to the on-leash area because I did not want any surprise encounters. We encountered about four dogs during our walk. Not one of them was on a leash.

The first one I asked, "Isn't this the on-leash area?"

She replied, "Yes, it is" and kept on walking.

The next three I challenged: "Why isn't your dog on a leash?"

They all seemed surprised and allowed that, yes, they probably should have put the leash on before entering this area, but not one of them appeared to even have a leash with them. (At least, they didn't pause to put their dogs on leashes.)

I explained to them that my dog is unpredictable with other dogs and that it makes it really hard for me to control him if the other dogs are off-leash. They seemed surprised at this concept.

The four dogs we met today were all well-behaved - there was no barking, growling, or leaping. But those people don't know me or my dog, and should be cautious.

The truth is, I am afraid of the other dogs. I'm afraid that something will go horribly wrong and an honest-to-goodness fight might break out.

I get it -- I totally get it! -- that we want to let our dogs go off their leashes. Kane's delight in that top photo shows exactly how much joy he gets, and I hope he will be able to handle the off-leash area some day.

But for now I have three wishes.
  1. People had more honest perceptions of their dogs' tendency to aggression and restrain them appropriately. Because I'm not sure about Kane, he stays on-leash.
  2. Where there is an on-leash area next to an off-leash area, please respect those distinctions.
  3. While we're at it, please scoop the poop! 
That's all. I'm not going to call the bylaw police on anyone, but I really wish I didn't have to conquer my anxiety just to take my dog for a walk.


  1. Not entirely related, but I had a very scary encounter with a dog last night. I decided to take a short walk through my neighborhood to get out and get a little fresh air and exercise after my surgery, and just as I started to cross the driveway of a house a very broad dog came bolting out of the (open) garage. I am not sure of the breed, but he had broad shoulders, a very wide head and large mouth, and was by no means a "small" dog. He was not on a leash and he ran right at me and barked, growled, and bared his teeth in a manner that literally made my hairs stand on end. I just knew he was going to attack me, then I remembered that "animals smell fear" which made me panic more. In near tears I backed away from the house and the dog huffed and ran back to his garage. This dog gets loose in our neighborhood frequently because he is never kept on a leash, and I just feel like something bad is going to happen. I was tempted to call animal control, but I'm not sure there was anything they could do that night since the dog stayed on his property (though I do feel that I should be allowed to walk the sidewalks in my neighborhood without fearing for my life).

    1. That's entirely related. People seem to underestimate their dog's aggression. Maybe you could put a note in their mailbox?

  2. Diane...that is worth addressing. I'm not sure the best route, either contacting the dog-owner directly, or animal control to at least get advice. A friend of ours was badly bitten when he bravely stepped in to rescue a mother and young child that were being attacked by two large dogs on the sidewalk in their neighbourhood.

    Wynn Anne...have you considered sending this to the local newspaper editor? Some readers will likely just roll their eyes, but many might take the reminder.

    1. A note in the mailbox is a good suggestion.
      I have a friend who is a veterinarian; I can't tell you how many times I came home to our shared apartment in college to find a puppy in a bathroom that she'd rescued and was waiting on the owner to pick up. She happened to be visiting here one day when this particular dog was roaming the neighborhood. She asked for a leash and went out to get him, then returned and said, "he just doesn't look very friendly." So that should tell you something about this dog.
      Actually, she would probably be a good resource as far as what to do in this situation. I just don't understand what the owners think an unchained dog in an open garage is going to do. Stay there all day? Obviously he doesn't. It might be one thing if they were outside with him, but if there was someone outside when he came running at me, they sure didn't say anything and probably got an awfully mean laugh at my expense as I yelled at the dog, "okay! Okay! I'm backing up!" then very sarcastically yelled, "I'm sorry!" at it when he huffed and returned to his garage.

    2. Wow. Definitely need to do something. Next time, It might be one of your kids walking along (when they're older), with Lucy.

    3. Pat, I edited it and sent it yesterday.

    4. This is unacceptable-- if the dog is alone all the time in its yard, many say it should be reported because that's unfair to it. But to be in an unsecured area is against bylaws, particularly if it means the dog can threaten the public. Even if it were friendly, it's problematic. Check with your friend... but yeah, I think reporting them is a good idea. And you may want to keep the note anonymous, if you think there's a chance that the irresponsible dog owner might harass you if you do end up reporting them.

  3. We were at a dog park near our home and had our Siberian Husky attacked by an off leash dog. Justin confronted the owner and told him that if he can't control his dog, he needs to keep him on a leash. The owner just brushed him off. Since this is the second incident there, we have not gone back. We don't want Kasper to become fearful of all encounters with other dogs. We have been looking for other ways to socialize him. It is a shame that ignorant dog owners ruin it for the rest of us.

    1. It pisses me off that the aggressive dogs keep the well-mannered dogs from enjoying public spaces.

    2. You should probably report that off-leash dog, if not to animal control then to your neighborhood paper. There was a similar problem with two nightmare terriers at the off-leash park near my house a while ago... I saw articles in the paper referring to them, and things eased off a bit after the public shaming (the dogs were identified, not their human). Well, the problems with them in the park eased... they still yapped constantly and lunged at pedestrians when chained in the front yard of their house. (I was very glad to see them move!!).

      No reason you should be deprived of a lovely park because of one problematic dog. Particularly since other dog owners would be grateful as well, I'm sure.

      (PS A husky? awwww )

    3. Aliza, I've heard that dogs kept on chains are even more aggressive than others.

  4. It annoys me whenever I see ANY dog off-leash in what should be an on-leash area, even if the dog is generally well-behaved and friendly. I had a dog who simply did not like other dogs and there was no changing her mind about that, so I made sure to always keep her on a leash when we went for walks. But problems would occur when off-leash dogs - friendly as they may have been - would come running up to her to greet her. Her hackles would rise and it was all I could do to get her out of there before a fight broke out. I think too many people take for granted that all dogs like all other dogs.

    -Jen Hall

    1. Jennifer, our previous dog was like that. She hid behind our legs whenever another dog approached.

  5. We have a couple of dog parks close to here and they work great as long as every one respects the rules. It is such a happy place too, the dogs just love it there!

    1. I love them, too. I'd much rather go to a dog park than walk the city streets, but I don't enjoy encountering other dogs.


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