This is something I’ve become quite passionate about. When you have a “perfect” dog, you don’t learn anything from them. When you have a dog that isn’t quite “perfect”, you either learn a lot or some people abandon their dog or worse, some people abuse and/or neglect their dog. This is why awareness, education, and training are so important, no matter what kind of dog you have. No matter if your dog is a rescue or from a breeder. Dogs are animals, they are not human. So understanding canine behavior and the importance of proper socialization and training is critical. It blows my mind how many dog owners do not even have basic understanding or knowledge of this. I knew nothing about dogs when I first adopted Peach, but thought because my boyfriend at the time had dogs for most of his life, that he would show me the ropes. Don’t ever assume that! He clearly was not a responsible dog owner. That became apparent pretty quickly. So then I took matters into my own hands and chose to do research, sought out certified positive reinforcement trainers, and started working with Peach. This opened up so many doors for me, and I enjoy every second of training, whether it’s for behavioral things, canine conditioning, or canine sports. When done safely with the right trainers, it strengthens the bond you have with your dog and things become less stressful and FUN.
Well, I say fun, until you have encounters with irresponsible and ignorant dog owners. That has happened to us many times, and it happened again today. I sometimes post about these encounters on Facebook and probably annoy most of my friends. So this time I figured I’d actually do a write up about it. My hope is that this will bring awareness and get dog parents thinking about their own actions (or lack of actions).
Dogs that should NOT BE OFF LEASH:
- Dogs that have not had proper off leash training
- Dogs that have not had impulse control training (which goes along with the above)
- Dogs with owners who don’t pay attention to them
- Dogs with owners who don’t understand basic canine body language and behavior
- Dogs with owners that think all dogs are friendly and want to play with other dogs
Notice anything about the above list? That’s right, it all goes back to the owners. Dogs aren’t born knowing how to behave like human beings. Why? Because they aren’t human beings, they’re fucking animals. I know this sounds obvious and sarcastic, and I wish it were just that. But it’s something that some people need a reminder of. My ex-boyfriend used to bring Peach out into the woods with friends (I usually wasn’t with him). He would let her off leash, assuming she would stay nearby him, even though he had done zero training with her (not even basic manner training at the time). Guess what? She didn’t stay close to him. She would run off, chasing the other dogs to play, wouldn’t come back when called, and even had an incident where she killed a prize winning chicken. There was an instance where he let her free in the woods (I wasn’t around), and she took off after a porcupine and got some quills in her face. Nothing serious, but it resulted in the porcupine getting shot by his friend. I don’t condone this. That porcupine had every right to be in the woods, you know, where it fucking LIVES. Then there was an incident that I was actually with him and Peach, in the woods. It was his friends property, and it was many, many acres of just thick woods. I didn’t want to let her off leash, but he somehow convinced me. She took off, stayed with his friends dogs for a little bit, but then took off, clearly after a scent. Her prey drive is through the roof. She has sight hound in her DNA. We chased her through the woods, I was having a heart attack. My worst fear is losing one of my animals. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to her. We did end up getting her back, but boy was he pissed at her. He yelled at her, and kept jerking her leash forcefully. Apparently he got his knowledge of dogs from Cesar Milan. You can’t really be mad at your dog for being a dog, and not having done any training to show them how you want them to behave. But he did. Thankfully, we are no longer together and I will never understand why I was with him to begin with. I digress….
Off leash dogs. I have no problem with off leash dogs, as long as they have perfect recall and their owners are attentive. Unfortunately this is the exception and not the rule, at least in my experience.
Today is a perfect Fall day in Maine. I try to take Peach hiking almost every weekend, as it’s our time to do fun things together and get exercise while doing it. She loves to be in the woods, she loves to use her nose to sniff everything. I let her lead our hikes. If she wants to stop and smell something on the side of the trail, I let her. This wears her out just as much as the actual physical hike. In my opinion, it’s critical to let your dog be a dog, but to be safe about it. I keep Peach on leash. There are some circumstances where she can be off leash, but in the woods is not one of them. She is dog selective. This means she doesn’t like all dogs. She is very picky and almost always requires slow, proper introductions before she can trust them. After doing some force free training with a professional trainer locally, she is able to be around other dogs just fine, as long as they respect her space. She is a very clear communicator, meaning that she gives other dogs clear signals to keep their distance. However, there are a lot of dogs that disregard her signals and will continue to run into her space. This is where I step in. I have the knowledge and tools to manage her reactivity. But I do not have control over someone else’s dog. When we are out hiking, I am constantly aware of our surroundings. I am looking and listening to what is going on in front of us, behind us, and everywhere in between. She is usually attached to my waist, using the Ruffwear Trail Runner belt system (which I highly recommend). I use a 5′ leash. This allows me to be hands free, but I can grab the leash in a split second if I see another dog approaching.
Today, we went to Vaughn Woods State Park in South Berwick, Maine. This is one of the few spots I can take her, because they have a very strict leash policy. So strict in fact, that they not only have signs stating that dogs are required to be on leash at all times in the trails, but they have additional signs that state that if they continue to get complaints about off leash dogs, they will BAN ALL DOGS FROM THE PARK COMPLETELY. Now obviously I’m not one of the complainers because I want to continue to be able to take her there. She loves the place, and so do I. We’ve been there probably 10 times this year. There have been a few times where we haven’t encountered any off leash dogs. But there are still many times that we do. Most of the owners at least will leash their dogs when they see us coming, which I appreciate, though it still bothers me that they are completely disrespecting the signs. I mean, here in Maine there is no leash law unless it’s posted. So for fucks sake, you lucky off leash dog owners can take your dogs literally almost anywhere, whereas I’m stuck with 2 or 3 places in the entire fucking state to take my dog hiking. So yeah, it irritates me.
Today’s incident went something like this…..
Peach and I were having a great time. She was walking and running with me, she would stop to sniff all the things, she was climbing on tree stumps, she was pouncing, I would toss food down on the ground so she could play “find it”, and she was just having a great time being a dog with her favorite human (or at least I like to think I’m her favorite human). Up ahead on the trail, I see 3 people and a dog standing in the middle of the trail. I see the dog is loose, but is distracted with something. One of the people is taking photos. So I stop on the trail, leaving enough distance but close enough so they can see me and Peach. I have her do a sit and stay. She is focused on me, as she was trained. I’ve got my eye on their dog. We waited for about 60 seconds, and I know they saw me because we made eye contact. I thought about turning the other way and going back to where we came from. But then I thought, “why the hell should I turn around and go the other way?” They were completely blocking the trail with their own bodies and their loose dog. But I was getting fired up inside because of their disrespect and decided to take Peach OFF the trail to walk safely around them. So there we go, blazing our way through leaves, climbing over downed trees, and are simply giving these ignorant fucks “their” space. You’d think that because I stopped and waited for them to move, and because I have my own dog leashed, and because I chose to walk off the trail to go around them, that maybe a light bulb would go off in their heads to tell them they’re being idiots and that this girl and her dog don’t want to interact with them. Nope. I see their dog turn to us. I see their dog now has interest in Peach. I’m waiting for the owners to either leash it or at least get it’s attention. Nope. I now see their dog start to run towards us. I say out loud, FUCK ME. I stop and have Peach turn to me so her back is to the other dog. I tell her to sit and stay, which she does. She is behaving perfectly. The dog continues to charge at us. The owners are actually watching their dog run away towards us, yet they never called out to it. I thought this is it….a dog fight is about to break out in a couple of seconds. I yell. “CALL YOUR FUCKING DOG BACK!!” This is what got their attention. They said it’s name and it stopped running at us. This is clear proof that it’s not just about your dogs training, but it’s equally about paying attention and being respectful to others around you. Especially when I personally gave them all the clear signs that we didn’t want an encounter with them. It didn’t quite end there…..
Peach and I moved on, she was completely unphased by the whole thing since I prevented it from escalating (yes, I sometimes pat myself on the back). We continue our hike, passing several other LEASHED dogs just fine. I always take a couple of steps off the trail to allow space for the other dogs and their owners to pass by. I use those scenarios as training opportunities. I have Peach “look at me”, she sits and waits. I reward her. Sometimes she turns her head to look at the other dog passing by, but she never breaks her stay and always looks back at me. I can’t ask for anything more.
We get back to the parking lot. I load Peach up in the back of the wagon, clean her feet off, give her water, etc. I get in the car, start it up, put it in reverse, look at the backup camera. I see the people. The 3 humans and their now leashed dog. They’re standing behind my car, just off to the side. My backup lights AND my brake lights are on, as I had started to back up but stopped when I saw them. I give them a several seconds to move. Nope. I see that they’re just standing there, once again being ignorant. They’re having a conversation, standing behind a car that is clearly waiting to back up. You know, like in a parking lot. I’m like, “fuck this”. I start to back up, hoping that they’ll hear my tires on the DIRT. Nope. They continue to stand there, talking. I took advantage of the backup camera and the sensors to tell me if I was going to hit any of them. I managed to squeeze around them. They never moved an inch. For fucks sake, people. How have you survived this long? One day your luck will change and the consequences will be tragic. I just hope it doesn’t involve your dog, because it’s not their fault that you’re an ignorant, disrespectful person. That’s on you.
So I plead all dog owners to be respectful of each other. Respect leash policies when they are posted. Or at the very least, leash your dog when you see someone with their dog on a leash. They’re on it for a reason. Either they are simply respecting the policy, they might be recovering from an injury, they might be aggressive, they might not have had recall training, or they simply might want their space respected like Peach. Regardless, their owner (like me) is being responsible and respectful to you. We should not be punished for that.
Here are some pics from our trail walk today, before momma got pissed…..