Monday, March 21, 2011

Dog Walking Etiquette

Spring is finally here and with it the daily opportunity to take a walk and enjoy the change in season. It's so refreshing to take a dog along for a long walk in the neighborhood or for a hike in the woods or the beach. One thing I've noticed however is that the nicer the weather gets and the more folks who are out, the more dog owners I meet who are not being very considerate of other folks who are out as well.
For instance several times in the last week I have had to deal with loose dogs charging my dog and I as we were walking in a leashed area. I don't like leash laws anymore than the next guy but often these laws exist to keep dogs from becoming an nuisance in public areas. When dogs run loose in areas they are not suppose to be loose in, it causes problems for everyone. One major problem is the pressure the loose dog puts upon the dog that is on leash and his owner who is just trying to enjoy a walk. Most dogs even if they get along with other dogs can act aggressively toward an off leash dog if they themselves are confined to a leash. This is the surest way to cause a dog fight or an accident.
Yesterday I was playing at a park with my children when an off leash dog charged a man walking two dogs and pushing a baby carriage. The dogs ignored the little dog until it came too close and then lunged and barked at it. The man had trouble managing the two dogs and almost lost control of the baby's stroller as it tipped dangerously to the side. I held my breath for a full minute while he got things back under control. The owner of the loose dog had a stupid smirk on his face like his dog had nothing to do with it and didn't even bother to call his dog or apologize. This is rude of course but more than that it's downright dangerous. What the owner of the loose dog failed to realize is that not only did he almost injure a baby but he put his own dog at great risk. The dogs with the baby had every right to attack him and chase him off if they perceived him as a threat to their baby and they could have teamed up and hurt him really badly. To me that is not fair to any of the dogs. If he loved his dog he should not have put him at risk.

About a week ago I had a similar incident with one of my own dogs. I was walking on a country road and enjoying a nice sunny day when a car pulled into a driveway at the top of the hill I was about to climb. The person pulled into his driveway and evidently opened the door to his house and let out his 5 dogs all at the same time. There were 4 little dogs and one large dog. The large dog did it's business and went back in the house. The 4 little dogs spotted me from the top of the hill and became hysterical barking and charging down the hill at us. The dog I had with me at the time was Rush, a 3 year old intact male Golden Retriever. I stopped walking so he could assess the ridiculousness at the top of the hill and he laid down to get a better view of the tiny little terrors. When he was ready we climbed the hill. Some of the dogs changed their mind about charging us but one in particular kept running up to us. I told Rush to leave it and tried to keep walking up the hill, moving as far away as the road would allow. Rush ignored him for the most part and when he came close enough he sort of tucked him under him, gave a litttle grump and pushed him away with a bump of his head. The little dog squeaked in surprise and then took off back to his house. Meanwhile as I reached the top of the hill the owner of the dogs, the person who had let them out in the first place was just standing there watching his dogs menace my dog as we tried to walk by his house. The right thing to do would have been to at least attempt to catch the dogs or apologize or not let them out in the first place until the coast was clear. As the owner of a multiple dog household he had a responsibility for his own dogs' safety to not let them out until there was no one around. I was walking in a remote area but on a public road. There isn't that much traffic but waiting the 5minutes it would have taken me to pass by would have been the considerate thing to do.
As dog owners I think we share the responsibility of educating each other and sometimes though it's not pleasant, letting someone have an earful when they are not being a good neighbor. It's hard to believe sometimes that they just don' t know any better but if we don't speak up they might never know. The more people who behave this way get away with it, the more likely laws will be changed to ban dogs from beaches, parks and open spaces. The bad manners of the few should not outweigh the needs of the many.