Art by the wonderfully talented Lili Chin at Doggie Drawings.
I guess there is a bit of a debate going around about the pros and cons of people shouting “My dog is friendly” before approaching, such as in this article (which is actually in response to this well written blog post), and I thought I’d weigh in as one of those people who don’t necessarily think it’s at all a bad ida (but with a big, fat caveat attached to that statement).
Basically what these posts are complaining about is when someone lets his or her dog approach another dog and their person (either by walking up to them unannounced or with the dog unleashed in a public area), and only after the dogs meet inform the other hapless dog walker that “My dog is friendly.” This is beyond useless and irresponsible. Some dogs aren’t particularly found of other dogs or people (or any living thing), or are just really insecure while on leash, and they should be able to walk down the street without having a forced encounter with another dog. My last dog Naala was one such dog. She had some sort of preset list of rules and etiquette that other dogs had to observe if they were going to be permitted to sniff her for more than a second. Unfortunately she never sent me a list of these rules so I had no way of knowing whether she was going to hate or love whatever dog ran up to us. I got extremely good at body blocking to try and keep myself between my dog and another so a fight wouldn’t break out.
I remember at least two incidents in particular that stuck out as other owners not being at all responsible for their dogs. One happened at the beech. I arrived first, had Naala off leash and was situated to the far side of the beech, throwing her ball so she wouldn’t disturb the other people hanging out in the sand. Another owner and dog showed up. The owner sat on the opposite side of the beech, but his dog ran over to hang out with Naala. It happened quickly enough that I didn’t even see them approach, and for the first minute Naala and the new dog got along. Shortly thereafter, however, the new dog started to get a bit pushy and rude, and was trying to grab Naala’s ball (a big no no for her). I could see Naala giving off plenty of signals to the other dog that this wasn’t acceptable (she was actually being uncharacteristically patient with said dog) so I stepped in and grabbed Naala and put myself between them. The dog started jumping on me to get at her and I hear a distant call, “My dog is friendly!” to which I replied, “Well, mine’s getting pissed off, can you come and get your dog?” I actually had to shout at the guy several times before he finally got up and collected his dog (which itself took a while—if your dog doesn’t come when you call, you got no business letting it off leash at a busy beech, thank you). It should be noted that this wasn’t officially an off leash area (I know, bad on me, but there wasn’t that many people around when we showed up, and Naala had a rock solid recall).
The next incident happened one day when we were walking down the road on the way to the park. There was a guy there who owned two pit-bull type dogs. Now, I HATE breed profiling, so lets just state for the record that this was exactly the kind of owner that’s been giving pit bulls a bad name. One was on leash (but it had a cone around it’s neck, so my guess is it had some surgery or whatever and if it was healthy it would have been off leash), the other was not leashed at all. In the road. In the middle of the day. In a highly populated suburb. As soon as the unleashed dog spots Naala, he bolts for us, growling and hackles raised. I, in an act that proves I have zero sense of self preservation, bellow and charge at the pit bull while pulling Naala behind me (because I know she won’t put up with that shit, and I’m sure the two of them could have done a lot of damage to one another). Now, this did shock the hell out of the pit bull enough that he stopped in his tracks, but I am not in any way suggesting that someone else try this tactic, since it’s just as likely the dog won’t give a shit about a skinny, 100lb girl hollering at them. But I knew it for the risk it was. Anyways, what does the the guy say when he finally runs over and grabs his dog? “My dog is friendly.” Well, he sure as fuck didn’t look friendly, ass hat, and put a leash on him before I call animal control.
I’m sure I could name a billion other instances where something similar happened, and there were countless times that I saw a rambunctious dog approaching, moved Naala to the side of the road and put her in a sit stay so she could learn to be civilized in public, and the owner actually went out of their way to let their dog greet mine. Or the times I walk by someone’s house and their dogs are loose in their yard, and as soon as they see me and Naala (or Mufaasa these days, not like this has stopped just because my dog is friendly now) comes bolting over with the owner shouting that horrible phrase (it’s even more awesome when the dog comes from the opposite side of the street to do this. And by awesome I mean horrible). If your dog doesn’t have a rock solid recall and you live near a road that isn’t in the middle of nowhere and your property isn’t fenced, YOUR DOG NEEDS TO BE LEASHED. PERIOD. END OF STORY. There were many, many times I seriously contemplated letting Naala kick the shit out of the other dog just so the owner might learn a lesson, but that just punishes the dog, and it ain’t the dog’s fault.
When a dog decides to react aggressively (for whatever reason), it happens in a split second. Shouting “My dog is friendly” after the dogs have already met or when your loose dog with no recall is already on the way over is TOO FREAKING LATE. Best practice is to assume the other dog doesn’t want to greet your dog and look for signs that it’s ok to approach.
Now, here’s the thing. I do shout “My dog is friendly” occasionally (with Mufaasa, obviously not Naala). But I do it from about ten or more metres away so the other owner can let me know if their dog is prepared to meet mine or not. But before I do that I go through a bit of a check-list first.
- Take out my ear buds if I’m listening to my iPod, just in case the other dog walker is trying to give me an early warning (or late one). Also I can hear if their dog is growling or making any other telltale noises.
- Look at the other dog’s body language—are the earls perked but in a relaxed way (like not right on top of their head, that’s a bit too alert)? Is the other dog’s body loose, hackles down? Tail level and ideally wagging slowly? If the tail is lowered I’ll probably ask the owner if the other dog is ok to greet mine and then (this step is important) respect whatever freaking response they give me. If they say their dog is fine, I’ll still slow Mufaasa down so he doesn’t overwhelm the other dog. If your dog likes to pounce (playfully) on any dog he meets, do the other dog a favour and put yours in a sit or stay and let the other dog approach at their own speed (this has the added benefit of teaching your dog to great other dogs correctly. Often when I slowdown Mufaaa lays down of his own accord).
- If it is a service dog, I just avoid unless the owner says something first. This should be a no brainer, but there a lot of things in this post that I think are no brainers (like using your brain).
- Look at Mufaasa—is he tensing up? Mufaasa will notice if the owner looks hesitant, even if the dog isn’t giving any obvious signs that they don’t want to greet him. When I see that I just avoid the other dog because if the owner’s tense before we meet, it either means they have no idea what their dog’s going to do, or worse, they do have an idea but just aren’t saying anything about it.
- If all those other steps check out and I still have a bit of doubt I’ll call out that Mufaasa is friendly, basically as an opening to the other owner to do the right thing. People feel guilty that their dog is reactive (I know because I’ve felt that guilt) an so sometimes keep quite about it. Which is unfortunate since they’re essentially setting up their dog to fail, which isn’t fair to their dog or mine. If I shout first it takes a bit of the pressure off. I’m telling you what my dog is like long before we let them greet, so you can tell me what your dog is like before I get there. There, easy peasy, everyone wins.
So, some examples:
I also don’t have Mufaasa off leash when I walk down the road, and if we’re in a yard I always have his ball with me since it is a draw that will normally overcome all other temptations. Even then I’ll often leave his leash attached so I can step on it quickly.
Now, if you bring your reactive dog to an off leash dog park and get mad when other dogs run up to greet him, that makes you an entirely different kind of jack ass, but that’s a rant for another day.
And now, here’s Mufaasa politely greeting a pig. Just because.