Animal training is animal communication. While I have known gifted psychic animal communicators, psychic skills are not necessary to communicate with your dog. You may not have thought of training in these terms before, but I want you to consider this concept.
Animal training is animal communication. You communicate what you want your animal to do. Your animal will also talk back.
What you do need, is patience, observational skills, and the ability to use those observations to understand what your dog is saying.
The kind folks at Oregon Dog Life have posted my article. You can read the rest by clicking HERE.
Want to know more about how to communicate with your dog? Check out my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. If you purchase from my publisher, use the coupon code “dct-ftg” for 15% off!
If you saw my last post, you can tell I love to hike, and so does Xander! It’s kinda hard to tell by looking at him, but he is half Great Pyrenees. He loves to go on long hikes, and here in the Pacific Northwest we have lots of trails to explore. Getting out into the mountains is one of our favorite activities.
We have not, however, been very good about prepping for our hikes. We usually carry far less water than we should. I can’t carry a backpack due to a shoulder injury, and my waist pack only carries a couple small bottles.
Xander to the rescue! He is a strong, healthy 2 year old boy, and he weighs about 100 pounds. He could easily carry our supplies. So I purchased a backpack for him, and it just arrived. Naturally we had to try it out right away.
Finding dog backpacks is easy. Large online retailers like Amazon have many to choose from – it’s choosing just one that’s hard! Color, style, size, you can pretty much get anything you want.
I got a nylon, saddlebag-style by Legendog. At $18.99 it makes a nice starter pack. I don’t want to invest $50 or more until I have Xander totally comfortable with packing.
This is a nice pack. Good sized main bags on each side with multiple smaller pockets. It even comes with a folded up travel bowl in it’s own pocket. It’s lightweight nylon, but I am wondering about it’s overall durability at the seams. That’s something only time and use will tell though. I like the bright color – it makes Xander a whole lot more visible, and less likely to be mistaken for some wild animal when we’re out on the trail.
Xander is very used to me draping things on him, so he didn’t flinch when I slipped the pack over his head and draped on on his back. But not every dog will react as calmly. If you want to teach your dog to wear a pack, introduce it to him slowly. Move in stages.
Let your dog sniff and investigate the new pack before you attempt to put it on.
Gently touch the pack to your dog’s back, shoulder’s and chest. Build to light, brushing strokes with the pack.
Drape the pack on your dog’s back.
Fasten the straps and adjust.
At each stage, observe your dog closely. Praise your dog! If she stays calm, encourage her with phrases like “Good dog!” and use treats to really reinforce that wearing the pack is a good, positive event.
Look for signs of stress or discomfort, like yawning, avoiding eye contact, or laying ears flat. If you see these, stop, and back up to the last stage your dog was comfortable at.
Lastly, add weight gradually! And be sure to keep it balanced. Today, Xander is carrying my phone in a wallet-type case on one side, and a change purse with a couple dollars in it on the other. Slowly increasing weight gives your dog time to adjust to the feel and motion of the pack on her body, and build strength.
The most important step – have fun! Be sure you and your dog are relaxed and happy, or teaching her to wear a backpack will never succeed. Go as slow as you need to. Just because Xander here picked it up quickly doesn’t mean every dog will. Go at YOUR dog’s pace! Observe her responses to the pack, to the weight.
For more more information about how to train, check out my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. I cover what you need to know about how to observe, understand and communicate with your dog so your training lasts a lifetime. Plus how to do more, like hiking! Follow the link above to my publisher, and use this coupon code “dct-ftg” at checkout for an additional 15% off!
Xander and I went hiking with our friends yesterday. A very long drive up some winding dirt/gravel roads led us to a trailhead that was cleverly disguised as an unassuming wide spot on the road. Two other cars were pulled off to the side, and a younger guy with his baby/toddler and an older dog were just getting out as we pulled up.
“Is this the trailhead for Noble Knob?” We asked. We’d driven past it and had doubled back. Nice Guy indicated that it was. “How did you know this was the place?” Was our next question. “Because this is where the map said to stop.” He said with a slightly bewildered air, as if the answer was obvious.
The ascent was a little steep in the beginning. It was a good workout, and although it was a push, it was well worth it.
Seriously, look at this killer view.
And this one.
Although he looks like a giant white Lab, Xander is in fact half Great Pyrenees. Thank goodness he got daddy’s short coat instead of mom’s glorious long flowing one. However, he did inherit a love of mountains, hiking and long days outside.
Hiking and dogs just go together. Adventure, nature, clean air – it does not get any better.
But – this isn’t your average stroll. Preparation is a must! You are both working more than you think, so bringing supplies isn’t just a nice idea, it’s a necessity. At a minimum you need to bring:
Water – for both of you
Food – also for both of you
First Aid Kit
Layers – the day may start hot, then get very cold, very fast.
Yesterday, I did the carrying, but Xander is 2 years old, 100 pounds and very strong. He’s getting a backpack for Christmas and will carry his own weight next year. Yes! Your dog can share the load. On average a dog can carry 25% of his body weight.
However, it will take some training. Xander will need to learn how to wear the pack, then build up his strength carrying. It’s not good or healthy to expect him to carry a full pack on our next trip. He needs to work up to it. But by next spring he should be up to carrying 25 pounds.
Oh look! There’s the sign! In the meadow at the top of the climb.
We even saw wildlife! A mountain goat that we smelled long before we spotted it. Surprising how strong it was even from so far away.
Anticipate that you may encounter wildlife, and not just little bunnies or the birds that fly up and away as you approach them on the trail. Big, and sometimes dangerous animals live out there. You are just a visitor. Hiking with a friend and carrying on a conversation can deter most unwanted encounters. Unless you stumble on a mama bear and cubs, most animals will want to avoid you.
Mr. Mountain Goat up there was clearly unconcerned about the humans passing through his field, but you see how far away he is. Think ahead and prepare! Hiking sticks can be waved to make you look big and scary if you do come face to face with a big critter. Invest in some bear spray and hope you never have to use it.
But what about your dog? The big outdoors calls and you can’t resist letting your furry friend have some freedom off leash. Out there, it is essential you have your dog trained. A reliable recall is critical when hiking.
What’s that mean? If you call your dog, your dog returns to your side. This is basic trail etiquette. Not everyone loves dogs and wants your big happy guy to run up and smother them with sweet doggie kisses. Narrow trails, like this one, make for dangerous encounters if your dog is not under control.
Off to the right of that picture is a steep dropoff to a little bitty lake. Bouncy exuberant dogs are great, but not when you’re passing in a narrow spot. You must be able to control your dog. Trail courtesy says you clear the trail and let other hikers pass you by.
Oh and that wildlife? Dogs and wildlife do not mix. Another reason you must have a solid recall trained if you allow your dog off leash while hiking. An experienced hiker once told me how her well-trained dog came running back when she called – with a bear chasing it! Fortunately the bear was just as surprised to see her as she was and promptly turned and ran back the way it came. But it could’ve been so much worse.
But before you ever head out to wilderness, consider your dog. Xander is young, strong and healthy. Nice Guy at the trail head had an older dog, but she was still fit. How about your dog? Even if your dog has some health challenges, you can still take them out, but choose trips suited to their physical abilities. Don’t pick a hike that requires scrambling over big boulders unless you’re prepared to carry your dog over them.
I cover hiking with your dog, as well as other fun things you and your furkid can do together in my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. It’s a holistic manual for how to find, train, and bond with your dog. Follow the link attached to the title and you can use this code “dct-ftg” (all lowercase!) at checkout for 15% off!
I was interviewed on Pet Radio last week! We had a lovely conversation about dog care, understanding dog behavior and how to train your dog. Give a listen by clicking here.
I’m in the second half of the program, starting 22 minutes in. A big thank you to Robert Hudson for the opportunity to talk with all his listeners. Check out his Oregon Dog Life, and Pet Radio Show websites and give his Facebook pages a like here and here.
For more about how to understand your dog, establish clear communication and develop a lasting bond, check out my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. Click on that link and use the coupon code ‘dct-ftg’ (all lower case!) at check out for 15% off!
Dogs just make life better. They provide unconditional love, and companionship but some dogs do much more for their human.
You’ve seen them, right? In those cute little vests, they’re hard to mistake. Seems like everywhere you go now you see someone with their dog in places where it used to be taboo to take your pet.
But what exactly is a service animal? The term is often used cavalierly by people to describe their pet when they want to bring it somewhere pets usually aren’t permitted, like in this video.
In case you’re wondering, none of those are service dogs.
The term service animal has a specific legal definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This animal must be a dog, that is specially trained to assist a human who has a disability. Examples would be: guide dogs for the visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, dogs that pull wheelchairs or manipulate objects for their human, like doorknobs, refrigerators, light switches.
This specifically excludes emotional support animals, or therapy dogs. From the ADA’s website:
“Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.”
This means that if a facility is subject to the laws of the ADA, it must allow the handler/dog team access. They’re not allowed to ask what the person’s disability is, but they can ask two, very specific questions (again, from the ADA site):
1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
Although, if the answers are obvious – visually impaired person, person in a wheelchair – don’t ask.
When I first started training in the early ’90’s, the regulations were more lax. It was an open secret in the dog training/handling/show world. “Get your dog registered as a therapy dog.” They’d whisper, “Then you can take them anywhere.” Finding a hotel that accepted dogs was sometimes challenging on the show circuit. I’m not even going to go into the horror stories I heard about airline shipping back then. So handlers (who were already good at training) ran their dog through a therapy dog certification course, got their vest and certificate and -voila!- instant voucher for their dog to fly in coach with them, go into restaurants, stay in any hotel…
But… just because they had that vest didn’t mean the dog was a stellar example of training and dog manners.
I vividly remember sitting in a session at a pet conference in San Diego back then, and listening to one of the speakers absolutely blister the audience for the deplorable manners of their dogs. “And some of these are service dogs!” She spat into the microphone. Eliminating in the host hotel’s rooms was only one infraction on her very long list.
I know. Ick! Sad but true, not everyone is a responsible dog parent. And just because you put a vest on your furkid, that doesn’t make it a service animal. Sorry, it doesn’t. That makes you one of the people in the video up above. And yes, airlines, hotels, restaurants are covered by the ADA.
So lets cover the definitions. We’ve gone over service animal, but there’s also:
Emotional support animal – provides companionship and helps reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, etc. NO special training is required of an ESA. ESA’s live with their handlers.
Therapy animal – provide comfort and emotional support in situations that humans often find stressful – hospitals, long-term care facilities, disaster zones. They are brought to the people needing comfort, then go home with their handler.
Each type of animal provides an important service. I am not dissing emotional support or therapy critters. I’ve seen first-hand the good they do. If you require an ESA, it’s probably a good idea to discuss this with your healthcare provider so they can document your need, and how the animal provides support. Although it does not grant you the access that a service animal gets (sorry, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., don’t have to accommodate) it can open doors when you’re looking for housing.
If your therapy electric eel, in it’s 40-gallon tank, is the only creature that makes you feel warm and fuzzy in an otherwise bleak world, and your physician, therapist or other mental healthcare worker writes a letter detailing how Sparky helps you like no one else can, then finding housing just became a little bit easier. Under the laws of the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must accommodate and adjust their rules for you and Sparky.
Um, don’t laugh. I’ve seen people claim their snake, iguana, or tarantula was their ESA. Whatever floats your boat, I’m certainly not one to judge.
So what’s the moral of the story here? Don’t be a jerk. Please.
There are plenty of people out there who legitimately need their service or ESA. Every person who buys a vest, or pays a bogus “registry” then drags their poorly-behaved “service dog” around is a nuisance and delegitimizes true service and ESA’s. Don’t be that person.
Because you don’t need to. Dogs are becoming more accepted in society, some restaurants allow dogs on outside patios, major hotel chains now accept pets nationwide.
In my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS, I cover aspects of training your dog so you can take your furkid out and about, and give resources to help you find dog-friendly establishments.
Don’t fake it. Be real. Be glad you don’t need a service or ESA, and don’t make it harder for those who do.
I’ll admit I was skeptical of these. None of my previous dogs were sound-sensitive, and I doubted that tight swaddling would have the same effect on a dog that it does on a human. Turns out I’m wrong, as I found out from direct experience.
Xander is my Great Pyrenees/Lab mix. Isn’t he just adorable? I bought him a Thundershirt last year, and had it on him a few times. It seemed to have only limited success from what I saw, but Xander apparently felt different about his anxiety-reducing garment.
He is the least confident dog I’ve ever had. Belgian sheepdogs aren’t known for their shy, retiring natures, and my Lab, well, she’s a Lab; everyone’s her friend and fear is unknown to her. But for such a big dog, Xander is remarkably…timid, especially when it comes to sounds. We no longer host our big 4th of July party – much to our friend’s dismay.
However, I couldn’t hear anything when he woke me up at 4:30 this morning, scrabbling around in the adjoining room. It was early, but not unusual for the dogs to need to go out at this time. So up I got and out they went. The wind was whipping but it wasn’t raining, Xander quickly returned to the door and wanted back in.
Once back inside, his continuing distress was clear; he was pacing, panting and licking his lips. He would sit and lean against me for a time for comfort, but then look off into the distance over my shoulder and growl. I checked, but nope, no ghosts in the house.
Then I saw the flash outside in the darkened sky and it all made sense. He could hear the thunder I couldn’t.
We went into the basement where it would be quieter, and I turned on the TV to help drown out the thunder. Golly ate her breakfast right away, unfazed by the distant storm. Did I mention she’s a Lab? Xander did not, which is not unusual when he’s nervous. What he did next though, took me completely by surprise.
He walked up to his Thundershirt, draped over a nearby chair and nosed it. Then turned at looked directly into my eyes. I didn’t need any psychic animal communication skills to understand what he was asking. I picked it up, held it out and he promptly sat down to let me wrap it around his body. He even sighed with relief.
He may not be the bravest, but he’s certainly one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had.
Within a minute of getting wrapped up in his Thundershirt, Xander had stopped pacing and panting. He sat and leaned against me, then sank down and nudged his way under my feet with another relieved sigh.
He was snoring a few minutes later. Thank you Thundershirt!
Is your dog sound sensitive? Does your friend whine, cower, or try to escape from loud sounds like thunder, heavy machinery, or fireworks? It’s important to know the behaviors that signal your dog is in distress – Xander paces, whines, pants, and licks his lips, but other dogs may dig, run, hide or bark.
If you see your dog reacting stressfully to loud sounds, what should you do?
The last thing you want to do is try to reassure him or her. Petting, saying things like “It’s okay” or “You’re a good dog” can actually reinforce your dog’s stress reaction, even amplify it. Pet parents sometimes find it difficult to understand this because the behaviors we humans find comforting – hugging, petting – often do not translate as soothing or calming to our dogs. Try to avoid these if your dog is acting stressed.
Instead focus on projecting calm and confidence. When you do speak, do it in low, gentle tones. Avoid using the voice or cue words that mean “Good dog!” as these are easily interpreted as meaning his stress reaction is appropriate.
If your dog comes and leans against you, it’s okay to put a reassuring hand on a shoulder or hip, but don’t pet or scratch. Let it rest with some heaviness – let your dog feel the weight of your hand and arm – but don’t press her against you.
Try turning up the TV or radio and distracting your dog with a toy. However if your pet is so stressed that they won’t engage with you, you may want to look into a Thundershirt for your pet. You can find their website here. It has excellent information and links to the science behind the Thundershirt’s effectiveness.
Helping your dog to reduce his anxiety will build his confidence in himself and you!
Aggression in the family pet is a very serious issue. Sharing your home with an aggressive dog is a liability that puts your family and your finances at risk.
Pet parents may have a hard time admitting that their dog has an aggression problem. Inappropriate behaviors are often marginalized, especially in smaller breeds. Poorly defined behavioral boundaries that lead to confusion on the dog’s part can easily lead to aggression. In addition, a lack of experience or knowledge on the part of the dog parent can lead to missing or ignoring warning signs from the dog.
Aggression arises for a number of reasons; individual temperament, personal experience as well as genetics all factor in. Fear is also a strong motivator in dog bites. The good news is aggression can be redirected and greatly reduced or even eliminated. The bad news is – it’s not easy. It takes a serious commitment to a slow and deliberate process.
There is no fast, easy, magic pill to eliminate aggression. If you’re reading this because you have a dog that exhibits these behaviors:
Lunging and growling
Were you hoping to find a way to make them stop online? Frankly, no. You need to find a trainer to work with you one-on-one. If your dog has bitten you or someone else you need professional help. Re-training a dog that is already biting is beyond the scope of simply reading something on the Internet. An excellent resource to help you find a trainer is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (apdt.com).
When dog attacks make it to the news, what do you typically hear the owner say? “I would have never expected my dog to do this!” Or, “this came out of nowhere!” Typically followed by statements about how loving, how gentle and sweet their dog is, and that this behavior is completely atypical for the family pet.
No. Just no. The owner may not have seen it, but the dog’s aggression was the result of a recognizable set of escalating behaviors.
Animals will always tell you their intentions. Always. Do you know what your dog is saying?
It is far better to stop aggressive behavior before it starts. This applies to every dog, from the most massive mastiff to the tiniest chihuahua. As a dog parent it is your responsibility to recognize early aggressive tendencies and redirect them. To be able to do this, you must be able to read your dog. Not just the basics – tail wag = happy, growl = angry. A dog’s communication goes much deeper than this.
You can become fluent in Dog Talk! But you must take the time to observe and understand what your dog is saying when his ears do this, or his eyes do that. You can have that kind of understanding and bond with your dog. The one that looks like magic to outsiders. Bonus – if you work on developing this bond early you will avoid many unhappy behavioral problems.
I teach you how to develop this bond, to deepen your communication, in my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. If you follow this link and use the coupon code: dct-ftg at checkout, the publisher will give you an additional 15% off the purchase. Make sure the coupon code is all lowercase when you enter it.
Dogs are our companions, our friends, and we ask much of them at times. Help make your friend’s life rich and happy by taking the time to understand his or her needs. Your dog will is talking to you. Are you listening?
In my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS, I talk in detail about the process of finding your dog. I cannot deny that there are times when a dog just magically shows up and it ends up being a beautiful match. It’s on YouTube, it makes you cry. Me too!
In general though, if you’re thinking about adding a dog to your life, you should really take the time and consider some critical factors – your lifestyle, your living situation, how much hair you can tolerate – will all affect your relationship with your dog. Maybe you hadn’t considered how to get your new bestie from your 20th level condo to street level to do her business? Or … do you really want a puppy when you come home from work and just want to lay on the couch watching Shameless or Walking Dead?
If you haven’t thought through those and other questions, like:
Do I have a securely fenced yard, or do I need to walk my dog on a leash every time he needs to go?
Will the new dog be good with my kids?
How much grooming will she need?
How much exercise?
Then you need my book! But, once you’ve taken the time and read my recommendations, you’re ready to start looking. So where do you start?
Check out this website! PawsLikeMe.com uses a detailed personality quiz to match adopters to available dogs in the Paws Like Me database. Their quiz assesses “core personality traits” that influence how you bond with your dog such as energy and focus. The idea is to keep the perpetual-motion dogs that need lots of training and exercise from going home with the person who just wants to take a nice evening stroll every now and then.
No judgement! We like what we like and that is absolutely okay. This website will recommend dogs that match what you are looking for in your new best friend.
Which is totally awesome! It is so important to focus your pet finding efforts on the rescue/adoption systems. There are so many adoptable dogs that would be your ideal companion, but finding one that suits you can be a terrific challenge. It’s so hard to base a life long decision on just a few minutes looking through chain link. You can and should use all the resources available to you to find a dog that will match your lifestyle.
Because we all want that dog. The one that gets you, that bonds with you, that becomes more than just a pet but is rather a much-loved and trusted friend.
According to Paws Like Me:
“This intelligent matching system has an algorithm that is proven to be over 90% accurate.”
Wow! Naturally you would want to meet the dog, and ideally have it spend a day or two with you to get a complete picture of the dog’s personality and needs. But I was so excited by this that I just had look into it further.
I took their quiz and found that the dogs selected for me were indeed dogs that I would consider a good match. Surprisingly so. Frankly, I was skeptical when I first saw this website. But then I got the results; it made me wish I could bring some of them home! Most were within 10 miles, and the descriptions went well beyond a simple “This is a really sweet dog.” The dog’s personality and behavior were given in a brief description that hit critical elements. They clearly stated if the dog was good with other dogs, cats or kids. If the dog would do better as an only dog, or if it would thrive in a pack situation was typically addressed.
Could Paws Like Me help you find your new BFF? They’re absolutely worth a look.
If you have a pet you know how much joy they bring you. They are there for you on good days and bad days. And no matter how bad your day has been your pet loves you, unconditionally. National Pet Day is all about showing your pet how much you appreciate their companionship. Give them a little extra love and spoiling! That might seem like a no-brainer for a bunch of pet parents.
But what about those people who have no idea what joy pets bring? Show them this!
Pets are good for us. Mentally, physically, emotionally and yes, even spiritually pets teach us to be better people. Don’t believe me?
Multiple studies and clinical trials document how pets help lower blood pressure,stress, anxiety, even cholesterol levels.
Having a pet instantly reduces feelings of loneliness because another living being is there sharing your life with you. All pets require interaction and bonding, through training, play or just hanging out together.
Pets encourage you to be more active. Of course dogs need to be walked but cats need exercise too. Or if you have smaller pets like chickens, rats, rabbits you’ll need to keep their enclosures clean as well as your pet excercised.
Pets require love, and they return that love without reservation or hesitation. Practicing love,and opening your heart increases empathy and compassion. We could ALL use more of that!
Having a pet means having a relationship, so you need to be prepared for ups and downs. No relationship is pure bliss from start to finish. Expect that you and your pet will make mistakes. Look at those moments of frustration as lessons in patience and understanding as well as how to keep your cool.
If you’re considering a pet for the first time – Take Your Time! Do not rush into an impulse buy of the first cute baby animal you see. Consider your living situation, your time and availability. Think outside the box! Can’t get a dog or a cat? Small animals like rabbits, ferrets, even rats make wonderful, affectionate companions. Yes, you can even train them!
And always, if you’re going to bring an animal into your life consider adopting from rescue organizations, humane societies and shelters. There are literally millions of animals of every variety available; your new friend is just waiting to be found!
They’re having so much fun! Every dog should have the chance to run and play off leash, right? Yes, of course! But also no. I know, it’s contradictory, but bear with me.
I live in Seattle, and I read this article this morning. It did not fill me with warm fuzzies. It says that Seattle’s off leash policy is under review, and the Parks Department is considering allowing dogs off leash in nature parks, like Lincoln Park.
I do not use dog parks, for a number of reasons, but I support their presence and yes, they fulfill a very important need. But dog parks are not for every dog, and not every dog parent who wants to exercise their dog wants them mixing with lots of other dogs. Many dog parents have shy, reactive dogs. Or older dogs who are not looking for lots of playmates. Or disabled dogs that can’t interact with other dogs and are at risk of injury. The list goes on, so I’ll say it now even though it’ll probably make me unpopular.
Your dog’s right to “run free” does not trump my right to be unmolested by loose dogs.
When I first moved to Seattle, I was attacked three times in the first six months by loose dogs while I was out walking my Belgian sheepdog, Domino. In one case I was set on by three dogs. I don’t know what I would’ve done if those two men driving by hadn’t rescued me and helped drive the dogs off. Domino was a great dog, but those attacks scarred him and he was never the same after. His strategy became “the best defense is a good offense.” It took quite a bit of work to get him past his fearful aggressive reactions. He mellowed even more when we got Golly and at last walking him was not an exercise in stress management – his and mine – when we saw a loose dog.
You want to know what’s really sad? Domino used to love dog parks. I frequented a number of them when I lived in San Diego, and he had a great time. It took just six months to demolish his joy in other dogs. He did eventually become much less reactive, and a perfect gentleman out on walks, even with other dogs passing by. But it would always make me cringe when I saw a loose dog come running toward us. I could see at a glance that the majority of these dogs were not aggressive, but Domino was rarely in a mood to make a new friend.
“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” The owner would call with a smile and a casual wave. When I would put my body between Domino and the other dog and say “Yeah, well my dog’s not, would you please call your dog back?” I would inevitably get the sneer, or the scornful look that said “You’re a bad owner for bringing an aggressive dog out here to the park.” Occasionally I even got a lecture on socializing my dog. Um. Yeah. Listen Princess, you’re the one breaking the law not me, and you do not know my dog’s history. You’re the one putting your little Fluffy at risk.
Sadly, Domino’s story is not an unusual one. Not every dog wants to run free, surrounded by tens or even hundreds of other dogs. Not every dog deserves that either. Yes, I said it. The aggressive, badly socialized dog does not deserve to run free and terrorize other park users, human or canine. The city’s parks are for everyone to use, and this means that everyone needs to act responsibly. This means keeping your dog on leash.
Why? Because people who have been bitten by a dog and are phobic have a right to feel safe walking in the park. People who want to sit on a blanket on a sunny afternoon with their family have the right to not get splashed with urine because a dog lifts his leg on the tree next to where they’re sitting. Or have their picnic trashed when the dog runs onto the blanket, kicking sand all over it.
But what? You’re a good dog parent with a well socialized dog? Yes, I get it. I do. I have a friend who has her dog very well trained. And she sometimes lets him off leash. *gasp* But she is constantly paying attention to her surroundings. When other walkers come into view she calls her dog back to her and leashes him up. This is almost always before the other party is aware of us and our dogs. She also keeps him to the trail. But she is the exception, not the rule.
If you are in this category, bravo. I’m not worried about you. I’ve seen you out there too, because we spot each other at the same time and get our dogs quickly back to our side and under control. We usually let our dogs say hi and maybe have a quick play session before moving on our way.
But to be honest, not every dog or dog parent falls into this category. In fact, most don’t. Because it takes a lot of time, and work to train your dog to that level. Most have their dog sorta trained to come when called but when they turn their dog loose they start playing on their phone and only look up occasionally. And this is what we will get if we ease the leash law. It will be by far the majority of off leash users. Let’s not give the folks who are not dog lovers extra ammunition in their negative perceptions of dog parents and the dogs we love.
I totally agree. Everyone should train their dog to have a strong recall, and exhibit trail courtesy when they’re out, but not not everyone does. That is just a fact. To dismiss that little fact is a disservice to everyone else who wants to go out for a stroll in the park.
Being a responsible dog parent means you control your dog so that you live amicably with your neighbors. This means using a leash to keep your dog from becoming a nuisance. And frankly, that’s what this easing of the leash law would make of dogs. I can guarantee that not every dog parent who unsnaps their dog’s leash is going to monitor and control their dog to the level my friend does with her dog. Guarantee it. Because I see it frequently.
So does the City Parks department, and you can read about the negative impact dogs have on our nature parks here. Dogs are destructive to wildlife and plants. They are; sorry, but sometimes the truth hurts. They scare off nesting birds and resting marine mammals. They damage sensitive habitat either by running over delicate plants, digging them up or eliminating on them. “Not my dog, it’s just this once.” And that’s what the next ten, and the next ten all say. It all adds up. The damaging effects are cumulative.
Our parks would not be nearly as lush, lovely and thriving if it was not for the efforts of staff and volunteers alike who work to control invasive plants and encourage native growth through new plantings. Their job though is made much harder when the habitat they’re trying to preserve and protect is trampled into the ground. It’s bad now. In the study quoted in this article, 25% of the dogs were off leash, with most heading off trail into the woods and other sensitive areas. And this is with a leash law fully in effect. If we want our nature parks to thrive, we all need to be good stewards and protect them. Which means staying on trail, you and your dog.
I don’t want to do away with dog parks. We need them, we really do, and for a whole lot of dogs they are a little slice of heaven on earth. I would support additional dedicated and fenced off leash areas. But I cannot support the idea of easing the policy of keeping dogs leashed in a general use park. It’s simply not the best policy for all park users.