My husband and I have an arrangement where I walk one of the dogs in the morning while he takes the other running. This works out well for all of us—except when my husband has a week where he’s got to leave for work early every day. Rather than have the dogs do without exercise, I take them both to the park. There, I allow them to run around the dog park (it’s empty at that hour), do their business, and then we go for a 3-4 mile walk/hike around the perimeter and paths of the main park.
I normally have a walking companion, a very tough-looking 65-year-old Columbian man I somehow met while walking many months ago. He walks every day for his health, and we’ve struck up an unlikely friendship. His attitudes reflect his culture and upbringing, and we’ve had some interesting discussions. I’m don’t mind having conversations with people whose ideas are different than mine on a variety of topics, including dogs. I have friends who hold different political views, are of different religions, and hey, some even use training tools I choose not to use (a topic that can amount to a religion for some). This man and I have chatted about ways to train dogs before, but at some point his heavy-handed philosophy just went over the top and I suggested it might be best if we stayed away from dog training as a topic of discussion.
We’ve done just that, and all’s been well—until this morning. There’s a woman we run into sometimes who raises puppies for Guide Dogs. This morning he told me he’d run into her, and saw that her newest puppy was wearing a choke chain. He told her that he thought no one used choke chains anymore (he’d misconstrued my comment that many trainers have moved away from using choke chains in favor of gentler methods). She told him the program uses them because they’re the fastest and best way to train dogs, although they are expected to transition to flat buckle collars when the puppy is older. He was keen to let me know that people do still use choke chains, and that the girl had told him you can train good leash manners without choke chains but instead of taking months, it can take five years. (Can you imagine how hard I was biting my tongue?) I politely let him finish, and then explained that there are ways to train dogs without pain that most certainly do not take five years. Suffice it to say that once this man makes up his mind about something, that’s it, there’s no argument that will sway him—he’s right and that’s that.
Now, when I have Bodhi or Sierra at the park, I don’t require them to walk right by my side (unless there’s a vehicle or dog we need to pass). I figure the park is “their time,” and they’re allowed to walk in front of me as long as they don’t pull. When I have both dogs together, though, they do tend to get into a who-can-pull-further-ahead mindset. I haven’t put effort into working on the problem since they’re almost never walking together. And the truth is, I haven’t done extensive leash work with either of them separately or together, mostly because of chronic back pain. (Somehow when you’re in pain, doing leash work with 50-pound northern breeds is not the thing you most long to do.)
It’s true that my current dogs are not as well trained as my previous dogs have been on leash. So I can see how this man thinks all I need is a choke chain and a few good corrections, and my dogs will be walking nicely by my side. I can’t argue with the fact that this may be partly true—I say partly because it would certainly take a bit more than that—but I do understand the argument. However, as I told him, just because something works doesn’t mean I’d use it on my dogs. I could hit them with a two-by-four and they’d listen, too; doesn’t mean I’d do it. I related that I’d started out training many years ago with choke chains, and then explained my reasons for choosing not to keep using them. After listening to all of this, he said there was an expression in his country; I can’t remember how it went exactly, but it amounted to something like, “A parent gives a child advice but he doesn’t take it, and then years later the child realizes the parent was right.” I asked how that applied to this situation and he said that I’d realize at some point later on he was right. Now, I’m not accustomed to arguing with people in this way because, frankly, it’s not worth my time or energy. I like this man well enough most of the time, and it’s much easier to walk 3-4 miles when you’ve got someone to chat with. So I very politely and calmly told him that he was being condescending and that it wasn’t appreciated. I reminded him that maybe this wasn’t the best topic for us to discuss. By this time, the sun had come up and it had gotten very warm out. He made a joke that maybe it had gotten so hot because of our heated argument, and we laughed, the tension broken.
To many of us, our dogs are our children. No one likes to be told how to raise their kids, human or canine. And no one likes to be told they’re wrong, whether they are or not. I’m willing to discuss pretty much anything with anyone, as long as the tone remains civil and respectful. When it’s not, you’ve hit the boundary of my tolerance. I can’t say I didn’t get a bit annoyed this morning, but I truly believe that if we can discuss things without blowing up at each other, we can learn something. And if we can’t discuss certain topics civilly, well, we can always agree to disagree and move on.