When You Assume…

When your preferred time for dog walking is the early morning, you get to know your local park regulars pretty well. Last week I ran into a Border Collie and his owner, both of whom I knew by name. (Yes, you may click and treat me for knowing the human’s name, too.) The dog is reactive with other dogs and also pulls on leash. A month previously, a friendly chat had led me to suggest a head halter. The woman purchased one, and now the dog barely pulls. He’s also doing much better around other dogs. But when an off-leash terrier began to walk directly toward him, I almost stopped breathing. The Border Collie’s mom had the dog as far off the path as possible and was actually standing in front of him to block the little dog’s approach. The Border Collie, to his credit, was managing to stay in a sit. Fortunately, after someone yelled to the terrier’s owner, “You really don’t want him to approach that dog!” (okay, that was me), she called the dog back to her and no one got hurt.

After the Border Collie and his mom went on their way, I told the terrier’s owner that the Border Collie can be aggressive toward other dogs, and would quite possibly have bitten her dog had he approached. The owner answered that she always assumes other dogs are friendly. Now, I’m honestly happy for her and the little dog’s sake that it’s turned out that way so far, but there’s entirely too much assumption going on there. And the one time she’s wrong, it could mean severe injury or worse for the terrier.

Interestingly, since Bodhi has gotten to the point where he’s much less reactive toward other dogs, people assume he’s dog-friendly. Many an owner will begin to veer toward us to “let the dogs say hello,” which is the last thing a reactive, leash-restrained dog who’s holding it together needs. Just because a dog isn’t lunging at the end of a leash or frothing at the mouth, it doesn’t mean he wants to meet your dog! Had the person been paying attention, they might have heard Bodhi making a soft, squeaking sound that’s his own signature blend of frustration and self-control. When necessary, I intervene to explain that actually, he’d prefer not to meet your dog, but thanks anyway and have a nice day.

Assumptions that dogs are friendly are made all the time. Children are notorious for running up to dogs and then finding out the hard way whether they’re friendly or not. And although we teach kids to ask first whether it’s okay to pet the nice doggy, I seldom see adults do the same. I’d like to think I’m a good judge of canine body language, but I still don’t know someone else’s dog as well as they do, and I always ask before approaching. And, by the way, even when owners say their dog is friendly, a quick scan of the dog’s body language often reveals whether what they’re saying is accurate or not.

You know the old saying: “When you assume, it makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” Worse than being an ass, assuming puts dogs at risk. What we need are fewer assumptions and more awareness of canine body language, respect for space, and communication.

9 Responses to When You Assume…

  1. You hit a very important point on the head here Nicole, too many people assume too much with their dogs and in turn this can lead to messy situations. Thanks for sharing this.

    The Murphy Report

  2. Steve Shaffer says:

    Spot on! We walk our dogs (2 Belgian Shepherds and a Corgi) in a recreation park (ie- baseball fields, tennis courts and grass) near us and I couldn’t begin to count how many times a dog is running up, usually after ignoring a recall (I assume the owners that don’t have given up), with the owner yelling out “He/she’s friendly!”. They are yelling because they’re 50-100 ft away clearly unable to intervene. Also they yell the same thing regardless of whether their dog’s body language agrees. Sometimes I’ll yell back “Ours aren’t!” just to shake them up a little.

    I have never been able to figure out why they think our dogs (on leash, maybe for a reason?) are friendly too. Granted they’re pretty good but one likes to pounce on smaller dogs and make them squeak and the other is just plain boisterous. Being Belgians they play ruff and will gladly escalate if their is any posturing, mounting or other rank dominance behavior. The Corgi (bitch) doesn’t like meeting other dogs, ‘course she just puts them straight if they come too close.

    The ones that worry me though are the dogs clearly needing socialization skills that come charging up, hackles raised and growling. Fortunately most of those are cowards and a raised voice or sudden move towards them usually turns them away.

    Having watched dogs there and at dog parks it seems like adult dogs that don’t know each other really don’t care to just buddy up.

    Overall it can keep you on edge trying to watch out and spoil an otherwise pleasant walk with your dog.

  3. Jen says:

    It seems (in my area anyway) that dog dogs most frequently allowed in other dog’s faces are LITTLE dogs. And they aren’t all that polite themselves, unfortunately. What I’m working on right now (among other things) is teaching Elka to ignore other dogs. They’re not an issue, they’re not her problem, we’re on a walk here. It’s going pretty well, I do think!

  4. Michelle says:

    I had a similar experience just this morning! As I pulled into the park where I take my dog for an early morning jog and swim (both on leash/long line) I saw a little dog running around the parking lot while his owner chatted with another man. Thankfully my dog is fairly non-reactive, but I still made a point politely mentioning to the owner that it’s best to leash his dog, as not all other dogs are friendly. This earned me an eye roll…but he leashed the dog.

    I think that so many people assume all dogs are friendly because they have never owned a reactive dog of their own – once you do (as you know) it changes everything!

  5. Dee says:

    In the past week 2 different dominate/aggressive dogs have attempted to attack my insecure, submissive dog (all on leashes) whose humans described their dog as “friendly”. I intervened preemptively to avoid anything more than sound and fury but the outcome could have been worse. It wouldn’t just have been bad for my dog — the other dogs might have ultimately been put to sleep because of the human’s unwillingness to be an alert, informed, conscientious and conscious care taker for the life of their dog. Too many humans regard their dogs as eating/pooping/barking accessories or commodities and not as complex living creatures whose specific physical and psychological requirements will reward both human and animal if met. When there’s a dog bite, the human may pay with his/her checkbook — in some cases a suspended or minor jail term — but the dog pays for it with a death sentence. It’s a serious issue.

  6. wildewmn says:

    While it’s nice to have positive feedback, it’s dismaying that so many of us deal with the same lack of awareness on the part of owners. It’s ironic that in order to qualify for a license in most professions, you first need to acquire book knowledge and hands-on skills. And yet to be a dog owner, which does require knowledge and the ability to perform functions in a way that keeps everyone safe…nothing. I’d love to see at the least a requirement for new dog owners to view a short video; something basic about canine body language, how to behave around others dogs, etc. Yes, I know…but a girl can dream.

    • Steve Shaffer says:

      I agree, I always thought the owners needed to have licenses more than the dogs did. 😉

  7. […] When You Assume… on Wilde About Dogs […]

  8. Rebecca Rice says:

    And it doesn’t even have to be about your dog having “issues”. Just recently I was running late in my morning routine, but decided I could still fit in a fast potty walk before work. As I was throwing my poop bag away, two other people came walking by with dogs, one of which immediately runs up on a flexi. Now, my dog is a rat terrier, who I have had for about two months now, and she seems to be generally good with dogs, but is sometimes a bit intense with them. But having had this strange dog (thankfully friendly) run up on her, I knew that at this stage in our relationship, the only way I would be able to get her out of the situation would be to either drag her, which could make the situation worse because of her desire to stay there, or let her go ahead and greet the other dog. So she gets to a point where I can get her attention and get her to go with me, when the other person decides it’s time for HER two dogs to come say hello to Pixie, one by one, since one of hers is a “nervous” dog. I managed to keep Pixie’s attention and get her to go with me before that happened. I’m sure they thought I was rude, just walking away like that, but really, couldn’t they have asked first so that I could say “sorry, I’m running late and need to get back home”? And I thought it was rather presumptuous to just assume that I obviously wanted my dog to meet theirs!

    And size does seem to have something to do with it. People are a lot more likely to just let their dog run up to my rat terrier than they are to allow the same thing to happen with my greyhound. And yet terriers are much more likely, as a group, to have dog/dog issues than greyhounds are. It boggles me. I always ask if my dog can greet another dog first, just because you don’t know how the other dog is going to take it.

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