You would think staying out of the actual dog park within a public park would be enough to ensure avoiding altercations with other dogs and owners…but sadly, no. I was walking Sierra and Bodhi this past Saturday morning along one of the trails that surround our local park. There are very few people out at that hour, so I was surprised to spy a large man walking his 40-something pound Akita mix off-leash on the narrow trail. They were headed directly toward us, and there wasn’t much space to maneuver.
I stopped while they were still at distance, and waited. We were in clear sight of each other, and most people in that situation will leash their dog. He didn’t. So I shouted, “Could you leash your dog, please?” He yelled back, “No, not really!” and kept walking toward us. Well, that was odd. I tried again: “Please leash your dog. It’s for his own safety.” I didn’t know how Bodhi and Sierra would react if a dog charged toward them. For all I knew, one might feel defensive and attack the dog, and the other would join in; or, Sierra would become aroused and redirect on poor Bodhi. I led them off to the shoulder of the dirt trail, had them sit, and rewarded them with treats for waiting calmly. The man finally leashed his dog. When he reached us a moment later, I said, “Thank you.”
What happened next took me completely by surprise. With a most unpleasant look on his face, the man yelled, “You need to train your dogs, you stupid bitch!”
Excuse me? Rude epithet aside, it seems to me that two dogs sitting calmly by the side of the road virtually screams, “Well trained!” But hey, what do I know.
Now perturbed, I looked directly at him and said, “There are leash laws here. Your dog needs to be on a leash. My dogs came from shelters, they used to be reactive with other dogs, and I don’t want to take a chance with your dog running up to them.”
“You’re killing them with what you’re doing!” he exclaimed. “My dog came from a shelter too. I trained him! You need to train them!” All of this flew from his mouth as he removed his dog’s leash again, having barely passed us. He then turned and added, “You stupid bitch!” in case I didn’t hear it the first time.
This is where I’d love to report that I took the high road and just walked away, but you know what they say about not taking the New York out of the girl. “You f’ing a-hole” I said (and no, there were no abbreviations involved), “Everyone at this park is going to know about you. Just keep it up.”
He answered, “F___ you, you stupid C___!” Seriously? The C word? That really crossed the line. I waited until he’d walked a bit further away. And then I called the police. I told them I wasn’t sure whether I should be calling them or animal control, and described exactly what had just happened. I gave them a full description of the guy. To be honest, I doubt they ever showed up, but it sure made me feel better to have called.
These sorts of altercations are upsetting, not to mention totally unnecessary. Look, I understand the desire to walk your dog off-leash. On those super early mornings when there’s pretty much no one around, I do it with Bodhi. But when I see another person, even at a distance, I leash him immediately. It’s not only the law, it’s respectful. Some people don’t like dogs, or are afraid of them; they shouldn’t have to be subjected to my dogs approaching them. And if the other person has dogs, I sure don’t want Bodhi running up to them. Even if Bodhi was perfectly behaved, the other dogs might not be, despite outward appearances. It’s courtesy, and it’s common sense. It’s mighty unfortunate when people have neither.
The troubling thing about the encounter, other than the risk of canine aggression and the socially inappropriate behavior from the two-legged of the pair, was the underlying belief the man seemed to hold, namely, that treat training is a terrible thing to do to dogs. Granted, I’ve never quite heard it stated in quite that extreme—that training with treats is killing a dog—but there are an awful lot of people who still believe dogs should do what we say when we say so, and that reward-based training is ridiculous and unnecessary. (Actually, I’m not positive he was refering to the treats—he might have been referring to keeping them on leash, but at the time it did seem he meant the treats.) Like so many people, he seemed to subsribe to the theory that choke chains or similar tools meant to “correct” a dog are not only the appropriate way to train, but the only way. And that those who believe differently are misinformed, or perhaps touchy-feely fools. It’s sad, not only for the level of ignorance, but mostly, for the poor dog.
I know I’m not the only one who’s had this sort of encounter. It’s easy to become disheartened, but it’s also helpful to remember that for every disgruntled, unbalanced, misinformed person who refuses to play nice with others, there are five pleasant, dedicated dog parents who respect the rules and each other. Here’s to hoping the balance shifts even further to the positive.