When I first adopted Sierra from the shelter, I was told she’d been there four times previously. No one knew whether she’d had the same owners each time or four different ones. Regardless, she had been brought in as a stray this time. Once home, I quickly discovered that she had a combination of separation anxiety and mad skills as an escape artist. And so, we began a program of behavior modification for the separation issue and lots and lots of obedience training, particularly on the recall.
I was careful almost to the point of paranoia about not letting Sierra off leash on our local park trails until she had a rock-solid recall. At the time, a group of owners who regularly walk with their dogs off leash invited me to let Sierra go running through the hillsides with them. I declined. I explained about having just adopted her and her not being trained yet. However, my concerns were quickly dismissed. It would be fine, they said. I replied that I just wasn’t going to take the chance that she’d run off, especially given her history. Still, each time I saw the group, they asked. Each time, I declined. Was there whispering going on about the lady who was so overly worried about her dog? I’m sure there was. Do I care? Not one bit.
More recently, there’s been a new person we see at the local dog park. Sierra and I stay on the small dog side (which is empty, save for us) while he and his two large dogs inhabit the big dog side. It’s a good arrangement, as the dogs all run the fence together and get some exercise. The first day we met, he suggested that I bring Sierra over to the other side to play with his dogs. I told him that while she’d be fine with one of his dogs, chances were that she wouldn’t be quite so fine with the other one. He said, “Nah, they’ll be okay, come on over.” I politely declined. He insisted a few more times and I said no a few more times. This went on day after day. I’d told him five different ways that a fight might result, and yet he kept insisting. I finally said firmly but nicely, “I appreciate the offer. The thing is, I know my dog better than you do. Trust me, it will not be fine.” Will this stop him from asking? We’ll see.
It’s a strange thing for someone to think they can predict a dog’s behavior better than the person who lives with that dog 24/7. Perhaps it’s partly due to a lack of understanding about canine behavior in general. It certainly seems as though there are plenty of people who believe it’s fine to allow their dogs to run loose in non-legal public spaces even when encountering other dogs, as though a fight is the farthest possibility from reality. Or, they regularly allow their dog to romp together in parks with tons of unfamiliar dogs without a second thought. Of course, there are dogs who get along with pretty much anyone, but a little caution goes a long way.
While it can be difficult socially at times to stick to our guns and to refuse offers of these sorts, we must do what we can to keep our dogs safe. It’s part of being an advocate for our dogs, something I am very passionate about. When an old-school vet slams your non-compliant dog on his back or a trainer says you need to “show him who’s boss,” it can be difficult to speak up, especially because there’s an authority figure involved. But you are the only thing standing between your dog and the big, bad world, the only thing keeping him safe and secure. He counts on you to not put him into situations where he could get hurt, and to keep him safe when someone is threatening him, whether physically or emotionally, regardless of whether it may be socially awkward for you.
Okay, I’ll step down from my soapbox now. But it must be said: You know best what’s right and wrong for your dog. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!
In other news, happy dance! My artwork is finally available on products such as mugs, notebooks, totes, fleece blankets, phone cases and more (in addition to prints, of course). Most is animal-related, and they make great gifts for yourself or someone else! Check it out at www.nicolewildeart.com.