Who Knows What’s Best for Your Dog?

Nic n Sierra hike 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.
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12 Responses to Who Knows What’s Best for Your Dog?

  1. Couldn’t agree more. As owners, we know our dogs better than outsiders, though I hold my hand up to being one of the ‘It’ll be OK brigade’ in years past.
    Maggie is pretty sociable most of the time, but if a dog comes up on her blind side, moves too fast, or sniffs her where she doesn’t want to be sniffed, it’s a gnashing of warning teeth. I love to see dogs play together, even more so if Maggie’s in the frame of mind to join in, and she still does sometimes, but like you, I’m cautious. We had Maggie from a pup at 7 weeks, so she only has history with us. Her recall is almost 99%, all we ever wanted was for her to satisfy her curiosity but come to us immediately if necessary so that we could keep her safe, or stop her in her tracks if we had to with a firm NO! These days, at almost 13, she is what we term ‘selectively deaf’, but her recall is still good…….. most of the time.

  2. Pat Brookes says:

    Great article except sadly, all dog owners are not as wise about dog behaviour as you obviously are.Wish I had a £ for every time I cringe as yet another person with their dog off the lead alongside a busy road ,cheerfully corrects me that no, THEIR dog wouldnt dream of running across the road towards a cat or on seeing someone familiar because it never has done before !

  3. Jenny H says:

    Good post 🙂
    But I tend to have the opposite problem, with my “I love all dogs” dog. I will not let her go up to another dogs without checking with the other dog’s person first. Yet frequently, once Millie approaches their dog, I can see that the other dog is certainly NOT OK with it.
    in some ways my ‘real dogs” (I don’t want strangers in my face) are much easier to manage 🙂

  4. Mini Marks says:

    Great article—

  5. Sarah says:

    Well said! I used to have trouble with people saying, “All dogs love me” and pushing their way toward Pooh. Pooh hates new people and will attempt to flee, even if on leash. A wonderful vet I worked with told me to tell people she has mange and she bites! 🙂 Lying to little old ladies might be bad, but it works! We know our dogs and we need to stand up for them.

  6. juliabarrett says:

    I love your blog! You are so honest about dogs and their owners. I have the worst conversations with dog owners who think it’s absolutely fine to let their out of control off leash dog (not all off leash dogs are out of control) run up to my leashed GSD and jump on his head. Then they are offended when my GSD disciplines their dog with a growl or a nip. In their minds the GSD is ALWAYS the dog at fault.
    Jake is an adorable long-hair. Everyone wants to hug him and let their dog play with him. But he’s still a GSD and German Shepherds believe in rules. Very German of them! He now wears a vest while walking on leash. It says – Working, DO NOT PET. Big black letters on a big red vest.

  7. Because I think to have the knowledge to be responsible for your rescue dog and her actions, members of the dog owning public do not know their dog best sadly; and people with more dog behaviour knowledge can hopefully guide them and make them aware.

    • Kristine says:

      That’s exactly what I thought! Owners don’t always know their dogs best… if they did, they would not allow kids climb on them and sit on them etc… then say that the dog bit their child “out of nowhere”…
      Many owners have no clue about body language so often when we meet I can better predict what their dog will do than they can.

  8. Pat says:

    Great article! I have had several rescue Huskies, some I knew the background to their re-homing and others, not. The breed is notorious for being unreliable off-lead and even my best taught recall has never been 100%. They get lots of running in their fenced yard because both my husband and I are retired, but they stay on lead when we are out somewhere.
    My issue was with a new Vet in my regular practice office, who met my, fresh from rescue, girl, proceeded to examine her, and poke her in a spot she didn’t like to be poked. She turned fast and he jumped back faster. I offered to hold her while he completed his exam and he refused to allow it. I could sue him if she bit me, was his justification. I stopped him right there and asked for a different doctor to examine her. He refused saying, “They are all busy”. I opened the door and left, stopping at the desk to inform the billing clerk that I would be leaving and that no exam was performed. I later received a call from the Vet in charge, who has known me and my dogs for years. She apologized and told me to just ask for a different doctor when I reschedule. That was 3 years ago and I always ask for, “anyone but Dr. B….e” when I want to see a Vet.
    If we don’t stand up for our dogs, who will?

  9. Jenny H says:

    “All the world old is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.”
    Or to paraphrase Robert Owen, l dog owners misunderstand their dogs, save you and me, and even you don’t know your own dog perfectly.
    Never expect anybody to really understand their own dogs. YOU be your dog’s advocate, and judge for yourself whether other dogs/people are safe. AND respect other people’s judgements. Regardless of whether or not you think it is safe for them to let their dogs off lead/meet and greet/play, respect their choice to say no.

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