This morning, I saw a man hang his dog. Granted, the dog was wearing a body harness, but it was still disturbing to see the four small, white paws flailing four feet off the ground as the dog thrashed and snarled. We’ve passed this man and his two dogs a number of times on recent morning walks, and each time, one dog remains non-reactive while the other lunges, barks, snarls, and does everything but perform a 360-degree head turn while spitting green pea soup.
I normally say nothing to man, long ago having decided not to interfere with other people’s dogs unless it’s truly warranted. Besides, I want to enjoy my time with my own dogs. But it’s awfully hard to enjoy oneself when seeing a dog hanging, body harness or not. I forced a smile, stopped, and the man stopped a few feet away. The dog, back on the ground, continued to bark at the top of his little lungs. “I know a good trainer you could call if you’d like some help,” I said, smiling and using my most pleasant tone of voice while straining to be heard over the cacophony of barks. “What?” he yelled. I repeated myself. When he finally understood, he snapped, “Are you pay? You pay? Why you annoy me?!!” I said calmly that I wasn’t trying to annoy him, that I was trying to help. “I have her only three weeks!” he shouted, and stormed off, dragging the dog behind him.
While I don’t appreciate being snapped at, I actually felt bad for the little dog and also for the man. I’m sure he was overwhelmed by this new dog who, unlike his other well-behaved fluffball, seemed to want to attack every dog he encountered. I’m sure he had no idea how to handle it, as evidenced by the fact that in addition to having seen him hang the dog, I’ve seen him at other times pull the dog back and yell at it repeatedly, and pick it up and all but shake it while loudly reprimanding it. Those things, along with today’s hanging, were what had finally led me to say something. Maybe the man really can’t afford training, and I understand that. But he must either believe that the techniques he’s using will teach the dog not to react, or, like so many, believe that the behavior will somehow improve by itself over time. I hope he’s right about the latter, but am not hopeful. Considering that he’s teaching the dog that bad things happen when he sees other dogs, chances are it will make the reactivity worse, not better.
The unfortunate truth is that many people believe that if they simply expose a dog to a trigger over and over, the dog will eventually stop reacting to it. Sometimes, it does actually work. But most of the time, it makes the behavior worse and can also cause problems for other dogs and owners in places like dog parks and on hiking trails. It makes me sad to think of that little dog, and I’ll certainly be steering clear of him for his own sake. I hope that somehow, although the man became defensive when we spoke, that a seed was planted and he might consider training in the future.
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