Just Say "Stop!"

05 May 2008Steve Schwarz

Nancy told me about her very scary and bizarre experience walking the dogs tonight. It happened when she was walking Milo and Petey around the block in Chicago just before she came to a corner. At that moment a guy walking his Wheaton Terrier came around the corner. So she led Petey and Milo off the sidewalk and over to the curb. Most of the time in the city if you move your dogs off the sidewalk you expect the other dog walker to keep an eye on their dogs and just go past. The really smart people, or those with reactive dogs, will proactively cross to the other side of the street when they see other dogs coming toward them.

Every now and then Milo can get kind of weird when approached by a dog while he is on leash. He’ll hit the end of the leash and bark at the dog. We think he does it because he figures a good offense is the best defense. It is pretty rare, say one in a hundred dogs, so we usually drop his leash so he knows he can get away and then he is always fine. If he is concerned he’ll move away until he is comfortable and stay out of range of the other dog. If there is anything that is constant about Milo; he’s never looking for trouble. So Nancy dropped Milo’s leash and he just sat there next to her.

The guy with the Wheaton asks: “Are your dogs friendly?“. Nancy replied: “He’s leash aggressive”. Then the unimaginable happened. The guy reaches down and unclips his dog’s leash…!!! Nancy said she was flabbergasted. What in the world was this guy thinking? So his dog, who is pretty friendly looking, races up to Petey and Petey, being the overgrown puppy that he is, thinks “Wow Let’s Play!” and hits the end of the leash and tears it out of Nancy’s hand. He is one strong little guy. OK this is looking bad.

Of course Nancy was standing by the curb to get out of the guy’s way. To make matters worse, Petey and the Wheaton tear off across the street! Fortunately, fortunately, fortunately there was no traffic. Nancy immediately tells Milo to stay and takes off across the street (she said she didn’t look either…). She is calling Petey to come but he and the Wheaton are having a good time and the Wheaton keeps positioning himself between Petey and her. Which just incites Petey to play more. The Wheaton’s owner is futilely calling his dog, who ignores him. Nancy finally gets Petey’s attention and he comes to her. He gets a big hug and a huge jackpot of salmon treats.

Meanwhile, Milo, remember Milo? (sorry a little Alice’s Restaurant moment there). Well Milo was just being Milo. He was just noodling around sniffing the grass on his side of the street. Nancy said a lady jogger had stopped and was calling him to her. He was completely unconcerned by the heart stopping, adrenaline rush producing, blind panic, terrifying event that his Mother had just been through. Nancy hustled Milo and Petey off and came back home.

So I might have some of this a little wrong, because I got it over the phone, but I think the essence of the story is correct. As we discussed it we came to the conclusion that when the guy heard “He is leash aggressive” he could only have thought… “Oh I should take my dog’s leash off so that dog doesn’t attack when he sees the leash”… I still can’t believe it, but it is the only explanation.

Now we mostly hang out with other Dog People or at least people who humor Dog People. So had we heard someone say their dog was leash aggressive in a similar situation we would have given them a wide berth and kept a close eye on our dogs, gotten them to focus on us, and moved quickly out of there. Now apparently, saying that isn’t a clear enough signal to your average person.

Which reminds me of another incident, many years ago, when I was walking Mr. Peabody and Milo. A lady is pushing her small daughter in a stroller and I see them as we come out of the alley. She asks if they are friendly and I say “Mr. Peabody doesn’t like children”. So what does she do? She starts coming directly toward us leading with her child in the stroller. I pulled in their leashes and she keeps coming. Finally Mr. P let out a couple big dog barks and she stopped.

As she was telling me this story, Nancy, being the articulate and intelligent one, was trying to come up with reasonable things to tell people in situations like this and I just didn’t like any of them. Especially since people don’t seem to register what you are saying if they have a plan of action already formulated.

So I think the best solution, other than walking your dogs where you won’t run into people with their dogs (which is getting increasingly difficult in the city), is being almost rudely direct. If asked “Is your dog friendly?” my plan is to always reply in an unequivocal manner with “No”. If they insist on coming toward us (assuming I can’t retreat) I will say “Stop!” and keep repeating “Stop!” and/or “Go away!” with increasing emphasis. Yep it might brand me as the weird or rude guy with the Border Collies, but it might be the only thing that protects us from cluelessness.

Now that won’t protect me from the knuckle heads who insist on walking their dogs off leash in the city (they usually have dogs that don’t listen to them and have no recall at all) but that is a whole different rant…

Do you have any better ideas for stopping or redirecting the clueless?

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