Dog Owner’s: I Don’t Owe You An Explanation
I am going to address something I feel is of great importance. Something that isn’t talked about nearly enough and something that honestly really disturbed me on Sunday. My family and I decided to go check out the Italian Festival at Belmar in Lakewood. We have a new French Bulldog puppy that we got a few weeks ago so my husband suggested we bring him along. I always hesitate a little with taking a dog places with my kids, as three kids are enough to keep track of. I figured my husband would probably walk him so I said okay fine let’s bring him. Now keep in mind he’s only 15 weeks so I haven’t done any formal leash training with him yet - just walks on his harness which he’s been great with and mainly for the purpose of exposure. I prefer to call it exposure rather than socialization because there’s a very broad and confusing definition of socialization these days. More on that later.
When we arrived at the festival and parked, my youngest (almost 2 years old) had fallen asleep. I carefully put her in the stroller and we started walking. My 9-year-old had the leash and I knew once we got to the crowd that wouldn’t go well. My husband is a novice dog handler at best so even though I was not sure how pushing a stroller and walking a puppy would go in a crowd - it was still the best option we had once I saw how busy it was. As soon as we reached the start of the crowd, someone with 2 Yorkshire Terriers asked if they could say hello. I apparently forgot all my own advice because what came out of my mouth was “no on-leash meetings please”, and the woman said okay smiling - but with a slightly confused look on her face.
Normally I tell dog owners they should say “sorry we are training,” when strangers try to do on-leash meetings but for some strange reason I didn’t. It was probably because I technically wasn’t training him, we were just trying to hang out and I just don’t allow my dogs to meet others on-leash. You may be wondering why? Well, I will explain. This is not well known at all and it needs to be. Meeting on-leash is very unnatural for dogs. It goes something like this.. dog gets excited to see another dog - the excitement can be for various reasons other than just wanting to play. Owners allow the dogs to pull towards each other, the leashes get tight creating tension, the tension transfers to the dogs, the dogs begin to circle each other to properly greet but the leashes get in the way and get tangled. One or both of the dogs become nervous and one of them snaps at or begins growling etc. The other dog will typically react with retaliation or shy away in fear, either one not a good result. Sound familiar? On-leash meetings only lead to trouble. Maybe not right away, but eventually you will see problems develop. Breed of dog does play a role as to what you will experience. As a trainer, this is something I can't advocate as a safe practice because I literally see dogs every day for behavior problems exacerbated by on-leash meetings.
Now that you see my point of view on dogs meeting on-leash, I will continue my story. We get online for some cannolis and after a few minutes, a woman begins walking her Daschund straight up to our puppy Baili. I put my hand up and asked her to please not allow her dog to meet on-leash. She proceeded to say she was friendly and was pushy about it and asked me why she couldn’t say hi. I told her it wasn’t good to let dogs meet on-leash. I wasn’t exactly in a position to go into full details. She looked at me with wide eyes and said she’s very friendly, still in a pushy way- as if I should still change my mind about it. I responded with “I am sure she is” and I turned away. In this short amount of time this became a very uncomfortable situation with me standing with my children, a sleeping baby in a stroller and our puppy - while this dog and woman were coming at us and barely stopping far enough away for me to prevent the dogs from touching and her basically insisting I allow her dog to meet mine. She left all flustered while staring back at me multiple times and saying things to the person she was with.
That brings me to this: Why do I have to explain myself to a complete stranger? Why do I have to defend my dog just to go out in public? I immediately began regretting the decision to bring him with us. All I want is a well-behaved dog that can walk with us in public and not pull on-leash or react when he sees other dogs or people. Peoples actions are creating behavior problems for other peoples dogs. That is where the definition of socialization is so misunderstood. Socialization just means seeing people, dogs, etc. It doesn’t mean they have to touch. Off-leash in a controlled setting is the only way your dog should be playing with other dogs. Not while on walks, or at events, etc. It’s so nice when events are dog-friendly but I don’t know if I ever want to bring my dog anymore. I shouldn’t have to feel this way.
During all this, we also had person after person coming up asking to pet Baili. Now I honestly didn’t mind this, he is extremely outgoing and he’s a breed that I expect will enjoy human attention. At some point though, I probably will have to limit this if he starts to show more interest in strangers than paying attention to his family. However, had he been a German Shepherd, Doberman, Belgian Malinois, insert any herding or working breed here - then I would not want tons of people coming up and petting my dog. I only allow it right now with Baili because he shows no signs of fear or shyness at all. Typically though, I do not recommend letting tons of people pet your dog as it can lead to your dog being more concerned about getting attention from others than listening to you.
Now I don’t like comparing kids to dogs for a lot of things but for the sake of giving a better understanding of this situation I will. If that had been my baby, and some stranger came up and said can my baby say hi to your baby? If I didn’t want my baby to be touched by your baby, regardless of the reason - I have that right to say no and my baby deserves the right to not have your baby get in her face and touch her. Why is my dog expected to have other dogs in his face just because a stranger thinks it’s cute or wants their dog to “socialize?”
We only stayed about an hour total and in that time had an additional encounter while trying to talk to someone at a booth. A German Shepherd puppy just appeared behind us and was brought straight up to Baili. Since it was a young puppy I wasn’t as worried except I knew exactly how it was going to go the longer it stood there. I still held Baili back at a safe distance and was told by the owners “oh he just wants to say Hi.” They brought him closer and their puppy began growling and Baili immediately growled back and started barking. Exactly what I expected would happen. Breeds like German Shepherds, don’t typically want to make friends on-leash. They go into protective mode and are very territorial. French Bulldogs are quick to retaliate when other dogs escalate. Is this a behavior I want my new puppy learning? Absolutely not, and had I not been a trainer - I wouldn’t know what I need to do in the future to make sure he doesn’t resort to reacting that way and it only gets worse with age. Not forgetting in all this that I had a sleeping child in a stroller, with 2 other young children just trying to enjoy a festival but we couldn’t stand online or check out a booth without being bombarded.
The lesson to be learned here is this:
-It is not okay to just bring your dog up to others to say Hi.
-Dogs are better behaved when they spend their walks ignoring other dogs, they can look but shouldn’t pull towards them, bark, freak out, etc.
-You will have a much more enjoyable time going places with your dog if they are well behaved and can casually walk past other dogs with little to no reaction.
-Dog owners do not owe you an explanation for anything. Not for why they don’t want their dog to say hi; not for why they don’t want you to pet their dog.
-Saying “sorry we are training” has been the most effective way to get dog owners to leave you alone with as little questioning or advice pushing. I should have taken my own advice.
Lastly, another really important point to all this is that not all dogs are friendly. Just because your dog is friendly means absolutely nothing to a fearful, or not so friendly, dog. Dog’s can’t get over their fear or lack of socialization if you keep invading their space with yourself or your dog. They need the time of going places and getting exposure without strangers invading their personal space. Have respect, the dogs will thank you for it.
Sincerely, Julie McLean.
Owner of Zen Doggy Den and Certified Master Dog Trainer.