Luna, my Basset Hound, was the sweetest dog, but even I must concede that she wasn’t always perfect. The chewed-up retainer incident and a missing package of brie come to mind. However, during our time together, she taught me that humans aren’t perfect either, and sometimes need a refresher on dog decorum.
Over the years, we’ve had off-leash and on-leash dogs charge at us. We’ve had to avoid our favourite green spaces because of other dog owners’ failure to pick up after their pets. We’ve been aggressively barked at, jumped on, and even bitten. And we’ve even had people bring their dogs over, uninvited.
Dog owners do their dogs and community a great disservice when they don’t provide their furry companions’ training. Like humans, dogs aren’t born knowing manners. Dogs need to be taught, for example, not to jump up on people. The reality is that dog owners are ultimately responsible for how their dogs behave.
It’s up to owners to be honest about their dog’s personality and take any necessary precautions to avoid potential incidents. For instance, if your dog is fearful, has a trigger for aggressiveness, is recovering from injury or illness, or simply isn’t very social and another dog approaches, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with shortening your leash, and simply saying, “Sorry, we’re in training” while you keep walking. No need to explain or feel bad about not stopping to say hello. Keeping everyone safe should be at the top of your mind.
When an off-leash dog was charging at us, I channelled my inner Dog Whisperer and did my best to project calm, assertive energy. Was this dog friendly? No idea. As it got closer, I shouted, “Stop!” while putting my hand up. Thankfully, the dog stopped in its tracks and the owner emerged. Instead of apologizing, she said, “Oh, he’s super friendly!” We were not in an off-leash area and when I politely pointed out that he had scared us, she got defensive.
Now, here’s the thing about dogs. Not everyone loves them, so don’t take it personally. This was a challenge for us because Luna was a social hound and looked as unthreatening as can be. Telling people she was very gentle was futile. When a person has a real dislike or fear of dogs, nothing you say is going to minimize it or bring them comfort. So, instead, I would crouch down close to Luna, and hold her until they passed. I suppose it was my way of showing the other person that Luna was under control and they needn’t worry (as much). I once met an older man who loved dogs but was afraid Luna would accidentally knock over his walker and he would fall. You just never know!
Then there are people who love dogs so much that they approach them without checking with the owner first. I recall an overly-enthusiastic teenager trying to engage a service dog. Clearly, no one had ever told her that you’re not supposed to do that. People have service dogs for a myriad of reasons these days, so no matter how cute the dog is, or how curious you might be about their situation, just let them be as they are working and need to focus on their task.
To this day, when I see a dog I’d like to meet, I ask the owner if I can say hello. Then I hold out my hand for the dog to sniff it. Once we’ve been properly introduced, I pet them under the chin. When Luna was by my side, I still asked for permission on her behalf too. Dog owners should be attentive and not let their dog approach another pet, dog owner, or child without a clear okay.
Never hesitate to apologize for your dog’s behaviour. Anything that makes someone else uncomfortable, like incessant barking when anyone walks by your house, reflects on you. So, for example, when your dog is giving your dinner guests the sad eyes in the hopes of being fed a morsel, step up and do something. Non-dog owners may feel intimidated or annoyed because no matter how cute you think your dog is, it’s unlikely your guest will find table-side begging, complete with a puddle of drool, endearing.
If you have the privilege to share your life with a dog, be a good canine ambassador. It’s not just about picking up after your dog. You and your dog’s behaviour affects everyone around you, so be respectful, considerate, and empathetic. Being aware of your surroundings will ensure everyone in your company has a doggone good experience.