Please leash your dog

Golden Cali and Lab Koala enjoy a fall hike. On leash.
Hiking on leash is fun!

On a single walk last week, Cali and I were approached by two unleashed dogs. One, a young, friendly, waggy mix, telegraphed youthful enthusiasm and friendliness and even wary Cali was happy to say hello. The second was far more territorial, larger and, to both of us, a bit scary. Neither listened to their human’s call. Nothing bad happened, but things could so easily and so quickly have gone wrong.

Those two were dogs I’d never seen before, but on our usual walking route, there are many frequent flyers. Or runners. The dogs who “always” stay in their yards … except for every single time I have walked by. The ones who growl menacingly when we approach — even where we already know to cross the street and make a wide detour. Walking in our beautiful neighborhood park, we’ve met multiple off-leash dogs, including the young golden who never fails to growl at Cali. Always off leash.

We’re often greeted by loose dogs, gamboling about in their (unfenced) front yards or “just” going from home to car or car to home. Doesn’t matter. During that 30-seconds of freedom, terrible things can happen. I live on what passes for a busy street in Missoula, and too often to count, across-the-street neighbor dogs, heading to the car, have been distracted by Cali (on leash). These dogs don’t look both ways before plunging into traffic.

It’s not only the danger to the loose dog that bothers me.

The dynamic between a leashed dog and an unleashed dog is very different from two leashed dogs meeting, though I generally try to keep my distance from unfamiliar leashed dogs as well.

When an unleashed dog approaches, the leashed dog can’t get away. Even when the approaching dog seems friendly, one of the dogs could decide there’s something unsavory about the other and the encounter can turn ugly, fast. Or maybe the leashed dog is inherently anxious — or dog aggressive. Or simply having a bad day. The owners of the unleashed dog have no way of knowing, even if they’re 100% certain that their dog is universally friendly, cheerful, and loving toward all of dogkind. And humankind. (Note: this is not possible; not even Cali is that perfect.)

Unable to escape the oncoming dog, the leashed dog’s only recourse is aggression — a growl, maybe a lunge.

But, if both dogs are leashed, either human can quickly head away. The dogs can get out of one another’s range. Ironically, with both dogs leashed, neither feels trapped by the encounter. Neither feels trapped because the encounter is avoidable.

Dogs don’t need to say hello to every dog they see. Mostly, they don’t want to either.

Cali is very specific about which dogs she wants to greet. Goldens and most Labs are ok. Anyone smaller than she is, preferably female, is ok. Doodles of all sizes, though, are out. She’s got a bizarre set of rules, true. But that’s her right. She doesn’t have to be social with anyone on four feet. By leashing your dog, you keep your dog safe and respect both dogs’ right to choose not to say hello.

When the approaching dog is attached to a human, both dogs can choose: They can stay close to Mom or head out to say hi.

The same is true when humans approach without dogs. Some dogs want to greet every human on the planet (hi, Cali!); others do not. If Cali weren’t leashed, she’d run up to every single person we encountered.

The human has choices too, when the dogs are leashed. While I choose not to let Cali get close to unfamiliar dogs, I confess to letting her greet humans who seem amenable (which means they look at her, talk to her, reach out a hand to the nose that is straining toward them). But when humans seem immune to her charms, we give them a lot of space (who’d want to meet those people anyhow?).

Please leash your dog. Cali will thank you. And your dog will be safer.

Two Rude Jerks Go Out For a Walk

As Cali and I were walking to the park, we saw a woman with a small terrier-looking dog. I said hello and she did too. Cali was taking a long sniff of the grass near some trash bins, so I moved aside to let them pass.

As we walked behind them, I noticed that the little dog kept picking up his rear right paw. He had impeccable leash manners, which means that the woman wouldn’t be able to see his back paws, since he was walking right next to her (paying attention, Cali?). Also, despite a lot of rain this winter, dry season has arrived. Stiff grass stubble is everywhere, as are foxtails. Cali comes home from walks full of tiny burrs. In other words, prickly things that could easily get embedded in a paw are everywhere.

So I said to the woman, “Your dog is picking up his paw; he might have something stuck in it.”

Her reply: “I’m a good pet owner.”

Is it me or was that an oddly hostile and/or defensive response? Quashing the impulse to say something defensive in return, I said, “I thought he might have a thorn or something in it. That happens to my dog a lot around here.”

She softened a little, I think, and told me that her dog has a congenital knee problem and that’s why he does that.

But, really, is the assumption that I am criticizing your parenting the go-to response for most people? That’s a sad comment on society.

Or maybe it is me. Because, a few blocks later, we encountered another dog walker. As I tend to, I detoured into the street to avoid passing close to an unfamiliar dog on a narrow stretch of the sidewalk. The other walker said, two or three times, “He’s friendly.”

When we were closer, I said, “My dog is nervous around unfamiliar dogs.”

All perfectly normal … except the implication that I was assuming negative things about her dog. Do I radiate an air of disapproval and judgment? (Please do not answer that question.)

The last encounter in this bizarrely social morning was at the park. This time, Cali was the jerk, running off an overly friendly poodle who showed too much interest in her ball. The joke was on Cali, though, because, while she was running him off and then I was reprimanding her, Maui, a dog Cali used to consider a friend, actually stole her ball. We beat an embarrassed retreat before she could challenge Maui to a duel.

I am going back to 7 a.m. walks; the park is empty and the other dog walkers are also trying to avoid dog encounters. That all makes it easier to avoid offending the entire dog and dog-owning population of Petaluma.