Off lead dogs. We come across them everywhere, even in places we don’t really expect to see them (one appeared on my street the other day, just trotting down the busy road 25 meters ahead of his owner without a care in the world from either!). They are a part of life, and often, a stressful part of life – especially if you have a nervous or reactive dog.
"Oh lordy who put a penny in the trainer" - My editor, sighing gently.
Yes, someone put a penny in the trainer, and we'll get into who soon enough. We all love being able to let our dogs off lead, and no one – NO-ONE – is asking everyone to keep their dog on lead 100% of the time. However, letting your off lead dog charge up to every person and dog they see just because they are "friendly" is not just irresponsible and inconsiderate, it’s downright dangerous.
A few months ago I had what was quite possibly the most stressful encounter with an off lead dog of my entire life, and hopefully, it stays that way because any more stress and I might have an aneurysm. So buckle yourselves up for what is about to be a bumpy – and long (Editorial Sigh) - ride;
I was walking Athena (the daftest, softest creature known to mankind at this point, by the way) at Waterhall Playing Fields after she had helped me out with a client and their dog. All's well, great day. She was off-lead, mooching about and sniffing and quite happily being a dog.
There were a few people scattered around – a couple of dogs walkers with 4 or 5 dogs, someone with his two Jack Russell terriers and a lady with her Shih Tzu. All like me, minding their own business with well-behaved off-lead dogs. Athena had said hi to the Jack Russell’s and their owner and come back to me as we carried on with our walk.
Then I heard the thundering of four feet coming from behind us. My day was about to get far more stressful than it had any bloody right to be.
I turned to find this big, chunky (Editors note: This isn't the word she used), male, tricolour crossbreed charging towards Athena. There was no owner in sight. I scanned around and couldn’t see anyone to who the dog might belong. Of course, Athena being Athena she had already trotted over to say hi. They both had a little sniff and for 3 seconds, everything was fine... then the other dog began to get tense. His tail stopped moving & curled over his back like a Scorpion’s tail, his entire body weight shifted to lean forwards over his front legs, I could see the tension in all of his muscles from 10ft away and he started to hard stare at Athena. At this point, I, being a responsible and not (editors note: not entirely, anyway) moronic dog owner, call her, and she comes zooming away from him back to me. Recall at its finest, and why it's such an important skill. Luckily the other dog stayed exactly where he was.
Phew. Thank the gods.
I hold onto her collar for a moment and take another look around to try and spot this now tense, stressed and spiralling dog’s owner because being a nice, dog-centred person, I wanted to make sure he wasn’t a stray that had got lost & needed help. There was no one walking on the field that seemed to belong to this dog, but there was a couple of people standing by a car about 100M away – the boot open and what could have been a lead in one of their hands. I waved at them to gesture that they should call the dog.
I wave again and shout “Is this your dog?”
Fine, whatever. By this point he had got distracted by a smell, so Athena and I carry on walking. I let go of her collar and send her on ahead of me to continue to mooch off lead. She finds a quiet spot to do her business, and as I am doing my dog-ownerly duty of clearing up I hear this deep, chilling growl. I turn to find that my new, four-legged fiend has followed us and is now tee-ing off over Athena’s back and growling. (Note: Tee-ing off is where a dog stands side on to another dog and holds its head over the others shoulders/neck, forming the shape of a capital T. Usually in a tense, uncomfortable way, this usually happens immediately before a dog grabs another dog).
Again, I call Athena away and ask her to go into a Middle (between my legs), which is her safe space.
I look around again and still can only see the people by the car (now 150M away), who are looking directly at me. This dog had to belong to them. I wave my arm in a “call your dog!” gesture and shout it at the same time.
Again. No response.
This dog is still growling and staring down Athena. So I take hold of her collar again, and we go for a light jog to put distance between us and the other dog. As I glance over my shoulder, I can see this dog stalking us. And yes, he was stalking us.
At this point, I'm getting a bit desperate and just an incy bit concerned for both of our safety. A last-ditch attempt, I yell across the field to the dog's owners to call him.
Surprise, surprise, nothing.
As I turn to keep Athena moving away, this dog charges at us and muzzle punches the back of my leg. Now, I honestly don’t know if he was going for Athena and missed, or if he was aiming for me. Quite frankly I don’t care. By now I am fuming, scared and trying to keep both me and my dog safe.
So what do I do?
I treat-bomb that fat fuck. (Editor's note: I'm afraid she gets one F-Bomb and that's it, best I could do. Sorry.)
I reach into my treat bag, grab the biggest handful I can and drop them on the floor. Thankfully, luckily, mercifully, he immediately followed his nose to the floor and began snuffling. Athena and I manage to get far enough away that by the time he’s finished with the food, he couldn’t be bothered to charge us again.
Thank the gods for dried liver!
Now, why am I telling you this, you say? This blog was about friendly off-lead dogs and clearly, this beast was the exact opposite.
Yes, you are right. This post is about friendly off-lead dogs barging up to every dog they see.
And when I stopped and spoke to the owners of the off-lead beast that almost bit me and inform them that they needed to have control of him (shock horror – it was the people by the car – as a side note; what kind of mindless, half-assed imbecile (Editors note: boy, she's angry today) walks their dog by just watching him run around a field harassing other dog walkers? their response was this;
“It’s fine. He’s friendly.”
Never mind that I was telling them he wasn’t. Never mind that their dog was at one point over 200M away from them. Never mind that they had no control over their dog whatsoever. They believed that he was friendly and therefore it didn’t matter that he charged at other dogs. The phrase “wouldn’t hurt a fly” was used. His owners didn’t believe that he needed to be under control because he – in their eyes – had a “good temperament”. I, the law, and the council dog warden all disagreed with this fact. (Editor: Yes, she did actually check. Yes, she was that angry. Yes, I had to endure this tirade when it happened. No, it was not this polite)
This brings me neatly onto my second unpopular opinion of the day.
If someone – anyone – asks you to call your dog back, or put them on a lead for a moment, listen to them and respect them.
Maybe they are scared of dogs or have a reactive dog. Maybe their dog has recently undergone surgery, or is old and doesn’t appreciate other dogs charging into their personal space. Maybe they saw something you didn’t see (or couldn’t see, if you were OH I DON'T KNOW, SAY 200M AWAY).
But to be blunt, the reason doesn’t matter. You are obliged to keep your dog under close control in public areas. If someone asks you to call your dog. Call your dog. If your dog doesn’t have a great recall – use a longline & get in touch with an R+ trainer. (Great and Small might be a good start - I promise she's friendly normally.)
It’s not just your legal responsibility. We all have to share this world and our local spaces, be considerate, be courteous, be polite. A little respect costs nothing. It’s no skin off my nose to call my dog back and put them on lead for 3 minutes while we walk past someone with a nervous or reactive dog, or to put her on a lead while we pass a group of kids playing. And it’s certainly not bothering her!
Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying – smile, wave, call your dog, and get on with your day.
I didn’t give a flying fig that the off-lead dog at Waterhall was dog reactive. I cared that his owners didn’t listen to me when I shouted 3 times to call their dog. I cared that his owners didn’t care about him enough to exercise with him. I cared that his owners refused to listen to me when I stopped to speak to them. I cared that his owners then verbally (and almost physically) threatened and insulted me.
If you believe your dog to be friendly, and find yourself shouting phrases like “it’s ok – he’s friendly!” or “She just wants to play!” as your dog charges at 100mph across the park towards someone and their dog, then this is my message for you;
It’s not OK.
It doesn’t matter if he’s friendly.
It is not safe to let your dog do that to people or dogs that they don’t know.
Reach out to an R+ trainer and ask for some advice. We’ll happily help you.
But don’t be offended if I grab my dog and run away whenever I hear the phrase “it’s ok – he’s friendly!”