How to walk a “normal” dog

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Things that have happened during my recent mellow meanderings with Mia:

1. A loose dog ran down the middle of a busy street toward us. We crossed the street to see if he had a tag on his collar, but he did not. We walked with him up a cul de sac where we found a neighbor who told us the dog just roams loose all the time. I was not entirely satisfied with this answer, but the dog stayed in the cul de sac. Short of calling animal control, I didn’t know what else I could do.

2. A couple was jogging with a dog across the street. I quickened my pace because Mia and the dog kept sneaking looks at each other. The couple must have crossed the street and slowed their pace to walk behind me, which I only realized when I turned around to go back for a poop bag I’d left behind. When I saw them, I said, “Oh, sorry.” And they said, “No, you’re fine,” walked around us and jogged off on their merry way.

3. While walking at night, we saw a man and a dog heading toward us on the same side of the street. So accustomed am I to veering very far around all other warm-bodied creatures, I swung a wide berth. The man asked if his dog could say Hi, so we moved closer. The man told me his dog’s name and said he was 12 years old. Since it was dark, I hadn’t realized how gray the dog’s muzzle was, or that he appeared to be a pit mix. Our dogs sniffed each other very politely. I wondered later whether the man thought I was trying to avoid him because his dog was a pit bull. He may well have considered it his duty to show me how friendly his dog was, when really, my only concern was that I not make anyone uncomfortable by bringing my scary German shepherd too close.

4. While walking at night, with a reflective light attached to Mia’s collar, I saw a blur of white in the street up ahead. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized it was a light-colored dog being walked on a leash. Maybe its owner was trying to swing a wide berth around us, but they still passed pretty close. The dog lunged toward us excitedly, so I let Mia sniff hello. Did I have another option? There was nowhere else to go, but I suppose I could have tried to hustle her past the other dog without them meeting.

The other dog reared back its head and yip/snarled (yarled?). Sounding mildly exasperated, and yet also mildly surprised, the owner said to her dog, “What’s that about? Was it the light?” I was 10 steps ahead at that point and wanted to say something reassuring, because boy, have I been there. But I also know the most helpful thing the non-reacting dog can do in that situation is get out of there.

I called back a very socially awkward mumble that was supposed to convey, “You know, maybe it was the light around Mia’s neck. But don’t worry about it. You’re fine. Your dog’s fine. We’re cool. Have a nice night.” I think what came out was: “Huh, yeah, mayb.” (sic. I didn’t actually say the last syllable of “maybe.”)

Now, I don’t know if that’s the first time her dog has ever been unfriendly to another dog, but I do know that saying something like “What’s that about?” is a reflex when you have a reactive dog. One must give the appearance to other dog owners that one knows one’s dog has been inappropriate.

The last incident really drove home the fact that I do not know how to walk a normal dog.

Social mores likely vary among regions. In some parts of the country, I’m sure it’s considered very rude to let your dog anywhere near another person, but here in the Northwest, we are beyond dog friendly. Our local bookstore even welcomes pooches.

That said, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to veer away from other people walking their dogs, as I attempted to do with the man and his pit bull, or let them get within sniffing distance, as I did with the woman and the light-colored dog.

Both felt wrong to me, but either is fine by Mia, because she is a “normal dog.” Her hackles might go up if she doesn’t like what she smells, she might notice another leashed dog at a distance, but generally speaking, she’s not going to bark, lunge, and pull me off my feet. She’s not going to snarl, snap at, or bite another dog.

Leo, on the other hand, is not allowed to walk around our neighborhood, because he would not have handled any of the above situations well. He would have barked and lunged at all those dogs. Actually, he might have made the best impression in that last scenario. If I let him pull on his leash right up to every dog he sees, to let him get a good sniff, I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t bark and lunge at them. Fairly. But I don’t let him do that, because as dog friendly a town as this is, I know better than to let my 100-pound German shepherd get all up in everydog’s face.

What should the rule be? Do I have to call out to every dog-walker I see: “My dog’s friendly. Is yours? Can she say hello?” Because you know there are lots of people who will say yes, even when the answer is no.

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8 thoughts on “How to walk a “normal” dog

  1. Oh, man, I can SO relate! My dog is almost 14 now but she’s a husky/Lab blend (her grandmother ran the Iditarod on Libby Riddles team so she’s very smart, very sly and used to be very, very fast). When younger, Beebs would walk perfectly on the leash until we spotted another dog, and then she’d go crazy. Only on the leash. When off the leash she’d often ignore other dogs, walk right past with her head in the air so that she reminded me of one of those stuck-up girls in high school, lol.
    I’ve done the walking to the other side of the trail/road to avoid another dog so many times and I’ve also often wondered what the other dog owners thought.
    As far as the whole “my dog is friendly” spiel, well, the last time I heard that was when I was running and was charged by a large blackish dog that lunged for my leg.
    “Oh, he’s usually very friendly,” the woman said in an accusing tone, as if it were my fault for her dog’s behavior, as if my running past was enough reason for it to stop being friendly and start snarling.
    Anyway, nice post. Made me think, which is always cool.

    • Thanks!

      I know, the phrase “he’s friendly” should be stricken from dog owners’ vocabulary. We say it whenever we’ve lost control of our dogs. I vow that the next time a small child asks if Leo’s friendly, I’m going to snarl: “No! He bites!”

  2. Good post. I used to have dogs that I could let approach or be approached by anyone or any dog – neither of them were ever reactive…well Tino wouldn’t let himself be bossed by a a bossy male, but always approached with friendship first. Jack & Maggie are different though. Jack can be totally disinterested in passersby, or he can take too keen an interest. Maggie is fearful, so I don’t ever want to put her in harms way. Given that, my tendency is to just avoid and then I don’t have to guess whether sparks or hearts are going to fly. I too wish people would stop saying ‘my dog’s friendly’ – too often I’ve heard that when it’s so obviously not true. And I have said that to kids – well not, ‘he bites’ but I have said ‘no he doesn’t like strangers’.

  3. Mr. N is leash reactive so we just avoid all dogs. Even when walking my foster dog who is not reactive, we tend to avoid other dogs though. Why risk it especially when the pups are tiny? We run into so many off-leash dogs who are “friendly.” Well your over exuberant Lab puppy can hurt my dog just by stepping on him so yeah. Not inclined to be happy about it.
    I didn’t know you were in the Northwest. So are we!

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