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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My very own Rez Dog

Do you ever wonder if domestic dogs would be happier if they weren’t confined by our homes? I keep my dogs inside when we’re not home because I’m afraid of them escaping or getting kidnapped or digging under the fence or annoying the neighbors by barking. They’re safer inside. When we’re home, we let them play outside as long as they want, which winds up being only as long as we’re outside playing with them.

Leo’s never known a life other than this, but Mia was “cage free” for at least part of her life before she came to us. She shows no sign of missing her freedom.

I almost retweeted an article I read the other day about stray/feral dogs on Indian reservations. I almost wrote, “If it weren’t for us, Mia would have ended up like these poor reservation dogs with a life expectancy of only two years.”

But that didn’t quite ring true. Mia had a home before she found us. Two, actually. So we’ve been told. For some reason I cannot begin to understand, her most recent owners reportedly left her behind when they moved away. Mia was being informally fostered at a home on an Indian reservation. Not the same as running in a pack, biting people, and having to fend for her own food and shelter. The family brought her inside at night, where she slept under a little girl’s bed. Terrible life we rescued her from, right?

Mia on the day we got her.

Mia on the day we got her.

I remember wondering why Mia’s foster family even bothered to find another home for her. Don’t dogs just roam freely on the rez?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks rez dogs are leading the life. This article in Indian Country Today declares that rez dogs will rule the world one day.

I always like seeing off-leash dogs on the reservations I frequent, but then, they never strike me as stray, homeless or feral. Surely these aren’t the dogs with a lifespan of two years. None has threatened to bite me. For the most part, they seem less reactive than the dogs I raised from puppies. Mia is less reactive than the dogs I raised from puppies.

So there’s something to be said for letting dogs roam free: no barrier frustration. And two excellent reasons to keep them confined: their safety and the safety of people. Roaming dogs can get hit by cars or abused, and people could get bitten.

Whether there is a rez dog “problem” or not, I can’t say. At least one reservation around here requires dogs to be fenced or tied up, and according to part two of the above article, a rescue group is finding homes for strays on the Crow reservation.