Neighborhood nemesis

I’ve written before about the golden retriever who sometimes sits sentry in front of her house on our block. This house is smack in the middle of the most convenient dog-walking route. To avoid her, we’d have to cut through a community garden and some weeds that this time of year would soak through my pants and shoes with morning dew.

I think it’s pretty irresponsible for a dog owner to leave a dog in the front yard unattended anyway, but this dog especially pisses me off because she rushes her picket fence and barks when we pass. I know her real name, but I always think of her as Isis’s nemesis because we simply could not pass when this dog was out front. Usually, the dogs barked at each other so loudly that the owner opened the front door and let Isis’s nemesis back in the house. I learned to just stand there and let Isis bark until that happened.

Eventually, I used the golden as a training partner. See how close we could get without Isis reacting. I clicked and treated her for not barking. By the time I learned these handling skills, the golden was almost never out when I wanted her to be, but a few times Isis succeeded in sitting on the sidewalk on the other side of the street and looking at the nemesis, then back to me for the treat. She was so stressed out by the presence of this other dog that she scraped her enormous teeth against my fingers as I tried to reward her for being calm. By taking the treats hard, she was signaling to me that she was not feeling very calm on the inside, so I’d turn her around and walk the other direction.

This method backfired on me when the golden wasn’t out at the beginning of our walk, but was there on our return. When I say we couldn’t pass this house, I mean that it was not physically possible for me to hold onto Isis’s leash and get from one side of this yard to the other, even on the opposite side of the street, because Isis lunged and barked so violently. We had to go back around the block and take a narrow wooded trail, which was a million times riskier because joggers with and without dogs could sneak up on us without warning. Guaranteed bark and lunge fest.

I’m sure this golden is a perfectly friendly dog, and I wonder if she barks like this at every dog who passes, or just at reactive German shepherds. I don’t want to blame the other dog and owner, because yes, Isis was the instigator in most situations. What I found peculiar was that Isis could pass other dogs in their yards and not react at all. Even when those dogs yipped at her. The chemistry was volatile between Isis and this particular golden retriever.

And as it turns out, also the chemistry between this golden and Leo. I have never tried to pass the golden with Mia on her own, so I’m not sure how she’d do. But when I walk the dogs together, and Leo reacts to a dog or bicycle or deer, he redirects his barrier frustration toward Mia, and there’s some snarling and chewing of each other’s faces. Nothing serious, though. They’ve never redirected on me when this happens, but it is the reason I walk Leo separately in the morning.

I think the golden gets let out between 8:30 and 9, so I try to get started on our walk by 8 a.m., but I’m not always successful, and who even knows if the golden’s owners have a set schedule when they let her out. I have thought of leaving a note saying, “Please do not leave your dog unattended in the front yard,” but don’t think that would be received well.

As Leo and I approach this house, I peer around their neighbors bushes to see if the nemesis is on the front steps. When the bushes are thick, it’s hard to tell, and a few times, we’ve crept around the bushes to see a golden behind waving at us from elsewhere in the front yard. At this, I chirp “This way,” and whirl around back toward home.

Lately, I have seen a little boy waiting for the school bus in front of our nemesis’s house. The first time, I meant to ask, “Is there a dog in the front yard?” but what came out was, “Is your dog out front?” He turned to look, then shook his head, and Leo and I passed perfectly peacefully by walking in an arc on the golden’s lawn to create plenty of space between us and the child.

This morning, the boy was there, and I said, “Is the dog out?” The kid said, “I don’t even live there.”

So? You could still tell me if a dog’s there. 

“Oh, do you live across the street?” (Those people have a German shepherd.) The boy shook his head and pointed down the block.

I said, “Their dog barks at my dog, so we have to sneak by.” Oh sure, blame the other guy.

The nemesis was not out, so we passed peacefully and I told Leo what a good boy he was.

A few minutes later, I heard the sound of rubber soles slapping the pavement and realized the boy was rapidly approaching us from behind. Is he chasing us? Trying to catch up to tell me something? Who chases a German shepherd?

I sing-songed “This way,” and moved Leo quickly across the street. No cars were coming, but a bicycle approached. Fortunately, this happened to be a part of the street with an inclined grassy patch, so I was able to get Leo down the small hill where he wouldn’t be startled by the approaching bike.

The boy scrambled all the way down the block and up the driveway to what I assume was his house. Guess he forgot something.

But the important thing is that both Leo and I remained calm.

Unlike Isis, Leo gets along with most dogs when he’s off leash. Here he is with a different golden retriever (not the nemesis), and trust me, she’s loving it.


Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

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