Now who’s reactive?

You know how dogs can become fearful after a bad experience like another dog getting in their face at the park?

That happened to me a few weeks ago. With another person.

During the springtime, our go-to weeknight walk takes us past a ball field and up a little hill. I try to time it to avoid joggers, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes, Leo succeeds even when I fail, which you can read about in Leo vs. the Track Team.

I hadn’t seen the track team yet this year, and the bottom of that uphill trail was so muddy I didn’t think any joggers would be coming that way.

Of course that meant two joggers came up behind us, but one happened to be a friend of mine. I held Leo back while he barked at the first jogger, and then welcomed my friend to cross the muddy moat to say hello.

“Are your dogs going to attack me?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the reactive dog mom who knows better than to make promises her dogs might not keep. Ha ha ha.

My friend came closer, Leo said hello and I stood and talked to her longer than I should have given that I’d already seen a jogger cross the swamp to go up the hill.

A young girl rounded the corner, and Leo barked and I said, “Are you going this way?” and held Leo back by his harness, and yeah, she looked scared, but she passed.

A minute later, a very angry dude approached and yelled that he was going to call animal control.

Now. I know I shouldn’t have a German shepherd barking at people on a jogging path. But couldn’t he have said, “Hey, I have a bunch of joggers headed up there. Could you move?” or even “Get out of the fucking way!”

Threatening to call animal control seemed a bit extreme. And frankly, I didn’t care for his attitude.

So I argued with him that I have a right to walk my dogs, and they’re on a leash, and chill out, dude.

And he said “That’s not just barking. That’s a dangerous dog.” And I said, “Go ahead. Call animal control.” And he gestured like he was going for his phone and I knew he wouldn’t really call.

Of note: Leo was not barking at him during all this.

We turned to carry on with our walk and the dude shouted, “You’ve been warned. If anything happens with that dog. You’ve been warned.”

I deduced that this guy coaches the aforementioned track team. And I get where he was coming from. I really do. I don’t want my scary dog to interfere with other people’s right to jog. But as Midnight Dog Walkers, our options are limited. That was a walking path that worked for us. Until it didn’t.

I’ve been walking reactive dogs for 10 years. I thought I’d gotten over the feelings of humiliation and guilt when other people think my dog is dangerous. But in the following days, whenever I tried to think of someplace else to take the dogs, I got scared.

Everywhere I could think of carried the risk of a jogger leaping out at us out of nowhere. There are no dog trails where joggers are banned. I ordered a basket muzzle, something I’ve never felt was necessary, because what if a jogger gets too close? After all, I’ve been warned.

And then I realized, my anxiety was not about Leo, or about joggers. It was about that dude rudely getting in my face.

Realizing this reinforced how easy it is to regress. One bad experience can create negative associations. As positive dog owners, we work hard to make sure all our dogs’ experiences are good ones. At least in this situation, I was the one with PTSD, not Leo.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Dog Sports, but all posts are welcome.

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

8 thoughts on “Now who’s reactive?

  1. I have often said that I am probably even more reactive than my dogs are. I have a tough time getting over encounters like that. I don’t understand people like that…no one ever seemed to be in danger from your leashed dog. Our contractor comes over to our house often, and every time, Luke barks and lunges at him (on the other side of a door or fence), and he never even flinches. He’s not even a dog person, and he never complains.
    Basket muzzles are not a bad option though. Luke has really gotten used to his and it doesn’t bother him at all. We’ve mostly used it for the vet, but I plan to start using it when strangers come over as well, when the circumstances are right to try it.
    Thank you for joining the hop!

  2. I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced this. That guy sounds awful–I totally get wanting to protect the kids in his care, but there’s a kind, tactful, polite way to do that and his way of doing it, which obviously isn’t the successful way to get the results he wants. In our old neighborhood, we used to have to deal with the track team running in our neighborhood–and they ran at enough different paces that their coach couldn’t be with all of them at once–and I finally had to have a little chat with the kids. Barley loves people, but she’s a herding dog and gets over excited when she sees runners, so if we have to pass one in close quarters, we always pull over and sit until we’ve got more space. The kids seemed to think that was giving them permission to spread out even farther across the road and try to run within inches of Barley, so I had to explain to them that she needs space and they did get better at giving us more room. I hope you’re able to find a way to coexist with this track team–you shouldn’t have to give up your walking spot just because of one jerk! The muzzle sounds like a great proactive way to keep Leo safe from people like this guy. I’ve seen lots of great posts about people whose dogs have had more confidence on walks because their muzzle has gotten people to give them the space they need.

  3. I read this yesterday, but then got distracted (SQUIRREL!) before I could comment… I can so relate to this! Got yelled at by a guy at the beach – even though WE were in the right: it’s an on-leash beach and Rita was on leash and we were trying to go as far around as we possibly could to avoid the clump of off-leash people, but after Rita snarled at his uncontrollable dog who charged at us, he was yelling at us about how I shouldn’t bring her to the beach if she’s like that. Grrrrr. Luckily I ran into a cop on the street right as I was leaving the beach. Vented to him and we both had a little rant about folks with their uncontrollable dogs off leash. 🙂 Realized I’ve only been to the beach once since all that happened… So I might be being a little reactive to that situation myself. We are going to go tomorrow – as long as we get up early enough! 🙂

  4. I’m so sorry that happened. Sounds like he was pretty reactive, too!

    I think that human reactivity/stress is really underconsidered in a lot of discussions about dog issues. I don’t mean that in a blaming way; our stress and fear is real and deserves to be honored, too! But it can definitely be a complicating factor and it can be as hard as it is useful to tease out and address as many as possible of those. (I am working on practicing what I preach!)

    Good boy, Leo. 🙂

    1. Agreed! With my first reactive dog, I think she definitely fed off my anxiety. That’s why I feel like this guy made ME regress, where I was feeling anxious again about walking Leo after everything had been going well for so long.

  5. That sounds like a really stressful experience! I’ve managed to get to the point where I’m pretty calm and not holding the leash with a death grip around leashed dogs but unleashed dogs running toward us still make me panic. Thankfully(?), hardly anyone is scared of Mr. N and even if he barks, people usually are more amused than anything. It does mean that people tend to invade his space all the time though.

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