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 Pets, Tenacious 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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