What the “normal” dogs do

While on my walk with Mia last night on the lovely first evening of spring, I started mentally composing a post quite similar to this one. Shoot. Turns out I’ve already written it.

But the question remains, what are we supposed to do when we pass another dog on a narrow path? I mean, if the other person blithely lets her dog wander to the end of its leash, I’m going to let Mia do whatever she wants to, which is usually to sniff between its legs.

Circumstances have changed slightly. It’s lighter, drier and warmer out, so we’re seeing more dogs (and we’re actually able to see the dog, and read the human’s facial expression).

I can’t read people as well as I read dogs, but the last three we passed, I sensed that the walkers didn’t want our dogs to meet. In two of the three cases, I suspect they were afraid of what their dog might do.

Scenario 1: Passing on the sidewalk
Mia and I see a woman and a golden on the sidewalk, on the same side of the street as us. Joy, joy, I think. Since Leo’s not with us, I don’t have to cross to the other side of the street. The woman veers out into the street to give us space. Her dog strains against its leash, Mia strains against her leash. Mia’s hackles go up. The woman murmurs something to her dog as I say, “You’re fine. Good girl.” (To Mia, not the other woman.)

Scenario 2: Passing on a footbridge
There’s a whole other anecdote connected to this scenario, involving a little kid running up ahead of his parents and falling down in front of me (and Mia), shrieking as if he’d been shot (c’mon, kid. You didn’t fall that far, and I wouldn’t even be crying if I’d taken that fall), and me thinking it’s just as irresponsible to let your child run out of your sight on a woodsy trail as it is to flout the leash law. But I digress. Before the kid fell, while he’s still running ahead of me and Mia (with his parents behind us), we see a couple of older ladies approaching with a small dog, perhaps a miniature pinscher. The ladies give me a look, a little like, “Can’t you control your kid,” and I just keep walking over the footbridge. The ladies sort of pause at the other end of it, but not far enough away to keep Mia from sticking her face in the min-pin’s crotch for a good whiff. I felt like the lady wasn’t too thrilled about having my terrifying beast that close to her dog, but maybe that’s just remnants of my reactive dog shame talking. I mean, if she didn’t want our dogs to meet she could have a) picked hers up, or b) given us more space.

Scenario 3: Passing on the trail
A couple emerges from the woods as Mia and I are walking on the trail. They clearly want to keep their dog from meeting Mia. I think the man asked the dog to sit, but then, like, maybe he changed his mind and kept walking (or maybe the woman knew the dog wouldn’t sit and she overrode his strategy). In any case, their dog might have growled, but stayed on its side of the trail. Mia pulled on her leash a little, but kept on walking with me, and her hackles didn’t go up. “You’re fine. Good girl,” I told her.

I guess a perfect dog wouldn’t pull on the leash and try to sniff another dog? But Mia doesn’t pull me off my feet, or bark, lunge, growl or snarl, so as far as I’m concerned, she’s behaving appropriately… at least as appropriately as the other dogs.

I suppose I could have been more courteous to the ladies in Scenario 2, but as I said, I think the people in Scenarios 1 and 3 were concerned about their own dogs’ behavior, not Mia’s.

Tell me, owners of “normal” dogs, are Mia and I doing this right? I’m happy to take your constructive criticism.

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Separate Walks

Remember how eight months ago I vowed that I was going to conquer Leo’s bicycle reactivity? Well, I’ve finally started cracking down on that.

All spring and summer, it felt like enough to let the dogs run around the backyard and take them for the occasional romp at the off-leash park. But as the weather turns, I feel guilty about how much time they spend cooped up. It’s too dark to walk them around the neighborhood after work, and even if it weren’t, we’d get derailed by a bicycle.

I took a page from the Isis playbook and started taking Leo to parking lots where we are likely to see bicycles. We can practice walking near stimuli, but at a far enough distance to keep him under threshold. I’m employing some functional rewards techniques from BAT. We’re having success, and I’ve lowered my expectations. My goal is not for Leo to be a bomb-proof dog, simply for him to stretch his legs and get a change of scenery, and if his reactivity improves, allowing us to take him to a wider variety of places, so much the better.

Mia’s recent escape attempt alerted me that my focus on Leo’s problem behavior caused me to neglect my perfect dog. Mia just wanted to get out and see the world. She’s been watching forlornly from the window as I take Leo on training excursions. Even though we’re not gone very long, she sees Leo going on an adventure while she has to stay home. Sure she’s a senior dog, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need exercise.

Quite a dilemma. I can’t walk both dogs at the same time and still focus on Leo’s training. What to do?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I chewed on this for a couple of days before I remembered that I can walk Mia around our neighborhood.

See, the old pattern was, I’d take Mia to work, so she’d get a midday walk or off-leash romp on a ball field. Leo would go to daycare or I’d walk him around the neighborhood before work, strategically timed to avoid the bike commuters. I was not in the habit of walking Mia by herself closer to home.

Once Leo became “trustworthy” enough that he didn’t need to be crated while we’re out, I stopped bringing Mia with me. Who knows what kind of trouble Leo could get into without his big sister to keep an eye on him?

What better way to find out than to leave him alone while I take Mia around the block? On Wednesday, I walked Mia before it got dark, and then took Leo for his training in a university parking lot.

Walking Mia reinforced how unsafe our street is for Leo. It also reminded me how bicycle reactive I am. Me, not Mia. As we walked, I saw a bright yellow raincoat on the horizon, whizzing toward us on two wheels. Mia has never expressed the slightest interest in a bicycle, and yet I tightened the leash, thinking, “Oh god, oh god. What if she’s learned from Leo that she’s supposed to bark at those things? Oh god, oh god.”

Of course she was perfect when the bike went by. And she was perfect when we passed a dog who strained at his leash to get to her.

The amazing part? Walking Mia calmed me. “That’s right,” I remembered. “Walking dogs is fun.”

Mia’s positive reinforcement was so powerful that on our next walk, I didn’t flinch when a bicycle rode toward us on the sidewalk. I took her on the windy wooded trail where a mountain bike came at us out of nowhere. And we passed Isis’s nemesis’s house. Not only was the golden in the front yard, but her neighbor, a black dog, was loose in his yard, and the same dog that strained at Mia the day before was headed our way. It was a collision of four dogs. Mia’s hackles went up, but she sniffed politely and we went on our way.

My next post will deal with some of the calming tools recommended to ease dog reactivity and anxiety. Can you tell Leo is wearing a Thundershirt in the top picture?

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No poop left behind

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I take pride in being the most conscientious dog poop picker upper in the world.

The worst thing that can happen to a dog mom like me is to have my dog poop while off leash at the dog park, and then not be able to find it. I have wandered icy fields in futile search of steam rising from Leo’s pile. Oh, the guilt, knowing someone is going to step in poop that I should have picked up.

When I take Mia to the park at lunch, she usually poops while I’m eating. Of course I wait until I’m done eating to pick it up; otherwise, that’s disgusting. While bagging it the other day, I thought, “This poop seems really cold to be from just a few minutes ago.” Then saw Mia’s poop a few feet away. Yes, that’s right, I even pick up OTHER dogs’ poop. That’s how conscientious I am.

On a few occasions, I’ve found myself on a walk without a bag and I have driven back to the location of the poop to pick it up.

And because I love the earth so much, I use biodegradable poop bags. I used to buy them at the co-op, but to be honest, they’re kind of small for Leo-sized poops. If you’re not grossed out by this post already, this should do it: With a too-small bag, you run the risk of getting poop on your hands. I ordered some Earth Rated poop bags online. They’re supposed to be lavender-scented, but really they smell more like old lady perfume. I have learned the trick to opening the bags is to get your fingers wet, either by licking them or touching wet grass, but maybe I need the dispenser, because sometimes I have trouble detaching a bag from the roll.

Lately, Rob and I have been walking the doggies after dark. Just out to the end of the block. When a dog poops, I bag it, then leave it on the curb to pick up on the way back. The other night, Rob noted the house number where the bag was, but I pretty much remembered the location. Last night, we didn’t check the number, but I was certain I left it near a mailbox.

On the way back, I was distracted because Rob was telling me some story about boobs, and two bicycles passed, and we had to cross the street to avoid a pedestrian, and while I was extremely proud of Leo for not barking and lunging at any of these things, I somehow missed the poop bag.

I insisted that Rob and I drive back down the block to retrieve it. Because what do you think when you see a bagged poop on the sidewalk? You don’t think, “Oh, a person couldn’t find that poop bag,” or even “That person forgot their poop bag.” You think, “What kind of jerk goes to the trouble of bagging poop and then not throwing it away? Like they’re doing me some favor of keeping me from stepping in it, but are not courteous enough to remove it entirely.”

We looked in front of every house with a mailbox but couldn’t find it. “Please, let’s go back one more time,” I begged. But Rob refused.

I had to go to sleep last night knowing that poop bag was still out there, but refused to relinquish the title of most conscientious dog poop picker upper in the world. In the light of morning, I drove down the block again, and saw the green bag flapping in the breeze in front of a house without a mailbox. So obvious I can’t believe we missed it, even if we were only looking at houses with mailboxes.

I retrieved it, threw it away, and all was right with the world.