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WARNING! This blog post may rub you the wrong way. After having several negative experiences with people who swear their dog is friendly when the dog isn't, having paid vet bills after one of my dogs was bitten by a “friendly” dog, and having been injured myself because someone didn't respect my boundaries – yeah, I'm not keen on strangers petting my dogs.
Walking my dogs is the best part of my day. We get exercise, I get to unwind and enjoy a few miles with my dogs. And I don't want our time interrupted by well-meaning strangers who want to pet my dogs.
The other day, I had an interesting discussion with a co-worker (who might see this post) and it went something like this:
Coworker: You'll love my son, he always screams: “CAN I PET YOUR DOG???” as he approaches people because he loves dogs so much. I bet you’d appreciate that.Paraphrasing a Discussion
Me: Ummmm, no. When I’m walking my dogs, I’d prefer to be left alone. My dogs aren't socialized around children and I can’t predict how they’d react to a screaming child approaching them. I’m already going to be tense when this happens, my dogs will pick up on that, and the interaction may not go well.
Coworker: But it’s polite that he ask first instead of just running over to you and you can just say “no.”
Me: Or, you can just watch us walk by from afar and leave us alone. I don’t walk my dogs so that they can be pet by strangers and if my dog bites your excited kid, you’ll be mad at me instead of asking yourself if it was a good idea to approach a woman walking a pack of dogs who you don’t know.
If you're new to my blog, then you don't know me from Adam, which means you don't know my dogs. I have five dogs:
- Rodrigo is 9 years old and weighs 53 lbs
- Sydney is 9 years old and weighs 70 lbs
- Scout is nearly 6 years old and weighs 73 lbs
- Zoey is nearly 6 years old and weighs 60 lbs
- Apollo is 10 months old and weighs 62 lbs
When I walk my dogs, I'm usually walking at least two dogs, usually three dogs. In the past, when we only had four dogs, I would walk them as a pack, but learned that this is too risky after a couple of times when people allowed their dogs off leash to come say “hi,” to my pack. I don't know about your experience, but when one or two dogs come racing towards you and several leashed dogs, it can be stressful, even if the dogs are “friendly.”
The point of this is to share that when I walk my dogs, I'm walking big dogs and I want to focus on them, not them and someone's child, or them and someone's dog. Know what I mean?
Where I Walk My Dogs
Following along with the discussion about this topic on Facebook, it became clear to me that people seem to think that I'm taking my dogs to areas populated with dog lovers and snapping “No! You can't touch my dogs!” and tossing out a few swear words too.
No. That's not what I'm doing.
I walk my dogs in areas and at times when we're least likely to have our walk interrupted. I don't take my dogs to areas near a park with children or walk them at noon on a path with other dog walkers or joggers who may want to meet my dogs.
I keep to myself because I don't want to be social when I'm walking my dogs.
How and When I Approach Dogs and Their Humans
I work in downtown Seattle and every day I walk past someone walking with their dogs. We're in the land of “every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day,” and I love it. So I have approached people to ask if I could pet their dog, but before I make the approach, an assessment is necessary:
1 – Is the person in a hurry or exhibiting the “don't bother me” signs?
This is a person who is walking with purpose and, if they have a small dog, they may start carrying the dog to make tracks faster. This person may also be wearing earbuds or headphones, talking on a phone, or intentionally refusing to make eye contact.
With the exception of the small dog, this is me when I'm walking with my dogs and I truly don't want to be bothered. Usually, when someone is open to having you approach, they make eye contact as they smile in recognition of a fellow dog lover. When I get that smile, I ask if I can pet the dog.
2 – Is the dog welcome to approach?
It's not just the dog owner that I need to consider, I also need to take stock of the dog. If the dog is alone and obviously looking for his or her owner, then I leave the dog alone. If the dog is overexcited and anxious (jumping, barking, growling, hackles raised, tail tucked down – there are many signs), then I'm not going to add to the dog's anxiety by touching/petting the dog.
From personal experience, when one of my dogs is anxious, my focus is to get my dog out of the situation. If someone approaches us, I get more anxious which my dog picks up on and it gets even worse. So when I see an anxious dog, I smile from afar and move on.
Cyclists are The Best!
I'm certain that there are more steps we can take to determine if it's okay to approach a dog and their human, but the above is what works for me. I have cyclists to thank for that too. I often walk my dogs on a popular trail near our home and we walk past many cyclists on our 3-5 mile trek. What I love is that 99% of the cyclists will keep it moving and I love it. They love dogs and will often say “hey pooches!” as they ride by, but no one is stopping to pet my dogs.
And I appreciate that!
When I'm walking two or more dogs, I don't want to chat with strangers about their story. I just want to walk! And yes, I've heard all of the jokes, so please stop acting as if you're sooooo clever:
- Who's walking who? (it's “WHOM” by the way)
- Looks like you need a sled!
- Those dogs look like they're walking YOU!
- Ahhh, so the dogs decided to take you for a walk, eh!
- That's a lot of dogs you have there!
And, finally, no, I'm not a dog walker, dog breeder, or a pet sitter. I'm just a crazy woman with a ton of dogs. Leave me alone!
Children and Dogs
So, if you have children, you may be reading this post written by a woman who is obviously an introvert and seemingly hates people. I don't hate people (although I do love dogs more) and I don't hate children. What bugs me is when someone feels that what they want (or what their child wants) trumps the comfort of my dogs (or me).
When you allow your child to approach me, a stranger, and my dogs, you're assuming that my dogs have been socialized around children. They haven't. My dogs haven't spent time around children because I don't spend time around children. I don't actively avoid children, I just don't have any kids.
While I think it's GREAT that people teach their children to ask if they can pet our dogs before approaching, I hope they're also teaching their children that if we say “no,” then we need them to walk away with no hard feelings.
You'd be amazed at how many times I've had adults run towards me with their children or dogs while I'm walking two or three dogs and get mad when I tell them that they can't pet (or otherwise interact with) my dogs.
I don't want to argue, I don't want drama.
I just want to walk my dogs in peace. That's all. Leave us alone.
Wow! Bad Attitude to Have ~ Facebook Comment
The conversation on this topic over on Facebook is a great mix of people who agree that pet parents are allowed to set boundaries and people who think that I have a bad attitude and unsocialized and ill-mannered dogs.
My Dogs Are My Responsibility
I feel the need to update this post after someone told me that I have a bad attitude. Well, they're right. When it comes to protecting my dogs, I can develop a very nasty attitude.
Thanks to people who approached my dogs while on a walk…
- Rodrigo has been to the vet twice after being bitten by a “friendly” dog.
- A woman threatened to call the police on my “aggressive dogs” when I politely told her over-excited children that my dogs were in training and couldn't be pet.
- In a separate incident, the police did contact me after someone complained about my aggressive dogs. Again, because I said “no” when they asked if they could pet them.
- I've had people call me names, including racial slurs, as they stomp away, butt hurt because I won't allow them or their children to pet my dogs. One person left, then came back in a car, screaming at me as they drove by – scared the crap out of Zoey and she slipped her harness and took off (not far).
Like I've said, when I'm walking my dogs, I'm usually walking three or more dogs. It's not safe for them or for me to greet strange dogs or people. And it makes it even worse when someone reacts negatively to being told “no.”
So, yes, I now have a bad attitude and don't want to be approached when I'm walking my dogs.
My Dogs Are Socialized
And to the person who believes that my refusal to allow my dogs to greet strangers (dogs or people) means that my dogs aren't socialized, please take a moment to learn what socialization entails. I used to think socialization included introducing my dogs to people and other dogs. As a result, I took my dogs to the dog park (bad idea for us) and would allow any and everyone to greet them (bad idea for us).
The purpose of socialization is to help a puppy become used to different sights, sounds and smells so that they don't develop anxiety when introduced to new things – like bicycles, riding in cars, or walking in new places. Socialization doesn't only mean introducing our dogs to strangers.
I socialize my dogs, one at a time, by taking them to dog friendly businesses (Home Depot is a great place for all of my dogs). Apollo, our newest family member, has accompanied me to a couple of dog friendly breweries and he does a great job and loves the attention. When I got to these places, I understand that people are going to want to pet my dogs, which is why I only take one dog.
Reactive Dogs aren't Unsocialized Dogs
I'm back, updating this post once again after someone called me selfish and stated that if we had socialized our dogs, they would't be reactive. This is an unfair statement made my someone who has not had a reactive dog. Reactivity doesn't mean that a dog is aggressive, it means that a dog is triggered. The reaction could be fear based or happy over the top excitement. I live with both.
Rodrigo gets over the top excited when he sees cyclists. Because he's my dog, I know that the barking and lunging is because he wants to chase the cyclists down and get lots of pets. While I know my dog is screaming with joy at the site of a cyclist, the cyclists probably think that he's an aggressive dog – so we don't walk where we'll encounter cyclists.
The strange thing is that Rodrigo didn't have this reaction until several months after we started walking on trails. He used to barely pay attention to cyclists and then one day – BOOM – he was a maniac. I remember the day. It was awful. A friend mention that it could have been brought on by vaccinations. (Thanks, Diane)
Scout and Zoey have fear based anxiety. They're not fans of people or dogs that they don't know. If they have regular, monitored interactions with dogs, they eventually warm up to them.. I opt for pack walks. They do great on pack walks with other dogs because everyone is focused on walking forward.
I have done and continue to do everything to help my dogs overcome their reactivity, including working with trainers multiple times. My dogs have improved, but they're not perfect. Reactivity can also be brought about by a scary experience, a healthy crisis, or, in the case of rescue dogs, it could be as a result of their history. So be careful about judging people who are raising reactive dogs.
I Don't Want to Teach People How to Interact with Dogs
I recognize that those of us who have dogs have an opportunity to raise awareness of how to raise dogs. I share my experience through this blog and on social media. When I am in an environment with my dogs where people will want to meet them, I welcome the interaction. However, when I'm on my walks, I do not want to be interrupted.
I'm always polite, but firm. I do not owe anyone an explanation, I do not want someone to try and change my mind, and I do not respond to bullying or threats. At the end of a day or week, I just want to walk, in peace, with my dogs. I don't want to educate people about how to approach my dogs, I don't want to discuss dog training and behavior, and I don't want to defend my right to set boundaries.
I just want to walk my dogs in peace.
Read More About Raising Dogs
- 30 Things that are Killing Our Dogs, Part 2
- 30 Things that are Killing Our Dogs, Part 1
- How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Raw Fed Puppy?
- 5 Things I Learned After My Dog was Pepper Sprayed
- How to Naturally Repel Fleas, Ticks, and Mosquitoes