No, your dog is not a douchebag. Technically there’s not really such a thing as a douchebag dog. If your terrier wants to kill your neighbour’s pet rabbits, it’s just doing what it was bred for. If your dog wants to joyfully jump onto every new dog/person/everything they see, you probably own a Lab and that’s just the way they are. And if your dog wants to kill every other dog it sees, that’s just the way it’s wired as well. Dogs are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are. It’s how the owner manages them that matters. It’s also why it’s important to make sure you’re getting the kind of dog that suits you, and that you are prepared to handle. If you own one of the above mentioned dogs and you let them free-for-all engage in those activities, then you are a massive douchebag.
It’s pretty much inevitable that every dog will get snarked at least once in their life. Just like people sometimes two dogs just cannot get along, and take an instant dislike for reasons we’ll never know. However if your dog is often on the brunt-end of a snarking, he or she may have poor social manners that you need to manage.
The topic of leash vs. no leash and general trail etiquette has been on my mind off and on for the past few months, and it must be on other peoples’ because I’ve seen quite a few articles and discussions on it. It’s one of those topics that tends to end up very polarized. Like a lot of things about dogs, actually. Discussions, if you can call a group of people shouting obscenities at each other a discussion, on dog food are almost worse than politics. The topic of leashes very rarely goes any differently.
I’m one of those people. I like to let Suki off leash, and I think dogs can benefit from the freedom. I can completely understand the flip side of it though; I’ve run into the jerks who seem to think trails are a giant free for all, or that as long as their dog is “friendly” they don’t need to concern themselves with what he’s doing. I’ve had a dog streak muddy pawprints down the back of my shirt when its owners thought nothing of letting it chase after us. I’ve had a stressful encounter when a large mixed breed blew off its owners command to heel and ran at Suki, it’s posture stiff and challenging, it’s hackles raised. I hate those people. I hope they stub their toes wearing flip flops.
I’ve also been nearly knocked over a berm when two dogs on 5-foot leashes barreled into me while their owner dragged behind them like a useless ragdoll. Even though they were leashed, they may as well have not been because they were in no way under any control. Training equipment, including leashes, is only as useful as the brain of the person using it.
I think a lot of people forget that letting our dogs off leash is a privilege. And as much as I hate it, even being able to bring our dogs at all is something that can be even further restricted. The better everyone behaves, the more opportunities we’ll all have to take our dogs places.
So what can you do if you want to let your dog off leash, but don’t want to be a douchecanoe?
1. Always carry a leash with you. If your dog isn’t listening, put them on leash.
2. Always be watching for other people.
3. If you see someone holding a leash, call your dog back and leash them. Even if the other owner would be okay with your dog approaching them, having one dog on leash and the other off creates a tense situation for the dogs. The leashed dog has no escape, and is more prone to lashing out. There are plenty of opportunities for dogs to socialize, a hike in the woods doesn’t always need to be one of them.
4. Train a “wait” command and call your dog to stop at corners you can’t see beyond. If anyone is there this both stops your dog from rounding the corner out of sight, where he could become a nuance, and gives anyone approaching a heads-up that there is a dog there.
5. Unless your dog sticks to you like velcro and isn’t interested in approaching other dogs or people, secure them when you’re in a busy area like a campground or crowded trail.
6. Don’t let your dog out off leash while you are still in your vehicle.
7. Check the behaviour of the people you encounter. Do they seem nervous as you approach? If you even think they might be, put your dog on a leash. Even if you don’t technically have to, it’s just the nice thing to do.
8. If your dog is walking behind someone and they and/or their dog seems agitated, call your dog back and leash them while you pass or wait for the person to get some space between you. Some signs of agitation are choking up the leash to hold their dog in close, walking faster (they are trying to get distance), stopping and moving off the trail, or repeatedly glancing over their shoulder. If the dog keeps looking over its shoulder or turning its body towards your dog, but the owner continues to pull their dog along, that means they don’t want their dog to engage with yours. Even if their dog isn’t currently barking or snarling, they may be aggressive in close-contact encounters.
9. If you see a dog with a muzzle, leash up. While there are many reasons people use muzzles, there’s a very good chance that dog does not want to meet yours. That dog’s owner is doing their part to keep everyone (including their dog) safe, your part is to keep your dog from bothering them.
10. If you want to take a minute to disconnect your brain and relax, leash your dog close beside you. Better yet, reinforce that these times are also times for your dog to be calm.
Many people keep pets other than dogs, and they have just as much right to take their pets out as dog owners do. A prey-driven dog 15 meters ahead of their owner encountering a pet rabbit or bird isn’t going to end well. The prey animal’s owner is definitely going to end up scratched, possibly bitten by the dog, and their pet could likely even get killed. Don’t be that douchebag.