As any of our dedicated readers have seen, we do our best to stay out of trouble. We avoid situations that look like they have unfavorable outcomes and have worked really hard to get Spencer to the point where he sees someone come around a corner or towards him and veers away. (He did that twice this morning before I even saw the person come around the corner!)
So it is very frustrating when people and events seem to conspire against us. However, I have noticed that a common denominator in many of these cases is that people have much less control over their dogs than they think they do. This happened to us THREE times on yesterday’s outing with Soca and Anne-Claire:
- Anne-Claire and Soca were ahead of us, and Anne-Claire called back to warn me that there were people and dogs ahead. Spencer and I moved into a clearing to let them go by without incident. It turned out to be an entire pack of off-leash dogs. They all seemed friendly enough, but it’s hard enough for an on-leash dog (Flight is no longer an option) to remain unstressed meeting one dog; it’s much harder when you have to keep track of a group of them. One dog was being particularly insistent, but it was going well, so I wasn’t concerned until I saw the mistress — whose calls had gone completely unheeded by her dog — marching straight up to us and yelling, hell-bent on recovering her dog. Well, in the canine world, charging up to someone and barking is a clearly aggressive act, so no surprise, Spencer charged back. Lucky for her he was muzzled.
- Spencer and I moved down the road to get some distance while Anne-Claire and Soca navigated the pack. Next thing we know, Persistent Dog (or maybe a second Persistent Dog, but he was paired with a different mistress) is back, followed shortly by his mistress who is running, bellowing and waving her arms. At this point, Anne-Claire won my everlasting gratitude by saying something like, “This dog is afraid of people and you are setting him off by yelling and rushing him.” The woman was gracious enough to recognize her error and immediately moderated her approach to us, which greatly reduced Spencer’s stress level. The thing is, I think people are so intent on their own dogs that they fail to take the other dog into account and don’t think about what they must look like in that dog’s eyes. As she was grabbing her dog and leading him away, she said, “I’m sorry. He’s usually more obedient than this.” Seriously, if I had a euro every time someone said that to me, I’d be rich. By “usually”, I think maybe people mean “when there are no seriously tempting distractions like new dogs” or people carrying dog treats.
- After saying goodbye to our friends, Spencer and I were heading back to the car. As we approached an intersection, I called him back in close to me (it’s a bad idea to let a reactive dog lead when surprises can pop around the corner). A dog appeared out of one of the side trails and came running up to say hi. It started well enough, with the dogs sniffing each other. She kept looking at Spencer’s long lead with a worried/puzzled look. Then she backed up and started barking. Her sibling arrived and joined in. As the barking intensified, I started to turn Spencer around and head back up the trail, but too late. The lagging mistress came jogging up, talking on her mobile phone instead of minding her dogs and yelling at the dogs as she arrived. Still on the phone, she said, “Sorry. She’s afraid. It’s the muzzle.” As she dragged her dog off, I added, “My dog is also afraid — of YOU — which is why he’s charging.” Spencer eventually felt he had chased her far enough away that he could calm done enough to retreat. Once we had gotten far enough away that he was relaxed, we headed back down the trail to the parking lot.
My big worry when we have a day like this is that it will erase the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve and re-sensitize Spencer to people being anywhere near him. After all, who can blame him for seeing a pattern after a day like that? Luckily that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Toward the end of our walk, he was walking aide-by-side with Soca, with Anne-Claire to Soca’s left (and me slightly behind on the right so I could easily control the situation if he decided Anne-Claire was threatening. This is HUGE for a fearful dog. Scary People are much scarier when they are in movement than when they stand still.
On this morning’s walk, although he seemed a bit more aware of movement around him in the street, he handled the situation brilliantly when people came around the corner at him on several occasions. So I’m hoping that he’ll see yesterday as a blip and not draw any conclusions from it.
In the meantime, I’m willing to bet serious money that most people don’t have nearly the control over their dogs that they think they do. Any takers?