The other day, we had a glaring example of how people see what they are convinced they are going to see.
Spencer and I were at a park that we haven’t been to very frequently, but I’ve started taking him there more recently. So we’re just starting to meet people and dogs.
At one point, we saw a group of 4-5 dogs and roughly the same number of owners. Spencer was watching them with stiff body language, but whining, so I wasn’t really sure if he wanted to meet them or was anxious. Given the ambiguity of his body language, I decided to be cautious. After a few minutes of him watching them, I persuaded him to follow me in the other direction.
A few minutes later, we were isolated in the middle of a big space, with Spencer on his long lead, when I noticed the group moving in the same direction as us.
Suddenly, one of the dogs detached from the group and came running towards us. The dog, who was roughly half of Spencer’s size and maybe a bit smaller, ran straight up to him and engaged him in a wrestling hold. First, this is a very impolite way to greet an unknown dog, and second, Spencer doesn’t have any social graces, so this is pretty much how he greets other dogs, especially males. So Spencer responded in kind. Even though Spencer wasn’t doing anything that could hurt her (I don’t know for sure it was a female, but that will make the descriptors easier to keep separate), the other dog started to scream bloody murder. She detached and ran back towards he mistress who was panicking by now and yelling frantically to call her dog back.
The dog stopped about halfway to her mistress and stared at Spencer again. It was clear to everyone that she was planning another run. The mistress started running toward her dog yelling more and more frantically to try to get the dog back. To no avail.
The dog came tearing towards us. Spencer stepped behind me as the dog neared, a clear sign for me that he was afraid. Just as I was about to step forward and try to scare the other dog, whose mistress was finally catching up, Spencer took a step or two forward and woofed at the other dog. It wasn’t overly aggressive, just a forceful “go away”. The other dog was still wavering on whether to come in for direct engagement, but by this time, I saw the other woman coming in close to catch her dog, and. worried that Spencer would consider her a threat, I was trying more assertively to move him away so the woman could catch her dog without incident.
She attached the leash to her dog as I tried to sooth Spencer in a calm voice that I would protect him need be. Then I heard the woman say to her dog as they moved away, “Come on. He’s a mean dog.” My jaw literally dropped. I spent much of the next ten minutes venting my indignation to Spencer, who, frankly, wasn’t really paying attention.
Happily, for the rest of the walk, things went much better. Spencer got to meet several other dogs and more considerate owners, especially the skittish Beagle mix Elka who teased him a bit because she wanted to play but was also a bit afraid of him. I was ever so grateful to her male owner who not only kept his distance, but squatted down, so Spencer wouldn’t see him as a threat.
A bit later, we met a group of about four dogs, and I was impressed that the one that felt most confident to walk right up to Spencer and start smelling him was the smallest — a Jack Russell Terrier. I wasn’t sure how that encounter would go since Spencer’s experiences with JRTs are not all good, but they managed to negotiate the encounter without any major stress.
Overall, Spencer seems to like this park and the possibility of meeting other dogs, but we’ll have to be cautious who we say hi to.