Ben and I hiked Musconetcong Gorge over the weekend. The late start on Saturday left us with only an hour before dark, so we finished the entire loop Sunday morning. It’s a lovely hike with a moderate section of switchback trails to the summit.
Twice on Sunday we ran into unleashed dogs – rather, they ran into us. There are a few larger boulders down at the creek crossing, and I was taking advantage of the photo op with Mulder. I heard Ben mumble something and grab Honey, and when I turned around we were face to face with an unknown black dog of mixed breeding. He/She had locked eyes with Mulder, hackles up, growling and creeping closer. Mulder, still up on the boulder at this time, started reacting – also growing and growing anxious.
With no owner in sight and no idea of the strange dog’s reactivity, I blocked Mulder behind me and bellowed up the gorge: “YO, GET YOUR FUCKING DOG ON A LEASH! I’VE GOT A REACTIVE PIT BULL!” Way up on the top trail a young golden retriever crest the hill followed a moment later by an old man, maybe late 50’s or early 60’s, trailing behind. I yelled “Leash your fucking dog!” one more time before the owner started down the hill and called off his (still growing) dog. He leashed them and made a mad dash up the trail past us. No apology, no words – not even eye contact.
We encountered him later on the trail and he scampered down to the train tracks, dragging the grumbling black dog and young retriever with him.
Two hours later, as we approached the trail head, I noticed a mess of vehicles, people, and dogs. A loose dog, looking like an unshaven poodle or labradoodle of sorts, spotted us and bounded over. I yelled “Leash your dog! We have dogs!” Ahead of me, Ben had Honey and the dog thankfully went to them first.
The lady walks over, casually saying “Oh he’s friendy”.
I snap “I don’t care, your dog is supposed to be leashed – especially at the trail head!”
She stares and says “It’s fine”.
Me: “No, it isn’t. I have a reactive dog and I have no idea if yours is friendly.”
Her: “He is.”
Me: “But you have no idea if mine is or not. He has leash reactivity, he’s a rescue and he’s in training.”
Her: *blankly staring* “So. . . ?”
Me: “HE. HAS. FEAR. AGGRESSION.”
Her: “Oh. . . so you want me to move?”
Me: “That’d be great, yeah.”
Mulder this whole time is sitting at my feet, albeit whimpering anxiously. Managing to get by her and the rest of her party without incident, I praised the holy fuck out of him and turned in time to see the entire group head out on the trail without leashed dogs.
To be honest, I fibbed a little. Mulder doesn’t have fear aggression toward people or other dogs. He does, however, have leash reactivity and expresses a mild level of frustration when greeting other dogs on a leash. For this reason, I am training him to ignore other dogs and do not want him to greet other dogs while leashed. Meeting new dogs on leashes is stressful, and the straight on approach can be aggressive to some dogs. Energy levels do not always match, and there are very few people who are able to successfully read dog body language.
Now, let me making this clear: I don’t have a single issue with incredibly well trained dogs off leash. I used to run my family’s GSD’s off leash constantly. Willow and Grissom are exceptionally well trained, responding to verbal and nonverbal cues despite any amount of distraction. And yet, I still leash them when we encounter other dogs.
It’s what you do as a responsible, knowledgeable dog owner.
Other dog owners do not know my dog. They do not know I’m training a rescue with a sketchy background. They don’t know if he’s neutered, has a bite history, or has reactivity. And yet, even when I tell people to back off, they reply “Oh, it’s fine.” and continue to approach with their straining, whining mess of a dog.
No, it’s not.
My dog does not have to meet everyone to socialize. This includes people, dogs, children, etc. It is my number one priority to keep my dog safe. To keep him safe, I need to control his experiences. Why do other dog owners so willing to put their dogs at risk by greeting someone who does not want to interact with them?
This is why dog fights occur.
Furthermore, this is how bites happen. I place myself in between Mulder and strange dogs to keep him safe. What happens when your “friendly” dog tries to go after mine and bites me instead?
Well Lindsay, you might say, how ’boutcha don’t walk your dog where you’ll encounter other people?
Well you ignorant bag of dicks, I’ll say, why should I have to change my behavior when I’m the one following the rules? My dog is always leashed, always under control, and is not a danger to society. I am actively training him and use my hikes to further our training. I should be able to walk down the street (or trail…) with Mulder without harassment or molestation. I do not hike to be social with other dogs – I hike for physical activity, training, and to strengthen the relationship I have with my dog. I should not have to ask for common courtesy or basic boundaries.
If you’re a dog owner with a dog that “just wants to say hi” – You. Are. An. Inconsiderate. Asshole.