Last night, I went on a bit of an adventure. Gwynn and I left for our evening walk, loaded with books in need of returning, treats, the training leash, and a plan to practice the Come command somewhere new. Somewhere new would be the school yard of a school I’d never been to, in a neighbourhood I generally only drive through, right near Tall Sister’s friend’s house. It being near the friend’s house is only an advantage because it meant I could tease Tall Sister about her conviction that I’m stalking her friends. She started thinking this after I had pointed out a third house for sale (or that I wanted to be for sale) that happened to be adjacent to yet another of her friends’ houses. It’s pretty much the only reason I know where any of her friends live.
Back to the plan at hand – trek to the library, go past the library into a different neighbourhood (that is, GASP!, north of the main street, and therefore not my neighbourhood, which is on the south side), train the dog to be amazing at the Come command, dazzle strangers with his recently-bathed clean-and-fluffy look. Did I mention that Short Sister and I did battle against the stinky side of dog ownership on Sunday? Resounding success, he has white legs again, and smells of baby soap, instead of swamp.
One thing I’ve noticed about walking Gwynn is that random strangers are more likely to address him than they are to address me. A trio of teenage boys, walking in that teenage-boy-too-cool-for-life way, walked past me, fully intending (I think) to pretend that I wasn’t actually there. The closest one to me, however, couldn’t resist the force of my dog’s gravitational field. The surly teenager look of bland indifference (Too COOL! Lol) was wiped from his face, replaced by the “Awwwwwwww, SO CUTE” expression people acquire when looking at babies and puppies (and my big fluffy puppy). He strayed from formation (standard teenage boy flying V shape… like in the Mighty Ducks, only without skates) long enough to bend over Gwynn clucking softly, before darting back into position and resuming his original expression. “Nah, man, I didn’t stop for that dog, I had to tie my shoe!”
Moving past the library, I discovered that this other neighbourhood is very different from my own. Or maybe it was just the people I met while there that is skewing my perception.
I ran into a series of dog people, all apparently determined to undermine the other dogs’ positions as ‘friendly and playing with Gwynn’.
Doodle Couple and I met at a street corner, and, while the dog was a bit older and not inclined to bounce around quite like Gwynn, he was friendly, and so were his owners. Along comes a bit of an odd character with bright red hair and a long red beard (tied into a chin ponytail with an elastic), with a tall roan dog. Before he gets within hearing distance, the Doodle Couple are edging away, and mutter to me, “that dog’s a pit-bull mix, be careful”.
Well, I’m not one to judge a dog based on what breed it is, especially since the few mean dogs I do know are not the breeds you’d expect them to be. Since Red and Roan are hustling towards us, I shout out my standard “Is your dog friendly?”, which gets a yes reply. Apparently not sufficient to the Doodle Couple, as they put on a very good ‘look at the time, oh my, we must get going’ show, and ran off down the street.
Roan (the boxer-German shepherd-Rhodesian ridgeback) plays well with Gwynn, a bit of rough play, but never giving me any concern about Gwynn’s safety. Soon another woman comes up, with another mystery-mix dog. As she crosses the street, she calls out in a British accent hat her dog is friendly (great!), and a puppy (also great!). As she heads towards us, Red leans in and says that this dog doesn’t seem all that friendly to him. He winds Roan in tight on her leash (remember how much more nervous a dog that can’t move at all feels, as mentioned in my last post?), and backs up a bit. As soon as mystery-mix and his Brit owner get within sniffing distance of Roan, the previously friendly Roan flips out and starts growling and barking. Red and Roan head off down the street, after he lets loose with the snide comment of “Yeah, my dog is a real good judge of character”.
What?! Did Red fail to notice which dog was tail-wagging and which dog was suddenly aggressive and growling? Also, I have to say, dogs read a lot into body language – what does he think he’s telling his dog with his body language when he’s already decided that the other dog must not be friendly? He’s communicating that things aren’t safe, beware! Also, Red… I gotta say – you’d think you’d be less judgemental of dogs when I bet you get a lot of people reacting badly about your pit-bull-looking dog. If my orange cotton-ball causes people to cross the street when they see us coming (or maybe I’m just that tough looking?), I bet your dog gets even more of that reaction. People are prejudiced, and your dog looks tough, even though she was friendly with Gwynn.
Well, of course, Brit and Duke (the German Shepherd-Lab mix) are left with me, and Brit looks like she just got slapped. Obviously, with that kind of parting shot – kind of hard to take it as anything but what it meant. But she’s looking at me for an explanation, because I’m the only other person present, and vaguely associated with Red. Gee, thanks Red!
She proceeds to abuse the clearly violent nature of Roan, and the clearly stupid nature of Red, and explain to me in detail how well trained her dog is, and how he’s usually off-leash, which is why he pulls on his leash (which apparently could be construed as violent and aggressive), and how sweet her dog is. Meanwhile, Duke and Gwynn are exchanging some sniffs and generally enjoying each other’s company. Duke is a bit timid, but friendly. I spent a few minutes reassuring her of this, and she went on her merry way.
And, of course, both Red and Brit mentioned the places they take their dogs to be off leash in the area, clearly inviting me to join friendly dogs (and not dogs like that guy/gal have, which are just plain mean!)… Nod and Smile, Alex, NOD AND SMILE, but agree to nothing. Gwynn and I hurried back down to the main street. I think I might stick to my own neighbourhood for a while. Apparently there is some kind of competition going on North of Main Street, and the winner gets Gwynn’s exclusive-doggy-friendship for their dog. Gwynn really just wants as many buddies as possible, preferably (for my sake) with owners who don’t say snarky things about each other behind each other’s backs (or to their faces… seriously, Red, that wasn’t very classy of you). Gwynn and I didn’t get to practice the Come command, but we did get to practice common courtesy and meet a few nice dogs and their slightly judgemental owners.
So… a few things about Pit Bulls that I found in a brief Google search (despite not having actually met one on my walk yesterday), because dog fear seems to come down to this breed as often as not. Did you know that the pit-bull used to be referred to as “America’s nanny-dog”? The family pet on “Little House on the Prairie”, the dog on “The Little Rascals”, and Helen Keller’s companion dog were all a form of Pit Bull(there are a few breeds that fit into that title). They work as therapy dogs and in search and rescue work. Some of them are mean and violent, but you can say that about any breed. I met someone the other day whose only previous encounter with an Aussie-doodle was a dog that got kicked out of his dog’s obedience class because it bit one of the other dogs. Sounds a lot like my friendly laid-back puppy, right? Ya, not so much. Not trying to rant or preach, I swear. It’s just that yesterday’s experience was such a ridiculous series of prejudices, it was hard to believe. Train your dog. Socialize your dog. Whatever breed it is, being a responsible pet owner will help to ensure that the dog is safe to have around people and dogs. As for breed specific legislation? Better to create an ownership licensing process, because it’s better for people to be aware of the potential danger of any dog than to judge a dog’s temperament based on how it looks.