Tuesday Topics #45 - What Do You Say?

It's spring break here, and the mustard is in full force. Yesterday, I took about a million photos of Cabana for our annual mustard shot (well, maybe not a million, but at least 20), and this is the only one that turned out even halfway decent. Pathetic!

Yesterday on our walk, we met a woman walking a shih tzu-type dog. The dog was straining to meet Cabana, and the woman asked if Cabana was friendly. I said yes and we allowed the dogs to meet. The problem was, HER dog wasn't that friendly! He immediately put his front paws up on Cabana's back and got snippy and territorial of his owner. Cabana quickly moved away from the woman and the dog, and the woman said, "Oh look, they're playing." I thought, uh no, that's not playing. Obviously, this woman was completely oblivious to her dog's body language and uneducated about dog interactions. She wasn't a bad person or a bad dog owner, and her dog was probably a very nice dog--but they lacked knowledge and socialization experience. As we walked on, I chided myself for not having spoken up and for allowing her to continue thinking that her dog was "playing".

Then today, an older couple brought their black lab mix, Zena, to the park. I had met them a few times before, so I knew they had rescued their dog fairly recently, maybe 2-3 months ago. Every time Zena comes to the park, other dogs react strangely toward her. Non-aggressive dogs get a bit aggressive. Submissive dogs get overly submissive. And Cabana just avoids her like the plague. Zena tends to hackle, and I keep watching her to figure out what it is about her that makes the other dogs behave differently. Is she anxious, fearful, insecure? Probably a mixture of all those things.

Maybe because I had been silent yesterday with the shih tzu incident, today I decided to say something. Here was this nice couple who had rescued a black dog (usually the hardest dogs to adopt out), and I wanted to see them succeed and have a good experience. So I just asked the couple if they had ever worked with a trainer and that maybe they might want to, since Zena seemed to be sending some unusual vibes. The man answered by saying that he didn't know about working with a trainer, but that one thing he did know is that Zena loves to play with Bella, a young Golden Retriever at the park. Moments before, I had witnessed Zena completely overpowering and pinning Bella, who is just about as submissive as a dog can get. I explained that, ideally, you want to see both dogs taking turns being on top and playing equally, rather than one always getting the upper hand while the other one keeps trying to get away.

But now, I feel like I should have kept my mouth shut, and I'm chiding myself for being a know-it-all!

We all have times when we see other dog owners doing things that we don't agree with. Sometimes, it's just that they don't know better, but sometimes, they think what they're doing is right. Of course, we don't want to finger wag or get obnoxious, but sometimes, a well-meaning and appropriately stated comment can be helpful. I'm not sure if that couple found my little comments helpful; they probably just thought, who asked for your opinion?!

Do you ever tell other dog owners what you think? Is there a way to provide unsolicited advice in a manner that will be well-received and make a difference? Or is it really none of our business and we should just keep it to ourselves?

Raiser Erin  – (March 19, 2013 at 2:08 PM)  

In general, as fellow dog owners, the way someone else's dog behaves is our business. If another dog is behaving aggressively and the owner believes that it is just play they need to be set straight. As much as for their dogs safety as your own.

It's really all about picking and choosing our battles. You wouldn't tell someone else how to raise their children. Sometimes I walk around and see dogs misbehaving on lead or hear their owners say some ridiculous thing and those are the things that I tend to let slide. If the actions and behavior of one dog is going to affect my dog then I speak up.

If I were Bella's owner I probably would have said something to them about their dog seemed overly dominant and that that wasn't play behavior and explain to them that it's almost like watching a bully push your child over and have the other parent call it "play".

Again, I tend to only speak up when the other dog's behavior could affect my dog negatively.

Mimi and CC Cabana  – (March 19, 2013 at 2:28 PM)  

Thanks, Erin, I think you hit the nail on the head. If it's directly affecting us, we need to speak up, for our dog's safety. But other than that, maybe it's just asking for trouble!

Erin  – (March 19, 2013 at 5:25 PM)  

I've struggled with this as well. I work in a vet clinic and see a lot of misinterpreted behavior. I used to bite my tongue, but I've found myself speaking up more and more. Its about the dogs well being not the peoples feelings. lol

"He's so bad!" - No he's just nervous, most dogs get nervous! How would you feel if you got poked and proded hahaha (laughter, smiles all important)

"SIT! I SAID SIT!" - He's trying to sit, but you have to remember he's in a new place, and he's stressed he's fine.

There have been times I should have should have spoken up more. Guy smacking his dog? Then said dog bit someone? SHOULD HAVE warned him before things escalated.


Mimi and CC Cabana  – (March 20, 2013 at 6:26 AM)  

Erin, in a vet's office, you have a certain amount of authority, so you have more credence when you tell dog owners something. I think it's good that you speak up, especially if you feel like it might be well received. Some people, like the guy smacking his dog, probably wouldn't listen no matter who was telling him. Sounds like he's got bigger problems than his relationship with his dog.

Dexter  – (March 29, 2013 at 4:57 AM)  

Oh dear, I wish that your words were not familiar. I recently finished a great dog class where the instructor spent a lot of time on proper dog greeting and how to interpret the body language. Throughout the six week class, there were handlers who, even with this one on one instruction just weren't getting it. So no surprise that casual walkers aren't really seeing what is going on.

I have found attempts at educating owners to be universally fruitless. My tactic is now avoidance. Yes, I use Dexter as my stooge (sorry buddy). During any meeting with another dog, if I see the other dog start to behave in a dominant way, I back away, calling Dexter to me along with a chipper "well, we have to get going, nice to meet you." If I can tell from a distance that Dex is going to have an issue I say to the handler "I'm training my dog now, so I can't let him meet yours."

Of course it was even worse with Mango. I *always* told people that Mango was mean and that we could certainly not do any sort of on leash meet and greet. That wasn't true. Mango was quite keen to meet other dogs (although there were dogs that he would AR AR AR at). But I just couldn't risk getting up close with a clueless owner.

Mango Momma

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