"Don't worry he's friendly!"
Training Rey, my almost one year old girl, recall and allowing her to be off leash when appropriate has been one of the greatest joys of dog ownership. She blows my mind with how smart and well-behaved she is, and she is so kind and full of love for every person and dog that she meets.
She's not perfect and I would never put her in harms way with our training; read my post on tips on off-leash/recall training.
Though I trust her to come when called and that she would never hurt even a fly, we are very serious about the 'dogs must be on leash' bylaws. Here is why:
Reese, who has now passed since I wrote the draft for this post (editing this is so painful), had been through a lot before I adopted him in 2018, and because of this he was very fearful and has done what he felt was necessary to protect himself. I discovered very quickly in those first few weeks of owning him, that he was dog-reactive. Very dog reactive. This means simply that he reacts whenever he encounters any dog.
Going for walks around my neighbourhood was a task. If he even caught a glimpse of another dog he would lose his marbles. Barking, lunging, paying no attention to "sit" or "come", simple commands he knew well. I would have no choice but to cross the street, practically dragging Reese away from other dogs.
In October of 2018, after a bad incident between Reese and Riley, our Golden, I joined Unleashed Potential K9 in Halifax I learned to train Reese using an e-collar. This helped me get Reese's attention when he was so caught in a trance by another dog. A 'poke' essentially to say "Reese, listen to me."
Our walks have been so wonderful lately; Reese has come so far. We can walk through our neighbourhood peacefully, and though we don't greet other dogs, we can at least pass by without any reactivity. Since we can now do this, I would absolutely love to take Reese to trails where he can explore, but I won't.
I'm sure your dog is friendly, I would to any parks and trails that are not off-leash, with specific signage stating 'Dog's Must Be On Leash', but I couldn't. We have tried. As long as dogs are on leash and controlled by their owners, Reese would be completely fine with a walk in even a busy trail. However, we have been to Point Pleasant Park, we have specifically avoided the off-leash sections of the Park, and Reese and I have gone running in the opposite direction from an off-leash dog while the owner shouts "Don't worry he's friendly!"
I'm sure you dog is friendly, I would love to meet your dog, I so wish Reese could have said hello as well. But we couldn't. I know you dog owners, and you mean well. You love your dogs, you love other dogs, and you would never purposely put your dog, or another dog at risk. But you unintentionally are.
So because of this, we avoided trails. Reese was taken away the ability to enjoy what other dogs easily enjoy. I could take him in a muzzle, and I have, but he didn't enjoy that, and he shouldn't have to be muzzled when he is being well-behaved and there are rules in place that should protect us.
"Don't Worry He's Friendly"
A few months ago on our walk around our neighbourhood we were tested. We weren't even five houses away from our own, when a man was leaving his driveway headed to his car on the street. We were pretty close so I turned Reese to face me, away from the man, and gave him the command 'look'. He focused on me and I rewarded him. We continued our walk and he ignored the man. Such a good boyyyyy.
We were just passing the same driveway the man exited, when we heard paws running quickly... towards us. I look up the driveway to see an English Bulldog (I believe) heading full speed towards us. Without hesitation, without a command, I ran. Reese ran with me. David was with us, with Riley, and he chose to stay put trying to draw the dog towards Riley. (We did not have fear that this dog was vicious).
The dog's owners were chasing the dog, clearly his escape was an accident. I stopped, and when we turned around the dog was headed towards us again, and he came almost nose to nose with Reese. Again, I ran; Reese came without a struggle. My only thought was 'don't let Reese hurt this dog'. However, he didn't lunge, he didn't bark, he didn't growl. He actually blew me away. Such. A. Good. Boy.
They're yelling "He won't bite! He's friendly!" But I'm doing everything I can to keep Reese on one side of me, and mr. Bulldog on the other side. When they got their dog back they apologized repeatedly and said again, "He's so friendly, he wouldn't bite". I believe it, he was super cute, it didn't seem anything more than a dog trying to say 'hi'.
We of course accepted their apologies, but also just explained that I wasn't at all worried about their dog, only that Reese is nervous and he doesn't always do well with dogs. I wasn't at all trying to make them feel guilty; a mistake had happened, but it could have been bad. Of course, I had also forgotten to put Reese's "In Training" vest on. Sigh.
I wasn't worried about who would have been at fault, I was worried about trying to break up a fight after so much progress had been made. So much progress, in fact, that without verbal command and no need to touch the e-collar, Reese behaved. He even took a treat from me (nervous dogs generally cannot eat).
We've Come Too Far
Truthfully I'm thankful for that incident. It taught Reese to retreat in those circumstances, it also taught Reese that I would take care of him, it showed him that in the presence of a dog he was safe. I made sure he was safe. Reese didn't choose to take control of the situation which has been the biggest struggle in our training; he allowed me to take control.
Our constant training, his trust in me, and me choosing not to panic, is what helped in this situation. What didn't help was 'he's friendly'. These were responsible dog owners, I know they are. They did not take the situation lightly, they thought that I was scared of him and we're doing everything they could to get him back. They tried to reassure me, but their dog was not my concern.
Off-leash dogs in trails were my concern. The owners do not chase their dog because (s)he is intentionally off-leash. When their dog approaches Reese they say "He's friendly!" and continue their leisurely pace. "Everyone does it" is the response. Meaning nobody really listens to the on-leash rule, so it's 'not that big of a deal'. It was a big deal for me, because I had to decide whether or not I will go; if I would risk all of our training.
I have dove into bushes or ran the other way. I have scars on my arms from trying to hold Reese while an off-leash dog tried to approach. People have told me that Reese should be muzzled, but why? If I have control of my dog, and the rules in place mean you should be in control of your dog, why should Reese have had to suffer.
We had come too far to risk taking a step backwards, because it wouldn't just be one step backwards, Reese could lose faith in me, in my ability to keep him safe, he would see other dogs as a threat again. I won't risk it.
So myself, and other dog-reactive owners, make the decision to avoid these areas. There are a lot of us, by the way. The community of reactive dog-owners is not small, and we are trying so hard to train our dogs, but also to raise awareness.
I've Been There
I am not trying to shame anyone, simply put our struggles out there. Because I have been that owner. I had a shih tsu, with very little training, or at least he didn't listen to 12 year old me. We walked the First Lake trails off leash because he wouldn't hurt anyone! But he also had zero recall.
It never occurred to me that Charlie could set off another dog, or that he could get hurt. But again, I was also twelve... Twelve years later and I have learned so much from Reese that I wouldn't have known unless he came into my life, or I was otherwise made aware of these issues.
Please Hear Me
Ignorance is not always an excuse though. I took Rey and Riley to Victoria Park, a clearly marked 'on-leash' area. A woman approached us with her dog and asked 'Do you let your dogs off leash?'. I simply told her it was an on-leash park. To which she replied 'yea... but I'm sure others do it.' I kindly explained to her my situation with Reese, that if he were here I would expect that people obey the rules, so that we can enjoy our walk peacefully. She had never thought of that before, but now she knew.
As we were coming back from our walk, we heard yelling, and we looked across the park to see the same lady chasing after her dog who was running full speed, off-leash towards another dog. She heard me, and she didn't listen; that other dog could have been me and Reese.
So I'm begging that you hear me, and that you listen. Myself and other owners desperately want to take our dogs on the adventures that you're blessed to be able to go on. We are out here seeking empty forests, or trails so far that nobody would possibly be there, but we are also constantly looking over our shoulders; we don't get to relax.
In Memory of Reesey, gone too soon.
I had written those post mid June with the intention of posting, until the realization of what was happening to my dear boy.
His story, however, will not go untold. There are so many things that need to be said about our training, about rescues, about the impacts of animal abuse on their life, and so much more. Reese has taught me so much and I miss him incredibly.