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Walking

Walking

Who’s the snob?

Almost all of my friends have dogs. And I like almost every one of those dogs–but that doesn’t mean I want to walk with all of them. I actually really enjoy walking with just a few of them.

One reason has more to do with our walking styles. I really like to walk fast. Most dogs I know like to get out and really cover some miles, too. (The one exception to this was a female dog I knew who was the most persistent urine-marker I’ve ever known. Fun for her was stopping every five feet to mark the territory. I dog-sat her from time to time and it was torture for both of us: I made her walk faster and mark less than she wanted to, and she forced me to stop way more times than I liked.)

I also like to walk on trails, in places where well-behaved dogs can go off-leash. I am lucky enough to have miles and miles of trails and open space quite close to my house, making this experience a daily possibility.

However, at risk of sounding snobby, I just can’t feel comfortable walking with someone whose dog is poorly trained or who has bad canine social skills. It makes me so tense that I just can’t enjoy the company, the exercise, or even my own dog.

One friend’s dog tries to hump many of the dogs we pass on the trail. It’s not sexual, it’s just canine rudeness. He’s a young adult male, neutered, and I think he’s just bored and looking for a little excitement–which he certainly gets, because at least half of the dogs he tries to hump naturally take exception to this behavior from an absolute stranger, and they respond with some aggressive behavior: a snarl, snap, whirling about, growling, or an outburst of barking. When this happens, my friend’s dog whirls away gaily, like he was just given a prize. Other dogs just stand there, afraid or uncaring, and in this case, it’s always the owners who react. My friend yells ineffectively at her dog, and the other owner may yell, too. Either way, the humper doesn’t quit until someone is proximate enough to attempt to drag him off the other dog, at which point he dances joyously away again. Such a canine jerk!

The same dog also makes it a habit to cross the trail directly in front of anyone coming in the opposite direction, whether it’s a jogger, bicyclist, or another walker. This behavior isn’t just rude, it’s potentially dangerous for him and the other trail users.

My friend doesn’t seem to notice how obnoxious her dog’s behaviors are to other people. But my discomfort about these encounters definitely diminishes her enjoyment of our time together. I try to stifle my own response–it’s not my dog and for sure not my responsibility to address these issues. And I hate it when people offer unsolicited advice about other people’s dogs or children. But it’s difficult enough that I’d prefer to just not repeat the experience.

I know other people who frequently badger their dogs on the trail, calling them back (from puddles or poison oak or areas that appear to contain stickers) so frequently that the dogs just tune out and disregard the calls 90 percent of the time.

I don’t know anyone who yanks on her dog’s collar all the time, but that would be a deal-breaker for me, too.

Fortunately, I have a few friends who have a similar comfort level with letting their dogs enjoy themselves on the trail–without endangering or aggravating any other dogs, people, or wildlife. We allow our dogs to run ahead or fall behind as much as a hundred yards without yelling at them, approach and even sniff at the very edge of the cliff above the railroad tracks without freaking out, drink out of mud puddles and even to roll in cow poop, oh the glory! Our poopy, stickery dogs may not contribute to a pleasant ride home in the car, but I am certain that no one else in town will ever feature one of our dogs in a story about the dog that made them fall on the trail or that made their dog so mad it started a dog fight. I do sound like a snob.

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