My Letter to the Friendly Dog Owner
Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast
Hello, and welcome back to the spicy dog mama podcast. It's episode five, and I'm your host, Cassidy. I can't believe that we are already past one month into this journey together. I love where this has taken me, the connections that I've made, and the stories that I've been hearing since starting this podcast. And I love hearing your feedback- why you like listening, and what you want to listen to. Honestly, it makes my day knowing that I'm providing something that makes other people feel heard, and related to and just helps them on their journey with a reactive dog or somebody who has never even owned a dog, but is just learning so much. And I think that's really valuable information to be out there; just the honest truth from dog people.
So for this episode, as a reactive dog owner, I actually want to talk specifically to the owners of the friendly dogs. Also, the people who don't own dogs at all, what I wish you would know, and what I would love for you to do differently. This one's for you.
My first dog was a Shih Tzu. I was 11 years old, and we got a Shih Tzu. Really my first dog that I remember, and I'm not really here to talk too much about Charlie. But I remember at around 12/13 years old, we're living in Sackville, and I'm taking Charlie to the Second Lake trail, if you're familiar with it. And this completely untrained, reactive (though I didn't know the term at the time) dog... I was letting off leash because he's a Shih Tzu. What's he going to do if he approaches a dog? Again, I'm 13 years old. That was me. And I didn't really learn otherwise for quite a few years. And it wasn't until I met a dog who was no longer the "he's just a Shih Tzu" or "don't worry, he's friendly", but instead, it was a dog who I realized did not appreciate other dogs in its face. And I was actually quite nervous of what would happen if a dog did get into its space. So I will start this off by saying, and I've said it before, I offer a lot of grace to the friendly dog owners, or those who have never learned any differently. But I'm telling you now, I'm telling you what we all want you to know, what we are begging for you to understand. This is my letter to the friendly dog owners.
First off, I want to say that I'm sorry (but I'm not actually sorry) that we can be a little cranky... or a lot cranky. We're stressed, we're trying so hard. And we are constantly being faced with situations that - per the bylaws and just general consideration for other people and dog owners - we shouldn't be in. We want to be able to just walk our dogs in on leash areas and be safe. But that's asking a lot, apparently. And so when we are faced with off leash dogs that come at us, or people with their dogs on retractable leashes that are just allowing them to come into our space, or even crossing the road to try to get their dog to say hi to ours, and we might snap. But that's because you're not the first offense. It's not just you that we're mad at its constant repetitive behavior that we're just tired of, and we've been fighting for a long time for our dogs.
What makes it really hard is we might have been making a lot of progress, our dogs have been doing so well, and you won't even understand how hard it is to find a space for our dogs to go to that we know that they are safe. Walking down the street on a subdivision that we know well, not necessarily safe, there can be off leash dogs that come or just people who don't respect our boundaries and the space that we need. Off leash trails where there are fines for off leash dogs, there are still off leash dogs. You go to places that you should be safe and time and time again, we're faced with these obstacles. And when our dog is making progress, all of a sudden there's a setback. And we don't know how far that will set us back. When you've made this progress and you've gone days or weeks or months without your dog having a reaction, or an explosion as I call it with Rey. When you finally see that, you, in that moment, don't remember how many months you went without one, you're just looking at that one moment. So when we're lashing out at you, being cranky, saying whatever we may be saying, understand that we're going through something right now. We're grieving all of the progress that we made and we don't know how far it'll be before we get back there.
But even if we're getting angry or saying things to you and our dog is being perfectly well behaved, that's because we know the risks. Yes, our dog looks fine, right now, you just want your dog to say hi, or your dog is off leash, and they're friendly, or whatever your reasoning may be. But we are not willing to risk our dog taking some steps back in their progress, we are not willing to let them think that we're not ready to advocate for them or keep them safe. So we will yell at you to get your dog or to respect us, because that is us protecting our dog. We want our dogs to know, they don't need to react, but we will. Refer to my blog post "am I more reactive than my dog?"
Now when we're not busy yelling at you for your off leash dog, and you're actually with your very respectful, calm dog on leash, just trying to walk by us and go about your business. But our dog does have a reaction or is not okay with your presence, your dog's presence, whatever the case may be, and they may be losing their minds. Please, don't look at us like that. We are doing our best. We're not happy with how our dogs behaving might not be happy with how we're behaving. But the judgment, the stairs, the scowls, it's not everybody, but it's enough of you that we all feel the same way. Our dog is having a hard time, we are having a hard time, and we just need support. We have a dog, you have a dog, aren't we all in this together? We're all just trying to do what's best for our dog. I'm sorry that my dog is behaving this way. And maybe you're concerned about the safety of you or your dog and I get that. But now you know, our dog is maybe scared or frustrated. Maybe it's very friendly. But it's just going ham on the leash because all it wants to do is say hi. And some people say things like "why don't you train your dog?" or, you know, "get your dog under control!" OH! We haven't tried that one before: train our dogs. Okay, I'm gonna give that one a shot. See how that goes.
We are trying, we're doing our best! And we just beg of you, don't look at us that way. Or if you see us walking with our dogs in a muzzle per my last episode, there are so many reasons why a dog might be wearing a muzzle our reactive dogs might be wearing a muzzle and that is not necessarily because it will 100% charge for you and your dog and it's going to attack it is very likely not that case at all. But when you see a dog wearing a muzzle, please recognize that that is a dog who is in training, trying to figure itself out, has some issues, but we're working on it. And that's a responsible owner if somebody has put a muzzle on their dog and has taken the time to condition their dog to a muzzle, that is a responsible dog owner and probably a dog who is actually under a lot of control.
And the last thing that we need from people in those scenarios is unsolicited advice. I was once walking Reese and a dog passed by and Reese had a minor reaction compared to what he had previously done. And I quickly got him settled and had him look at me and I gave him a treat. And this person passing by said "You don't reward bad behavior." And I'm too sheepish, but my two friends, my sister and my other friend, just went at this lady like "you don't know where this dog has been. You don't know this dog like you don't can't say anything!" and I thank them for that. I didn't say a single thing but you don't know where those dogs started, where they came from. In that moment. Reese reacted and I quickly got his attention back on me so I rewarded him where previously he would be reacting and reacting. I'd have to drag him the opposite direction and even still, he'd be losing his mind huffing and puffing hackles up. So don't tell me that I'm doing the wrong thing with my dog. You know nothing about my situation. We do not need unsolicited advice. We need encouragement.
My reactive dog deserves the right to be out in public safely, just like any other dog, we want to be able to go to an on-leash park, or just simply walk down the road and know that we are safe. Or if we do decide to go to a trail that is on leash, but it's really quiet out in the wilderness. So "everybody lets their dog off leash there. No biggie", it is a biggie. We want, and we should be able to go to places where we know that we're safe. That's all we want. If we see a trail that is beautiful, and we know that our dog would have a blast exploring through nature, maybe on a long line, or just on a leash, we deserve that right to go there. And when we come across the friendly off leash dogs, again, I'm not saying it's everybody, but this is from many people's including my own experience. And we say "please leash your dogs." And we're begging, we're desperate, we're nervous and frustrated. And they say, "Oh, don't worry, they're friendly". Okay, well, we're going to worry, the issue is not necessarily your dog.
And whether or not it's a fact that my dog will bite, what about the fact that they're just nervous and anxious and don't want the dog in their space? Don't they deserve the right to feel safe in a space that legally requires that dogs be on leash, and they are entitled to feeling that safe and not being nervous about going out to a trail that is there for everybody. Imagine going to a public space as a human, and being forced to give hugs, or converse with people that you don't know, no matter what, no matter how you're feeling, or if you like people, or if you have anxiety, and being told, while you're out in public, "you have to deal with this. Otherwise, just stay home".
Dogs deserve that right too especially when it is literally a law in some areas, that your dog remains on leash, if your dog is friendly, I'm so happy for you. It is wonderful that you have a dog that loves everybody and everything. And there's a part of me that wishes that I had that dog too. But I don't. And I actually love my dog and the experiences that we've been through and what they've taught me, because I now have so much more respect for those dogs that don't love every dog. And they also don't have to. I am a social introvert. I have my small circle of people. I can do okay in social settings, but I don't want to be there necessarily. I don't do well at parties. You're getting to know way too much about me. But why should we expect that dogs just get along with absolutely everything they come into contact with no questions asked. You have to love that other dog or you have to love that person seems like an unrealistic expectation to put on our dogs seems like an unfair expectation honestly.
And yet we go to these places that are on leash, they should be safe for us, they should be safe for our dogs, we shouldn't have this anxiety. We do, no matter what, we do. But if we come across an off leash dog in an on-leash area, and our dog has the reaction, all of a sudden, were the bad guys, were the ones who we should have just stayed at home, our dog shouldn't have been allowed to come out here. Well, first off, just because our dog is having a reaction. You also need to know that that does not mean that they're aggressive. Maybe they're scared of that situation that they're in because your dog came flying at them and came into their space. And that's not something that they're comfortable with. And it shouldn't have happened but a dog that is barking or lunging or maybe even growling, it does not even mean that they're aggressive. They're just trying to communicate that I don't want you in my space. And we've brought them to a place that the scenario shouldn't have even occurred.
The unfortunate part is that most of us avoid these areas no matter what. Even if the laws are [that] the dog has to be on leash. We have learned like Second Lake, where I brought my Shih Tzu it is known to be an area that "Oh don't worry, everybody lets their dog off leash, it's okay." But it's not okay. It's a beautiful trail that should be enjoyed by every dog. You can bet that the reactive dogs are probably under a lot of control, have a lot of training and they're not a problem. You can pass them on the side of the road and might not even know that they're reactive. They just look like an incredibly, well behaved dog, because we've put that effort in. And yet, we're the ones that have to avoid these beautiful trails, because of other people who aren't obeying the leash laws.
And when we're out in public, and your dog really wants to say, Hi, I love it, I love that your dog is so social and just wants to make all the friends but, sorry, buddy, my dog actually would appreciate some space and doesn't want that to happen right now. I don't know if it's actually surprising to non-dog owners, or friendly dog owners, that we get a lot of grief by saying no, by advocating for our dogs by saying that's not what they want. People scowl or act entitled as if they deserve the right, their dog deserves the right to say hi to our dog, who is very anxious, and doesn't want that at all. The confusing part is a lot of reactive dogs are very calm. And if they're not reacting, they're just... they're listening to their handler, they're responding to what we're asking of them. So they look like a prime candidate for somebody that their dog can say hi to, but they're acting that way because they trust us to not put them into a situation that they don't want to be in. So no, your dog can't say hi. And we're not trying to be rude. We're not trying to offend you. This is just what our dog needs right now. And we would really appreciate it if you respected that. Even just the fact that somebody may ask if their dog can say, hi, that's huge. We need more of that. Don't just let your dog approach another dog. Don't just assume that because the dog is calm [that] it wants to say hi.
And also, if a dog is reacting, I've had some people ask before, "oh, would it be better if they just said hi?" And honestly, there's a part of me that actually appreciate that answer, because that's somebody who sees my reactive dog, and doesn't assume that they're just aggressive or out to kill. I appreciate that. But know if my dog is reacting, there's a few reasons why I don't want them to say hi. First off, she's reacting because she's uncomfortable with the situation. And the best thing for her is to defuse a situation. For some dogs, they're reacting out of frustration because they want to say hi, they actually do. But if you then let your dog say hi, while they're in that state, what they've learned is, 'when I react, I get to say, Hi, I get what I want. This is cool. I know what to do.' So no matter what the reason is for the reactivity. They're not in a state of mind to say hi, way too heightened. But also, you want to train them that behavior is not okay. If they're reacting, and then you force them to say hi, when they don't want to that does not help them trust you. If they're reacting because they want to say hi, and you let them say hi, you're rewarding that behavior. So no, my dog does not want to say hi, but thank you, I appreciate it. Thank you for respecting my space and what my dog needs while I advocate for my dog.
As I've said in the first episode, "What is Reactivity?", reactive dogs are not rare, a lot of dogs are reactive either they're undiagnosed, the owner does not actually realize that they are reactive, or you don't see them because we don't go out, or our dogs are actually so well behaved. We've got them under such control that they don't look reactive. But reactive dogs are very common. It's actually not common for a dog to be overly social to love every human, every dog, that's actually not common in dogs. But so many dogs are reactive that they avoid those spaces. So people who either don't own dogs or have the super social friendly dogs never or rarely see reactive dogs. So it just makes sense that they don't realize they exist. So again, I don't blame anybody for not realizing or understanding or for having the opinion of "Oh, everybody comes here off leash, it's no biggie." It is a biggie. We do care. We really want you to understand where we're coming from, why we feel the way that we do, why we're so spicy. And we just beg of you to understand us and to sympathize with us because it could have been you. We don't always know why our dog is reactive [or] what caused it. You could have been the owner with the reactive dog. So take a minute to step into our shoes, and to see what that looks like and how you would feel and what you would want from somebody else with a friendly dog.
If you call yourself a dog lover, do you not also love the reactive dogs and understand what they're going through or try to understand what they're going through and to sympathize. Maybe not with the owners but with the dog, that they're going through a hard time. And it takes a village, right? It takes a village to raise it, we need support. The community is so important when going through this. And I don't think that reactive dogs only need to be surrounded by other reactive dog owners, I think we need to all be together in this.
Well, thank you so much for listening if you are the owner of a friendly dog or not even a dog owner at all, or if you're the owner of the reactive dog, thank you for listening. I hope that you got something from this episode. I hope that maybe you've learned something or can take something away from it that can just help everybody on their journey. Again, I'm not hating towards anybody who has maybe done what I've described in my podcast, I've been there I've had the dog who is super friendly and let them off leash, or the Shih Tzu, who's not at all friendly and still let them off leash with no recall. I've been there. It's okay, you learn from it. I'm just hoping that somebody is learning from this. So if you enjoyed this episode, or if you didn't, I'm open to criticism. Even still, like rate, review, follow, subscribe, share it with your friends.
But again, I want to hear your thoughts. So you can find me on Instagram @spicydogmama. Or you can send me an email. It is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your thoughts. And do you have something to share? I would love to talk with somebody about their story, their journey, what they've learned what they want people to know. Are you an expert or professional in certain area? Let's chat I would absolutely love that. And as always, you can find my girl Rey on Instagram @mylittlepibble. She's my reactive girl. I don't think I've said her name once in this episode, which is actually very strange. But you can watch and read about her journeys as a reactive dog. And you can also scroll way back in the history find some about Reese. He's my reactive boy and you can watch his journey. And if you are the owner of a reactive dog, and you're looking for a community that supports, loves and encourages one another, please join my Facebook group Balancing Reactivity Canadian Dogs, I'll have a link in the description. We just want to share our stories, ask questions in a safe environment where there is absolutely no shame. And we also plan pack walks, no matter what region you're in. We're trying to expand and find people who are in the same boat as you that you can walk with and train with and just build these connections that is so important, or at least for me, it has helped me so much on my journey.
Once again I thank you for listening. I hope you all have a great week. You're doing amazing.