Saturday, October 25, 2008

Out for a (Responsible) Walk

I have a ten year old Pit bull, Ruby. Nothing makes her day, and mine, more than the chance to walk on the waterfront. It’s peaceful there. Not long ago we snuck out of the house and started a leisurely walk on the waterfront, Ruby on a 4 foot leash in a prance, looking up at me, glued to my left leg. Suddenly, I heard a woman scream from several feet away, “Don’t let that dog bite me!” I quickly scanned around looking for the loose, dangerous dog. I thought I could probably help distract this dog from the woman long enough for her to escape harm. But I couldn’t see the dog. Suddenly I realized the frightened woman was pointing towards me. She was screaming at Ruby. I was 20 feet away. I was also too astonished for words and could only ask Ruby to sit as the woman ran frantically away.

It got me thinking though. If somebody 20 feet away fears for their safety because of a well mannered Pit bull in a heads-up obedience heel, we have a lot more educating to do. And we have a lot of catching up to do. The media has had a number of years and has used many outlets to scare people out of their wits when it comes to Pit bulls. In order to help turn the tide, pit bull owners should commit to making their dog the very best ambassador it can be. While out in public,

· obey your local leash laws.
· don’t allow your dog to run up to other dogs. Protect him from the consequences of a greeting gone bad.
· don’t allow your dog to run up to people. No matter how friendly your Pit bull is, not all people like dogs and some can become very frightened by a pit bull's effusive greeting.
· while in close quarters and passing others, ask your dog to look up at you and to walk close to you.
· clean up after your dog; it's common courtesy and it lessens the spread of disease. Most importantly, when you reach down to pickup after your dog, know where he is and what he’s doing while you’re concentrating on the clean up.
· when you turn a blind corner on a walk, make sure you look ahead and notice what might be hidden from view before your dog does. You don’t want to inadvertently run face-to-face with another dog that may not be friendly to yours.
· Be aware of dogs on retractable leashes and avoid them for your own, keeping your dogs close to you on walks. Besides, many cities have enacted six foot maximum leash laws.

Can you add anything to the list? I know my experience with the terrified woman is not an isolated event and I am certain you must have a similar story. But, with a trained, well managed dog, we should all be able to go about enjoying that leisurely, peaceful walk in our own neighborhoods.


Anonymous said...

Would it be permissible to just yell at the fleeing person


Just kidding

Sort of

Maybe a more appropriate thing to yell would be
"Would you like to meet my dog?"

I think meeting these dogs makes all the difference in the world.

I do wonder how many of these so called "attacks" are actually just dogs running up to say hello and scaring the bejebus out of frightened people,then the dog may get frightened and a punch or something else may be thrown in the direction of the dog and then it may escalate from there.

I would carry a portable video player and show them Newman`s recent video.
If you don`t immediately fall in love with Pit Bulls there is something seriously wrong with you.
I am seriously in love with that dog.I hope he corresponds soon!
Newman if you`re reading this..

Anonymous said...

I think that is one the most disappointing stories I have ever read. I cannot believe the stupidity of some people. Sadly, I no longer own a Bully...I miss her so. However, I am still a champion of the breed. They are wonderful; I wish people could see that. I walk my current dog, several days a week and we pass two bully’s; there is never any fear or aggression from any of us. I wish I could say that about the three chocolate labs...I fear the day the escape their yard. Good luck and thank you for being a great ambassador.

Unknown said...

Worse than those retractable leashes are tiny, unleashed dogs that approach without caution or even with aggression while their owners just watch. My male pittie is dog social and very tolerant, but my female mix is dog selective and can be leash reactive. It doesn't help when a small white fluffy jumps in her face!

Anonymous said...

My additions:
1. Smile. A little eye contact and a big smile goes a long way to diffuse fear. It is amazing how people soften once they realize THEY were having silly thoughts and got caught!
2. Teach your dog to do a trick that is cute and doesn't involve jumping or much movement. A seated wave is a great way to win over a fearful crowd.
3. Talk to people. I often address the fearful with "Oh I'm so sorry my dog is scaring you, could you tell me what you see that is scary so that I can fix it?" This gives them power to discuss their fears and me a forum for Pit Bull education.

Boris said...

You're the best and if you feel defensive how must your dog feel. As you know, they pick-up on the tension. Reminds me of McConnell's book "The Other End of the Leash" (where I got the term OEL), she talks about the difference between dogs and people. Sometimes us Dog people need lessons in managing People Behaviors.

Maybe a car driving analogy will help. We have a lot of road-rage in Tx, and that probably is a similar feeling of Ca on walk-paths. Everyone wants their space and you often aren't sure if that is on-your bumper, 2 seconds or 4 second rule. We are taught that 'Tailgaters are Lane changers' so, they'll go by you if you slow down.

Similarly, 'dog fearers are irrational' so give them all the space they need to escape. Just realize that some folks out there will give you that 'look' and you have to be aware of it. Like we do with our dogs:
- don't get fixated, avoid the stare, keep your composure and if need be avoid them, and at all cost don't turn towards them or snap-off. Remember it isn't about your dog it is about their misguided fear.

- So, on the street, don't respond verbally to the negative, especially to fears which are often irrational. Your words, even calming ones, won't educate or change their deranged minds. Acknowledge with a "Good Morning, it does look like it might rain" and move on.

- Do like you've said, let your dog's behavior and your composure speak.

OK but dog people think it is about our dog breed so, back to suggestions. Most of this good and commoon sense come from the ladies in Boris and my life (Sheena and her OEL):

- Do keep bringing your dog out as you encourage other well mannered dogs to come out too.

- Do encourage other pet walkers when you are out, especiially ones with Pibbles. One comment like "you have a beautiful and well mannered dog" gives them confidence while helping those on watchers to notice what good behavior is.

O.K. back to the people, What does work is with training of our dogs - be assertive but calm, use our 'squeeky voice' and praise good behavior. So what can you do to avoid being missunderstood.
- Do greet people with a load, clear and HAPPY voice when you pass or go around them, using a friendly greeting; 'Good Morning' even if you don't feel it. Avoid starteling

- Do find and support dog-friendly vendors, coffee-shops and stores where your pet is welcome.

- Even if you aren't a social butterfly, work to make sure your dog is introduced and known by name in the neighborhood and areas where you frequent. (Especially hard for Ca. folks who hide in their jogging and dark glasses hoody space).

- Do "be like a politician", when approached answer the question you'd like to get. For example, when asked what breed is your dog or is THAT a pit bull, resspond. "Thank you for noticing Boris, that is his name, he is two-years old rescue and we've had Boris for a year We are working on his CGC." If they ask again, then "yes he is a pit bull rescue from BadRap and CGC stnda for Canine Good Citizen, would you like to know more about Boris."
- Do let others come to your defense and to brag about how well mannered your dog is in the neighborhood. Go out of your way to acknowledge them and thank them when they remember your dog, especially by name. Nothing calmed the naysayer more than the day a coffee shop regular started rubbing up Boris and asked for his paw (see below).

The following may not aways be best practice but where you can:
- Allow your dog to be a social ambassadog while out. By letting your well mannered dog be approached, by well mannered people and be petted by curious folks, especially children with their parents permission.
You need to know your dog when they'll be overwhelmed by the attention or not up for the distractions. However, I find that not letting the approach makes folks think our pibbles aren't under our control.
- Do show off your dogs manners and tricks. The look while walking, we are still trying to perfect (w/o a treat). The immmediate down-stay can be as powerful. But, "a give me paw, no the other paw ..." really disarms them.
- Do make your dog sit and stay down while being petted by others. Don't be afraid to step on his leash (be subtle) to make that happen.

Like McConnell tries to teach us to watch our dog's behavior, teach yourself and your dog to watch the people around us. You won't like them all, but it is a great part of life apprciating them as part of the scenery.

Just realize you all in the Bay Area have more than your share of '"wacko's". And, feel compassionate as there is not communication if their brain is broken.

We'll be watching for you, Boris' OEL

2beemo said...

I walk my pit bull mix at the beach everyday where we encounter a lot of dogs. Some things we practice are:

- When dogs and small children are approaching, I take her an appropriate distance away and get her in a sit or down stay & watch me until they pass by. If it looks like a child or dog on an expandable lead is going to approach my dog, I ask the parents/owners in a friendly manner could they not approach us, explaining that "my dog is in training right now" and always say "thank you" with a smile.

- I make a point to tell the child to "always ask your mom and dad AND the doggie's mom and dad if it's OK before petting or hugging a puppy." It's surprising how many parents just let their children run up to dogs.

- Quickly assess off-leash dogs. If it looks like the owner has good voice control over the dog or the dog is disinterested in other dogs or couldn't catch up with us if they tried... like the real senior ones ;) we quickly pass by on a short-lead. If the off-leash dog, however, is running up to every person or dog along the way, we "book it out of there!" We have ended up on the golf course more than a few times! :)

- Even when I have my dog in a sit/watch me, some owners with really small dogs see one look at us and pick up their dogs. I always smile and comment on how cute their dog is, and that is a good idea to pick their dogs up. They tend to go into some story about a bigger dog scaring their little dog. But all the while throughout the conversation, I can see them relax when my dog doesn't break her sit.

It's all about positive interactions!

Julie said...

Our rednose Molly and I run every morning, and there's often a crowd of shrieking high school girls at the bus stop. "DOG!!!"
I usually stop right there in front of them, tell Molly to sit, and say, "Please don't talk about my pet that way. I love her and she's a sweetheart."
I don't have time for a long conversation on a run, but I always think that their yelling/shouting would make Molly freak out if she wasn't trained- they're sort of causing the problem they're afraid of!

Donna said...

Great tips everyone.

2beemo - Another something to say to those folks that insist their leashed dog just HAS to come up to kissy kissy our dogs - "Oh please don't, my dog has kennel cough!" That stops them faster than anything. lol

Anonymous said...

Wow! I haven't encountered a response like that--and hopefully will not in the future.

I walk my dog in a town with a lot of retirees. I see people cross the street ahead of us once in a while, and I understand that older folks might be fearful of a dog jumping up on them. But I've also noticed if these same folks are walking behind us, they always comment on how well behaved my pittie girl is, as I have her sit at every intersection before we cross the street. More people come up and ask to pet her after they've seen her practicing her polite manners.

I always have her sit as we approach an older person on the sidewalk, or a baby in a stroller, and get positive comments again about her good manners.

In the case of the screamer you encountered, all I could add to the list would be to ask if she's had her medication for the day. That's a crazy reaction. I'm sure she would have scared my dog silly with that sort of outburst.

I'd also like to add that people should remember to leash and secure their dogs when they leave them in their cars with the windows rolled down. I can't count the number of times we've had a dog-rocket launch out of a parked car at us. The owner eventually rolls up, wondering why the dog got out....YOU LEFT THE WINDOW OPEN AND THE DOG WASN'T SECURED IN THE VEHICLE (stupid)! My dog is on a 6' leash in the Jeep, with the end looped through the roll-bar; she's safe, not going anywhere!

Anonymous said...

Probably the most bizarre comment I ever got about one of my dogs was actually made about my black Lab Tonka. When I was going to school to be an RVT, we could bring our pets to school with us on some days. As we were walking down the hall, with him on a leash and two other people with me, a woman turned the corner and freaked out. He is a very large Lab, almost looks like a Dane, but he wasn't showing any aggression towards her at all. In fact, he doesn't show aggression to any people unless they come in the back yard unannounced. Anyhow, I politely said, "Don't worry, he doesn't bite, and he is on a leash." Her reply? "Well he has teeth." WTF? I was so stunned I couldn't even get a word out, but my friend said, "So do you, should we be afraid of you?" I guess some people are just really afraid of dogs no matter what the breed. I know that my little Osa has changed some minds about Pits being baby killers-she lives with a baby- and child maulers-my older daughter has her friends over all the time, and the only attacks they have ever suffered have been from kisses.

Everyone fears something, right? I'll take a dog over a spider anyday!


Anonymous said...

Don't forget to dress your pibble! Great manners and friendly wags are more readily acknowledged if we're wearing something as simple as a back pack (it's good exercise too). Of course there's not harm in getting a little silly. Got a fedora? A feather boa? It's almost Halloween, show off those silly grins.

Midwestern Bully Love

Anonymous said...

I agree with dressing them up! Even a brightly colored bandana goes a long way. I think because accessories not only make dogs seem non-threatening and clownish, but it gives the subtle impression that they are well taken care of (although that's not always true).

You know what the best accessory is? A trustworthy and familiar child. People see my 2 year old nephew between me and my dogs, "walking" them while I hold the end of the leash and they hold the middle, and minds change about breeds like Dobermans and Rottweilers.

Also, I've noticed that postal workers are really paranoid around dogs. I don't blame them, but I don't appreciate the frantic yells of "Hold your dog!" when my Dobie or Rottie or Husky are heeling nicely next to me while we wait to let the mailman pass. And I'm sure the mailman doesn't like it either. So a good tip is to say hello to a mailman or delivery guy and pre-emptively reassure them your dog is under control. Watch them edge away with furtive glances at your puppy and laugh.

Anonymous said...

"Remember it isn't about your dog it is about their misguided fear." well said, Boris!

Of course we have to be responsible, and we all know that pit bulls and their owners must be above reproach (held to a higher and impossible standard).

But do we really have to be responsible for the behavior/reactions of EVERY F****** NUTCASE???

Anonymous said...

I sorta introduced my pittie to my mailman right after I brought her home from the shelter. I had her in her crate, with a blanket draped over the top 1/4 of the crate. When the mailman looked in the house, he only saw the lower 3/4 of the dog and her nose peaking out...."What kinda dog is that?"...."Oh, she's part beagle...". That was 2 years ago. When the mailman comes by now, he laughs at the cute "beagle" as she happily hops around the yard when she sees him. She's never learned to be fearful of or fearful to mailmen, and often scores some nice doggie treats, courtesy of the USPD!

deets said...

Great post. Thanks for mentioning that about the retractable leashes. I got an awful ropeburn from a bad handler with a min-pin on a retractable leash!!

-Educate others about gentle leaders. I have run into many problems while walking my pittie on a gentle leader. I had a father tell his daughter that she had it on because she was a "bad dog". The girl then chastised my dog, saying "bad doggie". Of course, it is completely ironic that people are scared of dogs with muzzles in the first place...a muzzle should mean that the dog can't bite, right? So, not only do I educate them that my dog is not on a muzzle, but it is easier to handle her with this harness, but that she can still bite. Usually I demonstrate by giving her a treat!

Linda said...

Great tips! thanks.
And I one more that my Pit bull Aldo taught me. He's one of those ball obsessed dogs and will carry his squeaky tennis ball for his 3 mile jog without ever putting it down. People see him carrying his ball and almost always comment on the oh so CUTE dog. It's almost as good as dressing him up!

Anonymous said...

I am a responsible pitbull owner and always follow the leash laws in my community. However, it seems that the little lap dogs are the ones that are never leashed and are the ones who come up to us and attack. My pit has been attacked twice now by pugs who were not leashed and seem to have come out of nowhere and the people look at me like Im the bad one. My dog didn't even put up a fight. Sad isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I know this is painfully common for PB owners and my hearts go out to you. I want to let you know that a similar thing happened to me with my lab/Border collie mix, Jack, who loves everyone. He was in my CAR with the window about 1/2-way down when I stopped to get the mail in our neighborhood. He stuck his head out to watch me, was smiling, and wagging his tail when a man walking up to the mailboxes stopped dead in his tracks and asked me if my dog was going to bit him. I couldn't believe he was talking to me, and I couldn't believe he was referring to my sweet dog, who was smiling at him and hoping for an ear scratch. Instead he was met with fear.

There's little we can do about people who are afraid of dogs - any dogs - but my hat is off to all Pibble owners who experience this on a daily basis. Your dogs deserve better!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and have been following along for a while. You guys are great! Here's my story:

To whoever said this is not just about pits, you're right on! I have a shepherd-rott mix, large black dog. The other day he and I were looking at a DVD display outside a supermarket, minding our own business, Basil in a perfect sit looking up at the display with me. This woman with two kids comes up behind me, shrieks, shoves her kid because he was "looking at the dog", and mutters about calling the police and crazy people. I turned and said "Excuse me?" I was genuinely confused. She said something about the dog being dangerous, her son started crying, I glared at her, and in she went.


I guess I'm trying to say that intolerance is everywhere, and you are not alone :-(

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminders, Donna (and comment-bloggers). In order to (slowly) change minds, we need to be beyond reproach at all times.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one other thing-- and this is something you guys have taught me--use the prong collars with the smallest prongs available-- they are much less intimidating than the larger-pronged ones, and just as effective.

Anonymous said...

Sad, but true... I truly think that the most voiced opinions come from people that have NEVER known a pitbull! It's easy to have a negative, media-mania biased opinion of the breed if one doesn't really have any REAL life experience with the breed! SO many people say that they come to love them after they get to know them!!! Talk about racial profiling... Talk about about the year that journalism died, 2008!

Anonymous said...

Let`s put Ruby and friend on the front of the milk-bone box

Anonymous said...

I totally sympathize. Almost every day I ride my bike while my well-trained pit bulls run next to me. They are leashed, on choke collars and loving the exercise. At least once a month, we get "jumped" by another dog. They come flying out of windows, through the park, etc. It is very frustrating. I would like to post your suggestions in my neighborhood for how to take a responsible walk no matter the breed! You said it well.

Anonymous said...

My parents have a rescued pibble who is one of the sweetest, gentlest dogs I have ever met. My mom always tells me stories of how when she walks the dog a certain neighbor will cross the street with her dog and say "Those dogs should all be destoyed." My mother has also had someone tell her the dog couldn't possible be a pit since it was "too nice".

I've had it happen to my lab mix even though she is a couch potato who loves people. I once had a guy say to me "Can you not walk your dog around here anymore since he'll bite." Well she's a girl, not a boy and last time I checked I can walk around my neighborhood with my dog properly leashed.

Anonymous said...

I once was walking my pittie girl Molly one morning when a man on the opposite SIDE OF THE STREET flips out. He was walking two yappy pugs, going the other direction that Molly and I were. I put Molly into a sit and kneeled next to her to keep her there (she's not the best when she's being yapped at!)
He says:

"Can you please hold your dog?"
"Oh, she's fine." I respond with a smile and continue sitting.
He walks a few more feet and says again
"Can you please hold your dog so I can pass?"

Mind you, there are two sidewalks, a street, and passing cars between us.

I repeat "She's fine. She's not going anywhere." this time sans the smile. I glare, he walks, his dogs bark, he turns around several times to stare, Molly sits quietly in her giant, sturdy looking halter and thick leash.