I will be the first to admit that I am more of a cat person than a dog person. In fact, I have never owned a dog until recently. I generally prefer the more hands-off method of care that cats require over the ultra-needy method required by dogs. So with my stunted knowledge of dog rearing I kind of assumed that most people adhered to a set of unwritten rules about how to treat other dogs and their owners, and how owners should treat other people and dogs. Apparently this is not the case and the over-all “rule” for dogs seems to be, “do whatever you want, regardless of how it makes other people or dogs feel.” Since I am obviously an expert on the subject, after having my dog for 3 weeks (sarcasm), I will now enlighten you all with my Dog Citizenship Theory.
First, a story: Husband was walking the dog on a popular scenic route. At one point on the walk Husband heard a man behind him say, “come here boy! Come here!” He assumed the man was talking to his own dog but Rye insisted they stop and pay attention. Husband turned around and couldn’t believe what he saw. This man was staring right at Rye, did not have a dog of his own, and was calling OUR PUPPY. At first glance this may not seem so harmful but think about what was really happening here: A stranger was asking a puppy that was not his to stop paying attention to his owner, to leave his owner, and to cross two lanes of traffic on a busy road. I don’t know if you know this about puppies, but their instinct for self-preservation has not yet fully kicked in and they will run at whatever is interesting, regardless of potential dangers around them. Hell, adult dogs will do the same thing. So what did this guy really think he was doing?
Contrast this with an experience my co-worker and her daughters recently witnessed at a popular park in Duluth. It was a gorgeous day so everyone was out with their dogs. In particular there were some guys with a very large Rottweiler walking along and they came upon a woman with a collie. The Rott was really interested in meeting the Collie and the owners politely asked, “Hey, could our dog meet your dog? He’s really very friendly and loves to meet new dogs.” WOW! How considerate is that? I wish I was there, I would have given them a hug. The lady declined and they kept walking on their way. These guys did what most don’t or won’t: They recognized their dog is viewed as an aggressive breed, they recognized that their dog does not have the right to play with a stranger, and they were considerate of the owner’s feelings. This is how dog owners should behave. Kudos to those guys! They can meet Rye if they want.
My Dog Citizenship Theory is based on four principles, applicable to both dog owners and strangers (and several can also be metaphors for real life):
- Be considerate.
—Being considerate will always make for happy people around you, and therefore (usually) a happier you. This applies in all areas of life.
- My dog is not your dog.
—I am its master, not you. Remember Principle #1.
- No dog is perfect, this includes your very own sweetheart pookie-pants.
—Take off the My-Dog-Is-Awesome Goggles and really pay attention to it and how it interacts with other dogs and their owners. Remember Principle #1.
- Be aware of your dog.
—This includes its behaviors, attitudes, and shortcomings. This is especially important for people with traditionally aggressive dogs like Pitt Bulls, Bull Dogs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, et cetera. A great example: my brother owns a Pitt Bull and she is a fantastic dog. She is sweet and cuddly, without a malicious bone in her and I love her, BUT she is still a Pitt Bull and she still plays more aggressively than other dogs. We don’t need to lock her up or keep her away from the rest of the world, we just simply need to be aware of this and remember Principle #1.
Not to toot my own horn, but I think most dog owners would agree with those principles, even if they don’t like the following rules I’ve made based on them.
For Dog Owners:
- For God’s sake, keep your dog leashed when he/she is not in your yard, especially if your city has leash laws (as Duluth does)! This is simple courtesy and is not torture for your dog. Countless times my friend’s dog Lucy, a teeny tiny little terrier-like mutt, has been completely bowled over by larger dogs who can’t tell the difference in size, and the owner of the big dog just walks on by as if nothing happened, leaving my friend to try to get someone else’s 80 pound dog off of little 10 pound Lu.
- Unless you’re at a dog park where off-leash full body contact is encouraged, don’t let your dog “meet” another dog unless both you and the owner of the other dog agree.
- Pay attention. Step in to defend not only your dog, but also other people’s dogs. If your dog is playing too aggressively (or if the other dog’s owner thinks your dog is playing too aggressively), recognize this and step in. I have to do this at puppy training class with Rye. There is another dog with an owner who, in my opinion, is a little overly-protective. It bothers her when Rye plays with her dog the way he wants to (he is dominant over her) so I limit him. Rye isn’t doing any damage and the other dog always wants to play with him, but out of respect for the dog’s owner I make sure Rye is gentler than I think he needs to be. It’s ok, there are other puppies in the world he can play with all he wants. There’s no need to upset the owner of the other dog.
- Pick up your dog’s shit. Every. Damn. Time.
- If you want to pet a dog that is a stranger to you, calmly walk over to the owner and ask them for permission to pet the dog EVEN IF you are a dog expert and “know what you’re doing.” Dog personalities are vast and varied, and you have no idea what that cute doggie will think or do if a stranger suddenly comes up and starts touching it. There are dogs that hate men in baseball hats, but are ok with men who are not wearing baseball hats, or dogs who hate umbrellas (yes, I know these dogs personally). You just never know what the trigger could be. Plus, I have yet to meet a dog owner that wants people to randomly come up and start messing with their dog without asking.
- I swear to God if you call my dog over to you I will punch you in the face. You want to pet my dog? You cross the busy highway and ask permission, don’t tell my dog to stop paying attention to me and to cross the highway himself. Ass.
In summary, it’s very simple: be considerate and don’t assume you and your dog are the center of the universe. You have no right to touch or distract someone else’s dog, or to allow your dog to touch someone else’s dog. This is a big world and we all need to treat one another just a little bit nicer. If we would sacrifice a little bit (carrying poop pick-up bags with you on every walk, or being ok with not petting the puppy, for example – yeah I know, HUGE sacrifices) to make other people feel more comfortable, I’m pretty sure there would be fewer wars, and neighbors would get along better.