I find myself constantly apologizing for my dogs. Tango barks at you? “Sorry”. He growls at your dog? “So sorry!”. He barrels into you out of pure excitement because you said hello to him? Yep…”OMG! I’m SO sorry!”
I’m responsible for his behavior. I’m not barking at you. I’m not jumping up on your shoulders to lick your face – which would be really weird – but I’m the one apologizing. And not just because he can’t physically say the words himself but because I should apologize. It’s my personal responsibility to have control over my dog. Any lack of control isn’t for a lack of training either. I constantly work with him. But he’s still Tango and he’s going to sometimes do his Tango things. I should and will always apologize for those Tango things.
HOW MUCH CONTROL DO YOU REALLY HAVE?
There have been numerous occasions I’ve been walking Tango on-leash when inevitably someone else has their dog off-leash because they believe they will have complete control over their dog in any situation. Before you assume otherwise, I’m not talking about leash-free zones, dog parks, etc. I’m talking about down a neighborhood sidewalk within a city or HOA that requires all dogs to be leashed. It’s a “same story different day” account: Off-leash dog runs towards Tango, who immediately switches into resource protective mode. He gives off-leash dog warning growls to no avail. Off-leash dog’s owner calls his off-leash dog’s name but off-leash dog doesn’t respond. Off-leash dog continues to jump around and lunge at Tango. Maybe he just wants to play. Maybe he’s purposely taunting him because he’s threatened by how awesomely cool Tango is. It doesn’t matter. Tango is only getting more aggravated. He’s on a leash, we’re not in a “play zone” or dog park, and he feels threatened. I try to redirect Tango’s attention and walk away. Off-leash dog’s owner is now upset that my dog is mean and aggressive even though he still has not regained an ounce of control over his off-leash dog. My favorite encounters are when I’m able to put Tango in a sit-stay and have him focus on me while off-leash dog’s owner chases off-leash dog in circles around us in grunting frustration. These oh so fun run ins almost always end in a snide remark from off-leash dog’s owner directly to me and my on-leash dog. Seriously. No joke. This whole ordeal is my fault. It is my fault an owner had no control over their off-leash dog and ran (sometimes across a street) to jump on and around my on-leash dog. Yep.
I FEEL A BIT PETTY, BUT…
Look, unless your dog has won some triple-gold-crown-king-of-obedience medal, you do not have complete control over your fur baby. Leash zones are there for a reason. It’s for your protection, your dog’s protection, other dogs’ protection. It’s for all of us. Show off your dog’s amazing prowess in a safe area such as a dog park or other off leash zone. Better yet enter Fido into an obedience trial competition and really show us all how awesomely in control you are of your pup. Meanwhile I’ll just sit here and wait for the dozens of apologies I’m owed from all the dog owners that don’t think the city ordinances pertain to them <— that’s the petty part.
WHAT SPARKED TODAY’S BLOG POST
The event that gave rise to this blog post really wasn’t about controlling your dog or being in control of your pup’s etiquette. It was about apologizing (or rather not apologizing) and how many different scenarios come up when a simple “I’m sorry” would satisfy all parties, leaving no hard feelings. I wanted to tackle it from different angles. It wasn’t just this one thing that happened today. It wasn’t just about the many many things Tango does that I apologize for. The purpose of this blog post is to highlight how often I see so many (not all) dog owners refuse to take responsibility for their own dog’s actions or behavior. Sometimes those actions are a direct result of something we as the dog owner have done. Sometimes it’s just regular dog behavior we fail to correct. Sometimes it’s just a simple accident.
This week we are in Santa Fe, New México with Tango and Cash. The property where we are staying is wonderfully dog friendly. There is a very large dog park enclosure where we can exercise them off-leash and burn off that crazy Tango energy. While playing fetch today a couple brought in their dog which happened to be an Australian Shepherd, a herding breed. I’m very familiar with how most herding breeds respond to running dogs: they tend to want to herd them (it’s not rocket science). It’s hard-wired into their DNA. My bestest of friends has Border Collies. Fetch around Tango with them consists of Tango running for the ball while a Border Collie chases after Tango, trying to herd him. This was today’s scenario. Didn’t bother me one bit. I understand how dog’s play. Tango isn’t bothered by the nips or the body nudging (that is sometimes more like body slamming). He’s a tough guy and a retriever and he’s focused on the ball. The Australian Shepherd is focused on herding him. They’re in a wide open space and submitting to their true callings. But then something not so nice and playful happened. Tango is sprinting towards the ball. Herding dog is sprinting towards Tango. He t-bones Tango. Hard. The force of it knocks him a few feet causing his body to wrap around a nearby tree. He doesn’t get up. My husband and I quickly make our way to him, my heart just sank. I’ve never seen him not get up after a hard hit. He didn’t cry or yelp, but he wouldn’t move. For those few moments that he laid there, not moving just looking over his shoulder at us, my mind raced thinking We’re going to have to carry him to the car, find the nearest emergency vet, is something broken, is it his back, his hips, can we get him back to Texas….all the scary things. He looked stunned and I was hoping he just got the wind knocked out of him so I encouraged him to walk. He eventually gets up, limping just slightly. I say aloud, and mostly speaking to the couple of the Shepherd, “I think he’s just stunned. Come on Tango let’s walk it off.” I’m not angry. There’s no “tone” in my voice. These things happen. Dogs play. Sometimes things get rough. This moment happened to be super scary for me but eventually he does walk it off. After the dust settles and my fur-baby-momma-heart stops beating a mile a minute, I realize a very infuriating fact: They have said nothing this entire time. NOTHING! Not one word. Not “oh gosh I hope he’s OK”. No “I’m sorry, that got too rough”. Or even just a plain “Oops, sorry about that”. Nothing. Can I emphasize that enough? Nothing!!! What they did do, was hurriedly scoop up their Shepherd and haul ass out of the park even after we assessed Tango probably was not truly injured. Were they afraid I might confront them or dog-parent shame them? I can’t assume that as I kept my cool even when I feared the worst and had given them no reason to think I would go full bat-shit-crazy on them. Although, even if that were the case, the words “I’m sorry” still should have been said as they were making their mad dash for the exit gates. Real nice, guys.
APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR DOG
It’s that simple. Apologize. I know you didn’t command your dog to t-bone my dog. I know your dog’s intention was not to hurt my dog. But apologize. If only because it’s the polite freaking thing to do. If only because you’re sorry that it happened. Apologize.
It’s ok if you thought you had complete control of your off-leash dog and then suddenly you didn’t. Apologize. Don’t blame my leashed dog for reacting to being charged. It’s ok if your dog jumps on me. Just apologize. I’ll move on with no judgement as I’ve spent enough time apologizing for my own fur babies. It’s ok if your dog plows into my dog while we’re in a leash free zone and they’re all playing like mad crazy hell hounds. It happens. Apologize.