This Saturday, I was walking Kyber at the park. We were walking lakeside off the usual path we take and walked by a gentleman seated on a bench with his dog. As I passed him with Kyber, the guy called out twice that his dog was friendly and I noticed the dog was off leash and coming for us. I called back “Doesn’t matter. I don’t want my dog greeting other dogs!” Fortunately, the dog was slow and we remained out of reach but the dog still pursued us. I asked the guy to call his dog (since that didn’t seem to be his first thought) which he did and we avoided any problems. Kyber got rewarded with cookies for turning his attention away from the dog and life was good.
Why does it matter, right? Why didn’t you just let Kyber meet that dog, Jamie? Why are you such a snob about it? Kyber (and Kyu for that matter) is not Risa and isn’t afraid of dogs. So why do you care?
I care because I hate when people assume. Just because I’m out with my dogs doesn’t mean it’s time for doggy social hour. Sure, some of this is carryover from owning a reactive dog. Didn’t matter how friendly another dog was or not–Risa was not interested in being chummy. Most of it is just different priorities. Because both Kyu and Kyber are very dog social and friendly, I don’t want them to assume walks are dog play dates. Dogs trying to play on leash is a recipe for trouble. Even if they don’t get tangled up, it restricts their normal movement and can create misunderstandings that might not otherwise occur. I also participate in dog sports with my dogs where they need to ignore the dogs they might see. I want my dogs to prioritize me and not other dogs. John Q. Public may be just fine with their dog seeking out dogs on walks. I am not.
Today, I was reminded of the other reason why I don’t let my dogs (especially my puppies) just meet random dogs in public.
Kyber and I were walking along the path and I saw some dogs approaching ahead. Since Kyber is incapable of restraining his exuberance around his own kind, I moved him far away from the dogs and focused on rewarding him for choosing to disengage from looking at the dogs. My focus was on my dog but I overheard the conversation between the two people with the dogs. One couple had a young puppy and the other man had an adult dog. The man said his dog was friendly and they allowed the pup to meet him. I only heard what happened so I have no idea what lead up to it. But the adult dog snarked at the puppy and the puppy screamed (as most young pups are apt to do). No one appeared to be hurt (again, my focus was more on getting Kyber away since the commotion had him more amped up than usual and his barking wasn’t helping the situation). I was reminded that single-event learning is a thing and I worried about that puppy. I remembered why I don’t introduce my dogs to dogs I don’t know. I want my dogs to be confident around their own kind and it’s just too risky if a greeting goes awry.
I myself have experienced the horror of single-event learning so I know the fallout can be high. As a child, I loved swimming. I was in the pool practically all summer. I took swimming lessons growing up and spent countless hours in the pools at friends’ houses or the public pool. I was a fish! Until one summer day at the public pool when it all changed. It was a particularly warm day so the water temperature felt pretty chilly compared to the air. I was never the type to just jump right in. I had to ease my way into the cool water. Once I’d acclimated, then I could cannonball in and have a great time. This day, someone shoved me into the pool (something I’d never enjoyed anyway) and, as soon as I hit the cold water, it forced the air out of my lungs. I surfaced quickly and caught my breath but I was scared. So scared. I didn’t want to be in the pool anymore. In fact, I didn’t want to be in the pool again. I tried to help myself overcome the fear but, even now, it’s still there. I’m okay in pools but I still don’t want to submerge my head and still have some anxiety being in the water. All it took was that one bad experience to negate all of my good ones.
Protect your puppies. They’re impressionable. It’s much easier to keep them strong and confident than to rebuild them after trauma. <3