Sunday, February 14, 2010

Common courtesy

As I contemplate going to North Chagrin Reservation for a trail run this afternoon, I can't shake the fear of encountering those irresponsible people who walk their scary as hell German Shepherd off leash.

And that is bullshit.

I am a cyclist (both off and on road) and a wintertime trail runner. Katie and I own of several rescued dogs. I am a (non professional) dog trainer who competes in dog sports, regularly reads about dog training, and regularly travels to dog training seminars. In other words, I think I have a bit of insight when it comes to the rights and interests of those who use trails around here. I have thought about this issue a lot lately and have come to a number of conclusions:

  • Over 99% of people who walk their dogs off leash in public places have no business doing so for several reasons, most of which relate to the fact that they do not have a consistent recall with their dog(s). We never walk ours off leash.

  • Most people with aggressive dogs are totally misinformed about dog behavior and have no idea that their dog is aggressive. This explains why so many bites are "totally unexpected." See Steevo's story for a perfect example. A dog trainer I know characterizes this phenomenon as "near misses," which means that many dogs who have yet to bite are very close to biting very often. It's only a matter of time. If you are one of the millions of people with a dog who shows signs of unhappiness (or over eagerness) towards strangers, cyclists, other dogs, etc., it does not make your dog a "bad" dog or you a "bad" owner. It only makes you a bad owner if you fail to take the proper steps to prevent your dog from getting into a situation where it could possibly act out on these feelings.

  • Many people are afraid of dogs, whether they are friendly or unfriendly. That is a fact of life. When these people hike on a trail with mandatory leash laws, they should have the right to not be approached by off leash dogs, regardless of how friendly the dog is, and regardless of how rational or irrational that person's fear of dogs is.

  • Many dogs are not fans of strange dogs approaching them or getting into their space, regardless of how "friendly" the approaching dog is. People with these types of dogs, and their dogs, should have a right to enjoy trails without being accosted by a strange dog, friendly or not.

So now I will return to the trails, wondering whether I will have to face the icy stare of the German Shepherd whose clueless owners I'm sure think is harmless. You can be sure that I will be calling the park ranger next time I see these people with their dog off leash.

It's just not worth it.

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