Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
It is finally that time of year again! The darkness, cold and ice have dissipated. While I spent the winter seeing mostly the same people walking their dogs, now I am seeing new faces and snouts out and about. I love this! As most of you know, getting out and walking with dogs is one of my favorite things, so I love to have other people doing it too. Those of us that are crazy enough to walk our dogs all winter largely get used to seeing the other crazies. We know who they are and we know which dogs are friends. Now that many more people will be sharing the park, it is time to talk about petiquette.
Not all dogs are friends
This is a very difficult concept for many people, but not all dogs like each other. Do you like every person in your office? Dogs can be very individual, and it is important to know all about their personalities before you set dogs loose together. We are so often used to dog parks and letting dogs run around together because we like to talk to their owners. However, it is important to let your dog greet other dogs in a safe environment first. This is one of the main reasons that so many parks have leash laws. My dogs each have different dogs that they love or not, and I’m unable to explain why.
Even if your dog is very friendly, that does not mean whichever dog they’re greeting wants to see them. Please, please keep your dog on a leash when you encounter a strange dog. Once everybody figures out their friendliness level, feel free to let them loose and let them run. One of the worst things for shy dogs is to be accosted by a bunch of strangers. Make sure that you take these dogs into consideration, and check with owners before unchecked play. I have seen terrified dogs being approached by other dogs and the owners simply call out “they’re friendly!”
While that might be, a friendly dog can make a scared dog regress if they feel that their space is invaded. These pups deserve fun outside too, so be respectful of them. Even worse, sometimes these friendly dogs that rush up will find an unfriendly dog at the end of the leash. Dog bites are never fun, so let’s prevent them when we can.
Not all people are friends…….with dogs
I know that for many of us with dogs this seems like a strange concept, but the fear of dogs or even the fear of strange dogs is very real for some people. Having a bunch of dogs run up and jump on you will not do anything to help this. I have seen exuberant dogs knock over children and hurt adults by jumping. For all of these reasons, when you meet an unfamiliar person, you should always check with them before letting your dog approach them.
Waste belongs in the garbage
I know that I sound like a broken record on this front, but please clean up your dog poop. In most cases, we all must share public spaces. A lot of the places that I walk have kids running around and lots of other people walking. Nobody wants to step in or touch your dog’s poop. If you do not even want to pick up your dog poop, what are the chances that anyone else will? If you are walking on your private land or your dog is off in the middle of the woods somewhere, that may be another story, but as long as you are sharing public spaces, please give everyone else a break and clean up your own dog poop.
Many parks around town have started restricting dogs and imparting more leash laws because of all the dog poop. If dog owners start taking responsibility, we will stop losing ground on where our dogs are allowed. However, if dog poop continues to be left around, we run the risk of the local towns needing to start enforcing these rules. Let’s all do our part as responsible dog owners to “clean up” our image.
Socialization takes time
Just because you have the cutest puppy on Earth does not mean you should take it out to the park and drop it into the middle of rough dog play. The same goes for older dogs that are new to you. We do not take toddlers to frat parties, which is what many dog park environments equate to. Make sure that your dog is comfortable with you and is comfortable getting to know each dog before you drop them in the middle of a scary situation. Remember, situations that look fun to us may be scary to new dogs. When a dog that is not fully socialized is put into an environment with a bunch of dogs running and barking (even in play) they are more likely to become fearful.
Young dogs and new dogs that are socialized slowly and properly will be able to play and have more fun once they become comfortable. Overwhelming them early on will lead to a more difficult path as time goes by.
Puppies will preferably play with other dogs of the same age group. They develop their motor and social skills as they age, so an adult dog is not in the same place physically that a puppy is. It is much easier for puppies to get hurt when they are playing with a bunch of adult dogs. If you cannot find other puppies but know adult dogs, introduce them one at a time until you can be sure that the play style is comfortable for your puppy. It is also important that puppies are current on their vaccines. They are much more susceptible to catching diseases the other dogs may not show signs of. Make sure that you discuss the appropriate timing with your veterinarian.
Your dogs still should listen!
I will be the first to admit that we cannot control all situations. You may come around a 90-degree turn while hiking and be face-to-face with a group of people or dogs. We do not always have advance warning of what is about to happen. For this reason, it is still important that you have verbal control of your dogs when they are off leash. I will go into more depth about gaining this control in a later article, but if your dog is not a reliable listener, think twice before taking them into a well-populated area (of people, dogs, cars or porcupines) off-leash.