Our local rail trail is usually rather quiet. We don’t often run into other people or dogs walking or running. If anything, we see more bicyclists when the weather is nice, and when we do we step off to the side of the trail and I have the dogs sit while they pass.
A couple of weeks ago when walking Cricket I saw a woman in the distance with a small black lab. As I spotted her I noticed she stopped and was holding on to her dog. Good! Cricket has had issues with off leash dogs in the past, so I’m always relieved to see dogs properly restrained when I have her. Next thing I know, that dog is running right at us, and Cricket starts snarling and pulling at the leash, trying to go after the dog. I hold her back as best I can while the woman comes running to restrain her dog. He comes towards Cricket more than once and Cricket continues to snarl and pull. The woman finally gets her dog under control, as I realize that Cricket has squirmed right out of her harness. Thank goodness I was able to grab a hold of her collar and hold on to her. This section of the trail runs along a fairly busy state highway.
The woman apologizes and so do I. Who’s in the wrong here? Her for having her dog running loose, even though – “he’s friendly” she says? I apologize because maybe I shouldn’t be walking a dog who acts like that in public. She quickly says that of course having a big dog running at her might scare my small dog. I’m thinking: OK, so why did you let him run at her? Why don’t you have a leash to put on him when encountering other dogs? Not to mention that she is now walking/running with her dog right along a busy highway, and she’s not restraining him? I can’t imagine. I’m just trying to get my heart to settle down and she continues on so I didn’t really say anything else.
I think it’s great if you have a dog that you can trust to walk, run, or hike with you off leash. When we had both of our dogs Shelby and Maggie we let them off leash when hiking or when walking away from a road. However, the leash was always handy and put on when we encountered others. At the least, we would step off the trail and hold onto them while others passed. Our dogs were friendly too, but what if the other dog wasn’t? Both times this has happened with Cricket, I am just grateful that the other dogs didn’t want to fight.
However, the bottom line is that I can’t control what other people are going to do with their dogs. I can try to walk Cricket in places where we’re less likely to encounter others, like in the fields in the photos here, but the conditions aren’t always good in the fields – they may not be mowed (meaning ticks) or they can be very wet after a lot of rain. When we’re on a trail like our rail trail, I can’t very well turn around and head the other way if I’m on my way home. I know that I need to work with Cricket so that she will learn not to react this way. Whether it’s my fault for not keeping her socialized as she got older, or whether it is just her personality to act this way (she has always been shy), if I want to continue to walk her then I need to deal with this.
Therefore, I’ve been researching ways to at least try to get her to not be “leash reactive”. She has always been very intense when walking. She plants all four paws on the ground, and just plows forward like it’s a race every time. She will not be distracted other than for the occasional stop and sniff. I started doing some reading for solutions to this issue, and I know the first step is to get her to let go of that intensity. I haven’t started working with her with treats yet, but now when we walk, I stop every so often, and call her back to me. Then I pat her and praise her profusely. At least I am starting to break her intense concentration, and that will be the goal….to get her to relax. Then I can relax too.
Walking your dog can be easy, but sometimes it can be a bit more complicated. Kobi is easy. Sheba is easy except for the fact that she’s a big dog and does pull some. Cricket is shy of people but when we took her hiking she had no problem with any of the people we met. The people were all respectful, and none of them went running at her! When a dog is on leash, they feel they have no place to retreat to, when another dog is running at them. You can’t really blame Cricket for reacting the way she does.
The point I want to make is that even though walking your dog can have some challenges, we need to take on those challenges and work through them. By doing that we can make the walk fun, and not have to worry about who we encounter out on the trail. This is exactly the point Boingy Dog is trying to make in starting a “Work the Walk Dog Walking Challenge” and this is going to be a great help to me to accomplish what I need to. It is a 21 day challenge with the goal of making walking fun. If you have challenges with your dog also, check out their blog and others and find the answers you need to make walking enjoyable as it should be. I’ll keep you updated on our progress!