Dog trains man

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Off Leash: The Careless, The Clueless and The Judges

It seems like ages ago Viva was fear aggressive towards almost every other dog. She lunged, showed teeth, growled and barked, even to dogs far away. When an off leash dog came close despite all her warnings, she could lay shivering on the couch the rest of the day. I remember, just after we adopted her, how clueless I felt about what to do. Thankfully, BAT - Behavior Adjustment Training - was the answer for Viva.

Today, Viva is far from what people would call a "social" dog, as she rarely goes beyond a sniff exchange. But neither is it my goal to have her engage in play or other social contact as she rarely wants that. The important thing is she now has the social skills to communicate to off leash dogs she really is not interested to meet them, without asserting to aggression.

Working with BAT did me a lot of good too. I am studying dog body language of every dog we are about to meet to judge how Viva would react and learned a lot from that. Can we pass by on a short distance? If not, how much distance would we need? Dogs that mirror Viva's calming signals, like looking away and starting to sniff something on the ground, have a good chance Viva will allow them a sniff, might they want that.

An excited youngster with a lot to learn, is no threat either, although she will tell them to bugger off when they would try more than a sniff, as they usually do. Viva does give the message on an appropriate level, making it a good lesson for the youngster as well. Her only nemesis are still the dogs that zoom in on her, and have a stiff stance. They send her over the threshold once more. Her message is clear, don't even think about getting closer. Still work-in-progress on that one.

Do you really want to meet us?
Would such a dog try to come close, I usually drop the leash on Kenzo. He will firmly yet politely convince the other dog it is probably not a good idea to continue to approach Viva. He is her biggest help.

The best possible scenario is, when it concerns a dog that was allowed a sniff, the other dog makes a play-bow right after the sniff. Something only the dogs with the most savviest social skills will do. It rarely happens, but it will trigger Viva to engage in some play and gain her a new friend. It was also exactly what Kenzo did, first time they met.

Along the line, I found out I can get a lot of clues studying the body language and habits of their dog owners as well, at least the ones that always have their dogs off leash and thereby could cause some trouble for us. I call them the Careless, the Clueless and the Judges.

Thankfully the majority of people that have their dogs off leash, are not Careless, Clueless or Judges, and do show empathy when they meet us on their paths. They make Viva's life so much easier. They leash their dogs, when they see we go leashed or when they see us trying to avoid them. Or they recall and have their dog to heel. At the minimum, they also study Kenzo and Viva's body language, to measure what is coming up the road ahead of them.

The first are the Careless. They seem to show no interest into what their dog is up to. They talk on their cell or are occupied with other things. A Careless owner with a dog that displays a stiff stance, are a risky cocktail. I make a U-turn when I see them come.

One of the Careless we've met, with a young exuberant dog bullying others on every opportunity he could get, really baffled me. When he noticed his dog was speeding towards us for a rump, he must have thought: "Ah great, he found somebody to play with", and sad down on a bench to make a phone call. After a body-check and a tumble Kenzo was laying on top of the dog. He just doesn't accept impolite greeters. The guy almost dropped his cell.

Then there are the Clueless. They are very into what their dog is doing yet they don't seem to get a message, and their dogs usually don't listen to them. When I feel that Viva would not like to meet their dog and try to create some distance or avoid them, they follow us, usually while shouting: "My dog is friendly!". It is hard to get away from the Clueless or try to explain it is not a good idea. Luckily they hardly ever have dogs that come with a stiff stance or zoom in on Viva, so I can relax more now, would they catch up with us. And as soon as Viva does her "one sniff is enough" bark, it also usually sends them packing, while rolling their eyes.

The worst are what I call the Judges. Self-confident, with a walk like they own the world. God's gift to the off leash dog scene. We are walking on their path. Whatever will happen next they're right and I'm wrong. Would we meet, we'll usually get scolded for being something inferior, and nothing is their responsibility.

When one of the Judges would have a dog that displays a stiff stance, that means real trouble. When we meet this combination, we get the hell-out-of-dodge. I remember once while getting away, such a couple met another dog when I looked over my shoulder, they found another dog to bully, commented by the Judges with: "They must find out of it among themselves". Their favorite sentence.


  1. Don't get us started on irresponsible dog owners. We have plenty round here. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Yes! That last line is something I have heard so much and it drives me crazy. I'm sorry, maybe sometimes in some very specific circumstances it is okay to let dogs sort it out themselves. However, these circumstances are not on a residential street on the side of a busy road while both dogs are on leash.

    I am glad most of the people in your area are much better and it's only the outliers you have to worry about.

  3. We have trouble like this all the time. We have a ZERO visiting rule in public so that Lilly never has to worry about meeting this dog or maybe that dog. She knows and trusts me to keep ALL dogs away from her ... using whatever means I can. Around here, most off-leash dogs have NO business being off leash in public. So, we sometimes get chased down, if I cannot avoid them some other way. Generally, if the other dog minds its own business, then Lilly does too. Lilly has even become sensitized to the sound of a flexi-leash reeling out. She hears that sound and thinks, "That dog isn't under control," and she is often right ... where clueless / careless people let their dogs hog the entire trial or come right up on us, when everything about our body language says, "GO AWAY!"

  4. This is one of those things that drives me nuts - especially when they yell after their unleashed dog heading straight for us "Don't worry, he's friendly"...that's nice for you, but maybe mine isn't so friendly - or maybe I'm trying to instill some much needed calmness in greeting other dogs - or maybe I just don't want to be bothered. Luckily we usually get our walks in early, early morning before most people are up, so it's pretty deserted!

  5. I meet a lot of clueless, mostly on leash (We thankfully don't run into off leash dogs.....those owners have been clueless as well, typically). I see a lot of little dogs, straining at the ends of their leashes (also frequently flexi leads), barking madly and totally whale eyed. Their owners think it's great that their little dogs have so much pluck in the face of a "big huge" dog like mine. I think their dogs are terrified and those people are idiots.

  6. Very well said. So glad Viva is doing better and Kenzo is there to help her out. We mostly have dogs that zoom in, loose in their own yards and clueless who tell me their dog wants to be friends with mine while they are charging my dog with teeth bared. Yeah, OK. So they never do a thing about it.

  7. Summed up in a nutshell, that is why I do not visit dog parks. Most people use dogs parks as social time with other humans instead of keeping an eye on their dogs.

  8. This is an excellent post. You are brilliant at reading canine body language. Your dogs are so very lucky to have a great human in their lives. And isn't it amazing how, once we've learned to read dogs, we read people way better, too? Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  9. This is such a smart post. I especially liked haring about how Kenzo helps mediate between Viva and other dogs.

    Our current foster dog has some strange body language around other dogs. Watching Honey has helped me understand Layla (our foster) much better.

    Dogs are such much smarter about body language than humans. If more humans were willing to learn from dogs, we'd have fewer clueless, careless, and judgmental dog people.

  10. It's wonderful how Kenzo acts as a buffer for Viva - what a good doggy brother he is! And as for those Judges, we do the same and avoid them. Remember Leo, you're not the asshole whisperer. ;-)


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