A regular client who owns a non - reactive dog told me a few weeks ago “I don’t enjoy taking out my dog for a walk, is this normal?” and this got me thinking. Nor do I; why is that?
Walking a dog conjures up images of fresh air, wildlife, meeting other people, dogs running through the daisies playing together and everyone having a relaxing time. After all, this is the reason many people say they get a dog.
But, I mostly don’t find walking Lily very relaxing at all, and clients are surprised when I say this because, surely my dog is impeccably behaved and I should have no worries about her when walking. But actually, being a responsible dog owner isn’t just about knowing what your own dog can and can’t do, it’s about considering others using the same public space. It’s also about how considerate other dog walkers are as well.
When I take Lily out for a walk I do the following:
- I look out for dogs that I believe might be a threat to her and take steps to avoid. Not because she is afraid of dogs, but because I don’t want her to BECOME afraid of them.
- I look out for small children, and when I see them I call Lily and put her on her lead. Not just because she might jump up at them to greet, but because many children are frightened of dogs, so I make sure it is clear she is under control so that the child need not be frightened. I can then control the greeting if the child wishes to greet Lily, making sure both the child and Lily enjoy this.
- I look out for dogs on lead and when I see them, I put Lily on lead too. Not because I don’t trust her not to go up to them, but because I am communicating to the other dog walker that I clearly have my dog under control so they don’t need to worry. It’s not fair on any on-lead dog to greet an off-lead dog, no matter how friendly both are.
- I look for elderly or less able people and when I see them, I put Lily on the lead. I am reminded of how my mum felt walking through Cardiff city with me when Christmas shopping one year. She panicked any time anyone got closer than about 15 feet because she thought they might knock her over; partly because she was unsteady on her feet and partly due to cataracts. So, I assume elderly people may worry about seeing an off-lead dog approach them and keep Lily on the lead to greet.
- I put Lily on lead in places of possible danger; for example, a cliff top where it might be dangerous for her to walk further away from us, near roads etc.
- I put Lily on lead when near livestock. Even though I'm 99% certain she won't chase, because this is the law. Dogs must be under close control when near to livestock.
- I put Lily on her lead if I see a group having a picnic. This is based on experience and the knowlege that Lily can sniff out a single chip from three miles away. I have no doubt she would help herself to a picnic as she was trained to do this as a puppy whilst filming for an ITV Ident in which they wanted her to gate crash a picnic and steal the food. She very much enjoyed this, and although I believed at that time, If I put a queue to the behaviour “Raid it” she would only do this on my cue, I was sadly deluded! She rapidly generalised a context that people sitting on the ground means they have food to be stolen and I have never cracked being able to un-train this behaviour. I have trained alternative behaviours, but I have yet to discover one MORE rewarding than raiding a picnic. Hence, if I see a picnic even three miles away, she goes on lead as I prefer not to chance spoiling someone’s day.
So, do I enjoy walking my dog? Yes, mostly, but it’s not always easy as I am considering everybody else using the same space as Lily and me. I guess this is the price for being a responsible human being.