I always end each hike with 10-20 minutes of loose leash training as a group. Today after an enjoyable fun-filled off-leash hike with Stanley, Stevie and Lusi, I leashed the dogs up about one kilometre from the van and we began our leash work. It was at this point in our journey that a very unfortunate, unexpected and unpleasant experience occurred.
From behind us, a woman appeared with her two off-leash dogs and when her dogs spotted my dogs, they started running towards us. Because we were in work-mode and because I had three dogs on leash, I asked her to call her dogs so we could continue our work and so that my dogs did not have the unfair disadvantage of being leashed and having two dogs running straight at them. She tried calling her dogs but they were not responding at all. They continued to run toward us and I could sense that Stanley was becoming somewhat concerned about being a target for the incoming missile dogs. I gently told him, "never mind, I have it under control", physically moved my body between him and the incoming dogs and he settled back into our leash work. I continued to work with my dogs and while the woman did try to get her dogs under control, she had no response from them whatsoever.
I could tell the woman was frustrated and as a result, she began yelling at me! (This doesn't make sense to me either!) In a very rude tone, she told me to stop so she could pass us so that her dogs would not feel the urge to chase us and play. Using very abusive language, she went on to inform me that we were in a leash-free forest and I should not hike here if I cannot control my dogs and need to keep them leashed. I was in a state of disbelief. Did she actually just say that? Had I just entered "
"? I may just need Superman's help on this one! She further shouted at me that because it is a leash-free forest, her dogs have a right to do whatever they want off-leash, including running up to any dog they encounter no matter what the situation is. I could not believe I was being cursed-out and yelled at for having leashed, controlled dogs while her unleashed, out of control dogs were inappropriately getting in my dogs' faces!
I was desperately trying to turn the stressful encounter into a learning opportunity with this woman. I calmly tried to explain why a good recall is so incredibly important for the safety of all of our dogs so that we can enjoy off-leash hiking with them. She continued to swear at me and began walking away. She would not stop to talk rationally about the dogs and she got in her car and drove off.
In an effort to end our hike on a positive note, I did a bit more leash work with the dogs and they did a wonderful job. We got cleaned up, loaded into the van and I took several moments to reflect on the situation before I drove off to drop Lusi at home (thank you for the supportive hugs Elizabeth, John, Chihuahuas and Lusi<3).
There are several important reminders that I took away from our experience today and they are somewhat intertwined for all of us dog owners. Firstly, we must be respectful of fellow trail users including cyclists, hikers, dogs and horses and riders. I was clearly doing some training work with the dogs today and the woman we encountered had no respect for how I chose to use the trail at that point in time. Because the dogs were on leash, she jumped to the conclusion that a) I must have no control over them and therefore could not let them run free and b) that they must be aggressive because I did not want her dogs approaching my leashed dogs. From my perspective (and Stanley's too!), her dogs were like incoming missiles and I did not want my dogs to deal with their rude approach. It was my job to protect the dogs in my care. It was her job to respect my wishes and call her dogs off.
Pooped puppies after a safe, fun hike today.
Stanley and Stevie kept me company in my office as I wrote this blog post.
The second important reminder I took from our experience is about the importance of our our dogs performing reliable recalls. This is the single most important command if we plan to be off-leash with our dogs anywhere, anytime, period. In the forest specifically, we never know what we will encounter and some situations can be downright dangerous. Last week in this same forest when I was hiking with Stanley, Stevie and Lusi, we came across a very young raccoon that was exhibiting signs that it was not well. Stanely and Lusi noticed it and started moving toward it. I called them both and they came running to me for a well-deserved treat and we moved on. I was so proud of them both! That could have been a potentially dangerous situation if the dogs had ignored my command. There are numerous scenarios I could come up with in which a reliable recall would literally save their lives. In fact in a previous blog post
I wrote about my neighbour who let her dog out of her vehicle and he promptly ran into the street and got hit by a car because he did not have a good enough recall. I also gave recall tips in that post so please take a look and work on your dog's recall.
I often encounter people in the forest we went hiking in today and I am happy to report that this woman is an exception. I have met many friendly, respectful fellow trail enthusiasts. In conclusion, a little respect and a solid recall go a long way!