I don’t exactly hate dogs but lately my relationship with them has been strained. I’m allergic to most of them, they drool, and their barks tend to pierce my ears. But what bothers me the most is when they jump up on me unexpectedly, or worse, when they jump on my kids who are scared of them.
When I’m on a trail, most of the other humans I see are ones with their dogs. I don’t know where all the non-dog owners are… maybe inside with their cats and hamsters. Or maybe they got tired of being jumped on by other people’s dogs? Dogs have jumped on me twice recently. Both were leashed. Both times I was scared. Both dog owners apologized but the apologies didn’t make me feel better. I still felt violated.
Here’s the thing dog owners may not know: when your dog jumps up on me it is unexpected and startling. I am a bit fearful he will bite me. His friendly hello feels like an attack. You know he’s being friendly, but I don’t. You may think I like it, but I really, really don’t. My neighbor and friend has been bitten twice by dogs on leashes while running on trails in Portland and has said he won’t even go to Baxter Woods anymore because he’s had dozens of dogs jump up on him on the trails.
I mentioned this to some of my dog-lover friends and even they agreed that they don’t want other dogs jumping up on them. Perhaps dog owners don’t know how this feels. Maybe they don’t get jumped up on because when they encounter dogs on the trail their own dogs get the attention and spare them the slobber. Maybe their fondness for their canines clouds their empathy. “What’s not to love about Fifi?” they may think. Why wouldn’t they think this? I assume people are going to love my kids because my kids are amazing. These folks undoubtedly feel the same way about their dog. I get it, but I wouldn’t ever let my child jump up on you. Your apology afterwards is essential, but it doesn’t make it OK. It still makes the trail a less desirable place, even for me.
This past winter I was walking on a trail and saw a runner coming toward me with an off-leash dog. I felt my fear begin to rise, but as soon as she saw me, she called her dog to her who promptly came, fastened the leash, and cinched up on it so the dog was just inches from her hand. What a relief. She held the dog in place as I approached, and my fear dissipated. Happily, it turned out to be my friend Moriah and her dog Pearl. As we talked, she asked if I minded if she took the leash off. By then, Pearl was acclimated to my smell, I totally trusted the dog was going to respond to my friend when called, and I didn’t mind one bit. This was superb dog owner etiquette elegantly at work: Moriah proactively kept her dog under control from a good distance and I felt perfectly safe.
I love being in the woods on the trails. My time out there will not be compromised by the potential that your leashed dog may jump on me. But I wonder, when I joked earlier that some people were at home with their hamsters, was there some truth to it… are there other non-dog owners like my neighbor who are too scared of dogs and avoid the trails because of them? My husband reminded me that years ago I coached him through his intense fear of dogs. He had been bit by a dog whose owner said, “He’s friendly.” He’s been chased by unleashed dogs numerous times while riding his bike. I advised him to stay calm, to avoid looking them in the eye, to talk to them like you know them, and to let them smell the back side of your hand. He said he’s now rarely scared of dogs in the woods. This is all well and good, but when I’m exercising, I don’t really want to stop running to apply these proper time-consuming behaviors. In preparation for this blog post I read some advice at a government web page called Dealing with Dogs. I learned that when I approach a dog from the front or the back, dogs might read this as a threat and work to protect their owner. This is probably heightened when I’m running toward them. This certainly seems like something non-dog owners and dog owners alike should be aware of. I guess the solution is two part: owners firmly chomp down on the leash when strangers approach and the non-dog owning trail users can leave a wide berth to dogs on leash.
What do you think? How can dog owners and non-dog owning folks best share the trails? To my dog-owning readers, what else can we do to keep from getting jumped up on? Please leave a comment so all others can learn!