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Teachable Moments in the Dog Park

The other day I, and my three leashed dogs, had a tense encounter with two women and their two unleashed dogs. We had just finished our morning outing and were leaving our wonderful off leash area in the Berkeley marina—this 100+ acre park has breathtaking vistas of the bay’s bridges, plus half its space is set aside for humans and off leash dogs to exercise and enjoy nature together—but the rule in the other half of the park is that dogs must be on leash. The walk to and from the OLA might take all of 3 to 5 minutes. That should be a simple rule to follow, and one that we, who helped establish this dog park, agreed that we would help others to comply with.

But few people oblige, especially in the mornings, figuring that there really is no one there to see them side-stepping the rule. I know how that feels since walking three, anxious-to-romp, dogs on leash can be challenging. But I understand the importance of leashing them, so I do. I am also aware that the “I-can-get-away-with-it” attitude has threatened the legitimacy of the off leash area. So lately, I have been reminding people, politely, about this rule. Most people understand and gladly leash their dogs.

But the recent encounter went beyond not following that rule—I recognized the women because they run with their dogs in the OLA, but pay scant attention to what their two dogs are doing. I have seen these dogs charge up to, bark and "air" snap at each dog they encounter. Their behavior is not playful or social but instead demonstrates borderline aggressive behavior. But luckily, they always run off following their owners.

So there we were walking on a “leashed” path, exiting the park, when I saw them walking towards us about 50 feet away. Their dogs spotted us and quickly came charging up to us. Barking, snarling, threatening. The women didn’t even move, I had already stopped walking, had all my dogs in a sit, and asked the women to call their dogs. They did nothing, not call them, not run to them, they just froze. By that time their dogs were in full attack mode, hackles up, fully baring their teeth (the photo shows how they were reacting, and yes both dogs were wearing prong collars), which, in turn, inspired my dogs to react. Even mellow Lola got into the act. Yet, the women didn’t do anything. I had to call out to them again to get their dogs, which finally they did (but still not leashing them).

 As one of them was trying to round up the two dogs, I calmly explained to the other woman the basics of the on/off leash rules, also pointing out that they should do more when their dogs show this heightened level of agitation/aggression.

I really don’t know what it takes for some to understand that this is simply not acceptable dog behavior. Some don’t understand dog behavior and foolishly think that dogs will simply “work it out.” This is one of those golden rules of responsible “dog-person” behavior, when another person asked you to control your dog, the best thing to do is to just do it, and take your dog away from the interaction. There should be no argument, no “but my dog is friendly” comment, which, in this instance, certainly wasn’t the case.

Why do you think that some people react this way? How best should this “teachable moment” be handled?

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Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and editor in chief. thebark.com
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Submitted by Carolyn | May 15 2013 |

Sounds as though you handled a frightening situation as well as anyone could possibly expect to. I can't think what else you could have done. I would bet that the owners are unable to control their dogs. That they've been in this situation before, and pretending not to hear, acting slowly, if at all, are all in hopes that the situation will work itself out without being placed in the embarrassing situation of showing that their dogs are completely out of control.

Submitted by Deb | May 18 2013 |

We have encountered the same thing again and again. Our dogs are always on leash but others seem to think their dogs are not the problem. One of our dogs was attacked and his tail was bitten off. After a very costly surgery to repair the damaged, we had to sue the pet owners to get them to pay for the surgery. Pet owners should be fined for each off leash incidence, maybe that would put a stop to their negligence.

Submitted by Deb | May 18 2013 |

Our dogs are always on leash, it protects our dogs and gives us some control in situations just like this. We have had numerous encounters with off-leash animals. Some are friendly while others have attacked and hurt our pets. We normally try to scoop our dogs up and leave right away, although I feel this is not a resolve. There are always people who don't feel the rules apply to them. However, you did a wonderful job of remaining calm and keeping your dogs in check. Although, I'm guessing these women will continue to disregard the "leash law".

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