New Yorkers are known for their efficiency, social schedule, walking pace, and bluntness. You can sniff out a tourist simply by observing their interactions with a stranger, how polite they are riding a crowded subway, or their lack of spatial mapping on the sidewalk. As New Yorkers, we get other New Yorkers. We respect the flow of the City that never sleeps.
If you were to apply that same mentality to our dogs, the k9 world would look very different. There would be expectations on how they are in public: how our dogs interact with other dogs, how they walk on the leash, and how they engage with humans. We would spend less time making excuses for their behavior and more time focusing on their confidence and calm.
Let's set the scene:
A group of four young children and a chaperon are walking together on Fifth Avenue. The kids are walking in pairs behind their leader, chatting quietly, holding hands. A mother and her child approach them and the kid starts throwing a tantrum, flailing his arms, yelling at the other kids for no reason. The mother, in a quiet, sweet tone asks him to stop, with little influence on the child. The group of children is startled but the chaperon remains calm, looks back at her pack with assuredness, and they scurry past the child. Her flock giggles as they continue on their journey. Or, maybe this same group of children sees a large man standing right in the middle of the thin sidewalk, arms crossed, not moving, staring at the chaperon. He doesn't say anything but the chaperon certainly wonders if he's safe. Before they move further, she redirects her group to avoid passing by the man, cautiously zigzagging between the parked cars then popping back onto the sidewalk. The children are safe, without fear, because their chaperon acted as their advocate.
The same applies for those of us responsible for a dog in a public place.
As a dog parent or dog handler, we feel that same urge to protect our pups as the chaperon protected those children. In order for a human child to act like a child, they must know that they are safe to be goofy, inquisitive and brave while also knowing the rules of the house and their parent’s expectations of them. The same applies to our k9 child. If a dog feels anxious, scared, or protective, we need to do a better job as their advocate. They rely on us to bring a sense of calm and assuredness. In order for them to have a “dog’s life” of being carefree, we must be their protectors and their teachers while also being their source of affection, praise, and treats.
If you let your k9 bark at random humans and random dogs as they pass by, how is that different than the child in the first scenario? If you allow your dog to stop in the middle of the sidewalk, crouch down, and wait to socialize or lunge at the dog(s) approaching, how is that an acceptable behavior? It is important to set up proper boundaries with our k9 children so they know how to be better citizens of their cities and neighborhoods.
Take this time during social distancing to teach your pups proper leash etiquette and socialization skills. Rather than allowing your dog to bark and leap at other dogs as they pass, build your bond with your dog by communicating to keep moving, to pay attention to you as their leader rather than the dog on the sidewalk whose parent most likely does not want to engage. If you encounter your neighbor’s dog who does allow socialization, be sure your pup knows the rules and to only engage with their k9 friend on your terms and not theirs. We want our pups to feel safe under our care when approaching a dog that is acting out, because our dog knows we will protect him. I encourage you to avoid picking up your dog if they don’t want to move or if you’re approaching a dog that wants to play. Instead, use it as a teachable moment to have your dog listen to your voice over their own inner voice -- this will instill a level of confidence not only in your dog, but also in you. After all, you are here to be their advocate, in playtime and in precarious situations. Pause and think to yourself: am I setting up my dog for success in this moment? Be the confident leader your k9 companion needs!
To being the leader,