Strange dogs and strangers: Keeping dogs safe
When your dog has admirers, and you don’t know who to trust
Cockapoos are gorgeous. They’re a breed of dog that is just always going to grab some people’s attention. I regularly walked three. And I knew as soon as I picked up the leash, I was going to do a lot of stop-and-start walking, especially around strangers. When you’re in an open environment where everyone is walking dogs (usually city streets), it’s not nearly as big of a deal. But in smaller neighborhoods where people pay entirely too much attention to everything going up and down their streets, dog walkers (and dog owners) can start to feel like they’re under a microscope. Dog owners quickly grow accustomed to the attention. They know who to trust and who not to trust.
But for dog walkers who are still getting used to the neighborhood and the dog, this can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not on your Ps and Qs at all times. This can especially become a problem with overzealous strangers. Here are three to consider when walking new dogs.
Allow the dog to let the dog walker know who strangers are.
I’ve walked a lot of really adorable dogs. But I have never been challenged quite so much with any other breed more than Cockapoos. (It could be purely coincidental.) For example, one week, I was stopped three separate times by strangers who claimed to know the dog. Before dog walkers assume these strangers are telling the truth and let them pet the dog — you’d be surprised how many astoundingly rude people will do this without permission — closely monitor the dog’s behavior. In one example, there was no question that the Cockapoo knew a woman packing up her car. First, she yelled out, “Is that [insert dog’s name here]?” Second, the Cockapoo yanked me forward to get to her. The two ran up to each other, embraced and it was more than obvious from the way the Cockapoo jumped all over her.
Later in the week, one woman parked her car at a stop sign and yelled out the window. She claimed to know my dog, but I saw no reaction from the dog’s end. She got off her cell phone and called my dog. The dog didn’t move. The lady started asking me a bunch of questions about how I ended up walking this dog, and I found it odd that if she “knew” the dog and the family, she wouldn’t know that the family hired dog walkers. While my dog did allow petting, she just didn’t seem thrilled about it. I said I was in a rush to get to my next appointment and kept moving. The dog quickly turned and walked on.
While my careful reaction could easily be confused as rude, I made a point of explaining to the owners what had happened so they could confirm that this person was indeed someone their dog knew. The reaction between the two women was so drastically different that I wanted to confirm it first before potentially stopping by this car again. (Interestingly, both women turned out to be the dog owner’s relatives.) However, as a dog owner myself, I would much rather have a dog walker not just hand my dog over to someone who claims to know my dog. For friendlier dogs, this can too easily put the dog at risk.
Do not tell strangers the dog’s name.
Dog lovers are lovely people, but they can be a wee bit aggressive when a four-legged cutie is in their line of view. There was a second Cockapoo puppy who absolutely loved to just flop down and lose interest in walking altogether. She rarely if ever peed or pooped while she was outside, but was relentless about speed-walking to a nearby bank where free bones were placed outside. And sometimes cars would just stop to admire her.
One woman stopped at a yellow light, yelling out, “What’s your dog’s name?” Unfortunately, I answered without thinking much about it. Here’s why that’s not a good thing. If that same lady who was driving by sees the dog with another walker, she can easily say she “knows” the dog. Why would the next dog walker think she doesn’t? She knows the dog’s name, right? Refer to the first tip. If the dog acts like she doesn’t know this stranger, take the dog’s word for it. Of course the stranger can attempt to say hello, but let your dog be in control of getting any closer to strangers. Stay close with the leash. The last thing you want to have to do is explain to a dog owner why [insert random stranger here] took off with the dog, and you believe the two knew each other. Take that dog back exactly where you picked him or her up, unless told otherwise.
Your dog may not like all the neighborhood dogs.
If ever you need an example of how neighbors who live on the same block may not like each other, look no further than a NextDoor discussion board. That is the place where busybody, overly protective neighbors unite to poke their heads out of peepholes and instigate the “get off my lawn” homeowner.
Unfortunately, the dog you’re walking (or your own dog) may also be underwhelmed by nearby pups. While I personally owned a dog who was in lust with my next door neighbor’s dog (and the feelings were mutual), not all dogs are going to be best friends. Enter the third Cockapoo, one who lived across the street from the first Cockapoo (with the friendly relatives). To say the dog I was walking didn’t like the other dog is an understatement. She went from stone-cold ignoring her to making what sounded about as close to the kind of “ugh” noise coming from a “Mean Girl” as a dog can enunciate.
I have no idea why those two stopped getting along. Apparently they grew up playing with each other and were the same age. For whatever reason, my Cockapoo just stopped liking the other Cockapoo long before I started walking her. So when the dog owner of the one I wasn’t walking strolled over for them to “play,” I watched the reaction of my dog.
Slowly but surely, I cruised away. Dog socialization is important. But if the two dogs already know each other and one is not feeling the other, I see no reason to try to force the friendship. If you’ve ever watched those nightmare vacations on the “Real Housewives” franchise where women who despise each other get together to ruin everyone’s trip, it’s the same vibe. Remember you’re out for a walk so your dog can release herself, get some exercise and enjoy the scenery. She doesn’t have to meet-and-greet every single person who wants to see her. And for the dog walker on a time crunch (especially if there is a mileage requirement), neither are you.