The majority of the time when I am with clients and their dogs, I’m pleasantly surprised by other people and their kindness towards the training process and the creatures in front of them. I feel seriously lucky to mostly encounter dog owners and others who are considerate. They see we are training or the dog we have with us is struggling. They say “Are you going this way? I’ll go this way.” They see we have a dog at all, and they smile and turn around. They are aware of others in their community and are acting with kindness.
At a training session last weekend, my client and I ran into someone who was the exception. They were not kind. They were not considerate. And they did not exercise compassion for my client’s dog, my client, or me. Here’s the story:
This client dog, rescued from the shelter, is strong, big, and still working on seeing other dogs calmly. My client had control of his leash and we were both paying full attention to his behavior. He saw another dog and started to struggle, pulling forward. This happens in training sessions.
I said to the other owner, “Are you coming this way?” This is kind, clear communication so that we can make a plan and keep their dog and the client dog safe.
The man said pointedly, “Yes. Once you get control of your dog.”
That wasn’t a kind thing to say. That wasn’t a helpful thing to say. It also was an inaccurate assumption that we did not have control of the situation.
And he kept coming forward towards us, which was a clear sign that he would not change course for us and get distance. He would force the situation to be harder for us, and possibly detrimental for both his dog and my client’s dog.
We quickly got distance. He proceeded to take up whatever space in the park he wanted. I assume he felt entitled to do this because his dog was calm.
Here’s the thing: Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he was scared for his dog. We can’t judge his experience.
So I sure as hell expect him not to judge ours.
This situation could have gone very differently, and most of the time, it does. Had he responded with, “Yes, we’re headed that way. But we can wait,” this would have supported my client and her dog. It would have given us time to thoughtfully work with our dog and move away calmly. It would have shown that he cared about our experience, not just his own.
This particular client of mine, by the way, continues to shine. You know who you are. Shortly after this interaction, I asked “Do you still enjoy training your dog? Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded with a resounding: “YES.” Lucky dog.
This is your call to action:
Ask yourself some questions.
Is your dog friendly? Is your dog social? Is your dog well behaved? What do those things mean anyway? Is your dog well trained? What’s that mean? Your standards of what is acceptable behavior may be very different from others. But either way, do you think you have the right to do as you please because your dog acts a certain way? Think about it.
How do you show up for the dog community? How do you support people who are trying to get their dogs appropriate exercise and enrichment? How do you communicate with people in your environment, whether they have dogs or not? Think about the impact you have on others.
How does your dog affect others? Whether your dog is reactive or you trust your dog so much you let it off leash to play ball in public, your dog is affecting those around you.
How does what you do impact others? Do you tread lightly? Or do you feel like you can take up more space than other dog owners?
Have compassion for your community. If your dog’s doin’ great, help others. We are all affected by our environment. You are part of the environment whether you like it or not.
Do you want to help dogs? See the people in front of you. That’s how you help dogs.
But this is not just about dogs. This is about humans and all other creatures. Walk through the world kindly. That’s like, kinda the point. Pretty sure.