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I’d planned to write this week about dogs’ gifts to us: their boundless love and unwavering loyalty, the comfort and companionship they give without asking for anything in return, the immeasurable joy they bring, and the lessons we learn by sharing our lives with them.

However, Mabel and I just got home from a walk and had a not-so-great encounter that rattled me. As I drove to our favorite metro park, I was delighted. It was drizzling rain, not downpours, but enough of a dreary day to bring fewer walkers and dogs to avoid and for me to practice Mabel’s calm behavior from a distance. When you have a reactive dog, inclement weather often hinders your plans to have as little traffic as possible.
We meandered into one of my favorite sections, a quiet gravel path surrounded by trees, where we rarely see anyone and can enjoy our stroll. I spotted another dog coming towards us; the person put the dog on a leash, and as they walked past, the dog growled, lunged, and snarled at Mabel. 

Mabel’s reaction was equally intense, but she was double-leashed, and I treated and attempted to soothe her. I said to the human, “Please keep your dog on leash,” as Mabel and I walked away.

I love this park because I know the dog traffic patterns well, we have many perpendicular escape routes if needed, Mabel’s relaxed and happy (that took months), and I rarely see an off-leash dog. When I have, the person calls their dog when I ask and respects Mabel’s not-so-subtle-need-for space, so I feel safe walking there, no small feat given two dogs who broke out of their backyard attacked Gavin and me years ago. It changed me. While it changed Gavin, too, he shrunk or stopped walking when an approaching dog made him nervous.

But, when you have a dog whose fear response is defensive, gremlin-like, you think about your precautionary steps differently. Fiery behavior brings out more fierce behavior, and all the treat tosses, leash swinging, and umbrella opening attempts I could make if a dog did rush us wouldn’t keep us safe and secure.

I don’t want to resort to my dog deterrent spray or break stick, but I’ll never understand why people walk their untrained, especially reactive, dogs off-leash at parks with leash rules when there are Sniffspots designed for safe off-leash play or places that don’t have leash rules. I bow to those who’ve worked hard to train and prove a rock-solid recall. I just want to enjoy a walk with my reactive dog where we feel safe, and people follow the rules. 

I’m not going to yammer on, as there is so much injustice, cruelty, and suffering in the world. I should focus on the fact that Mabel and I are safe, and I have the opportunity to think about my game plan for the next walk to continue keeping us secure and helping her learn that dogs aren’t scary.

So, my wish for us all today is safety, security, and peace. And, when faced with situations that make us (or our dogs) uneasy, may we communicate as kindly as we can while remaining free from harm.

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