Say you are in a grocery store with your best friend and her child, and you both see the child take something, perhaps a candy bar, and start eating it. You look at your friend to see if she’s going to say anything to her child, but she just shrugs. Then you notice that another shopper has also seen this, and that person glares at you, as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to do something about this?” You smile and shrug helplessly, and the best you can say is, “It’s not my kid!”
Well, that was me. But it was at a park where a bunch of dogs were playing off-leash, in spite of the signs ringing the park that indicated dogs were supposed to be on leash. I was walking with a friend and her dog toward the middle of the park, toward the swirl of off-leash dogs, and across a narrow zone of people walking their dogs ON-leash and across a busy bike path. Each time my friend’s dog ran right up to a leashed dog (and of course, the humans at the other end of the leash), I would look back at my friend, who always seemed to be doing something else – looking through her pockets, looking at her phone – I don’t know WHAT she was doing!
I whistled for my friend’s dog a couple of times, and he came back to me once. But when he ran up to an older person who was walking a little West Highland White Terrier and who looked up and glared at me as his walk was interrupted by the two dogs greeting, all I could come up with at the moment was “I’m sorry, it’s not my dog!” There was no growling or aggression, but I was so uncomfortable! This isn’t how I would manage my own dogs!
And by the time two people on a tandem bike had to come to a complete halt to make sure they weren’t going to hit my friend’s dog, who was trotting along on a diagonal on the bike path, and they couldn’t easily ascertain which way he was going to go, my nerves were fried.
I think we can all agree that allowing your dog to run up to other people, and especially people with leashed dogs, is incredibly rude and potentially dangerous. It can set back a training and counter-conditioning program of a dog whose own behavior with other dogs is reactive. I know that my friend’s dog has been attacked and bitten by an off-leash dog before. So why on earth would she let her off-leash dog run up to other leashed dogs?
After the moment with the Westie, I did say to my friend, “You know, it’s pretty rude to let your dog run up to people with a leashed dog. If their dog was totally comfortable with other dogs, they’d probably have it off-leash.” My friend’s response? “Oh, I know, but XXX (my dog) is totally good with other dogs.”
All I could say is, “Well, this is hard for me to be around…”
I’ve been thinking this ever since. I guess I’m one of those people who can never think of what to say at the time, who thinks of the perfect thing to say later. But I still haven’t thought of what I should have said and done. I know what I would have liked to say: “Hey! Put the dog on leash, or keep him with us until we are in the middle of the park with all the other off-leash dogs!” But she’s an adult and I’m not her boss.
But this morning I thought, perhaps someone else knows just what to say in this situation, or any situation where you are with a friend or relative and they do something you feel is very wrong. What’s the perfect approach to preserving your relationship, while expressing your discomfort with what your friend or relative is doing? Because simply deciding never to walk with them and their dog again feels bad, too – but that’s the best I have been able to come up with so far.
What would you do or say? What would be a tactful but educational approach to take? (Those might be two different answers!)