Just-a Walking the Dog..
I have a rule when I am walking dogs in the city: Whenever I see other dogs or children approach me, I cross the street. Some may call this rude, but as a dog walker, I call it "dog-walking etiquette."
There are plenty of controlled situations where dogs can play, but a cramped sidewalk just isn’t one of them. (If you are new to the area, check out the list of three dog parks at the bottom of this post.)
I believe my rule is particularly important with small children. The truth is, most kids don’t know how to interact with dogs — and dogs themselves do not understand why kids poke and scream and wobble!
If interacting with a child is unavoidable, I will kneel down to the child’s eye level and make sure both the child and my dog are behaving appropriately.
I have no problem telling someone else’s kids how to act around my dog because, ultimately, it’s my job to make my dog feel safe — and that protects the child. Yes, there will be future columns devoted to children and dogs (and children in dog parks).
WHAT’S BEHIND ON-LEASH BEHAVIOR?
Dog-owners and pedestrians alike have all witnessed situations like this: Dogs that seem to get along perfectly well in dog parks become different animals on leashes.
So what is it about an uncontrolled street setting that causes a dog to act differently? One differentiating factor, I’d argue, is the anxiety that the dog and/or owner may feel when approaching another dog or pedestrian on the street.
In a dog park, it is safe to make the assumption that, at a minimum, every person in that environment is comfortable around dogs. Moreover, it’s a fairly decent bet that dogs in a dog park are relatively well-socialized with other dogs — especially if they are regular visitors to dog parks.
However, on a neighborhood street, this level of assurance does not exist for the dog — or even the owner. How do you know if the approaching stranger likes or dislikes dogs? What about the stranger’s dog? Does he or she like people? Are they aggressive toward other dogs? It is simply naïve to think that our dogs do not feel our anxiety. Dogs are very attuned to their human caregivers. Thus, in your dog’s mind, “if mom is anxious, there must be some reason for me to be anxious.”
Additionally, on a fundamentally canine level, being leashed prevents dogs from conducting their own necessary screenings of safety and comfort, i.e., the butt-sniffing and general checking out of other humans and dogs.
RUN INTERFERENCE FOR YOUR DOG
Even if your dog never shows signs of interest in other dogs, I always think of what my dad used to say when I first started driving, “It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s everyone else.”
The best thing you can do is to be assertive and run interference for your dog! If crossing the street is not an option, do not be a passive observer in your dog’s interactions. You can still keep walking past the dog, quickly and calmly. This lets your dog know you have a plan and they don’t have to “deal” with the situation themselves. The result is a happier and safer walk for everyone.
LOCAL DOG PARKS
There are three public D.C. dog parks close to home in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area.
S Street Dog Park, located at 17th and S Streets NW.
Shaw Dog Park located at 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW (just south of R Street) and operated by Shaw Dogs, a volunteer group.
Walter Pierce Dog Park located at 20th and Calvert Streets NW in the northern end of Adams Morgan (you can enter off Adams Mill Road).