While my friend was in town, I took her to my favorite close-by forest preserve for a nice hike.  As we were walking the trails with Rufus, we came across a Newfoundland and a Great Pyrenees running around off-leash, no owners in sight.

There are two things to know about my guy: 1. He has some leash reactivity, and 2. He has a MUCH harder time keeping his cool around dogs 3x his size.  

So of course, the two dogs rush up to us to say hello.  Rufus stiffens and I keep a loose hold on the leash. I know from past experiences that if I tighten up on the leash or try to drag him away, he will start acting like a rabid dog – it is much better to just stay calm and deal with the situation in the moment.  

With the two dogs surrounding us and sniffing the heck out of him, Rufus let out a low growl as a warning.  The Newfie took this as an invitation to play (silly dog) and leapt above Rufus.  Well, this just scared Rufus even more, so he growled and lunged.  Luckily I know my dog very well and he is all talk.  Luckily the two dogs were incredibly docile and had no intentions of reacting to his empty threat.  Luckily.

But what would have happened if any three of these dogs had acted differently?  What if Rufus really was aggressive and wanted a piece out of one of the dogs? It wouldn’t have been my fault, as I was obeying the leash laws of the park.  What if one or both of these giants reacted negatively to his warning growl, starting a very unfair fight?  What if, right?  Ugh…

Dinos (Dogs In Need Of Space) is a campaign that is very close to my heart. It’s hard to explain to a person with little dog experience that not every canine wants to be best friends with every human and living creature they meet.  Giving a fearful or anxious dog space is so very important for their behavioral health, and negative or forced experiences can mean major setbacks in training.

 After years of training and learning to understand my dog, I know which environments help him to thrive and which ones set him back.  I know what type of dogs he has no problem greeting on-leash and which ones will make him anxious.  I know he looooves children, but if that child is accompanied by a very tall and boisterous man, it can make him react negatively.  I DO NOT want to deal with my dog growling at a child simply because the parent makes him nervous…that’s not a situation that is positive for anyone involved.  

So what’s my point?  The owner came rushing up to us, yelling “They’re friendly!”  Ugh…really?  So I explained to her that my dog is intimidated by larger dogs and that it would probably be best that she leash them and walk them away from us.  I then politely reminded her that the park has a DESIGNATED area (an actual dog park! come on, lady!) in which her dogs can play with other dogs off-leash.  She just breathlessly apologized and walked off, unleashing her dogs  as soon as they were far enough away from us.

 20 minutes later, we ran into them again.  I distracted Rufus with a treat and shoo’d them off.

Now listen, I totally get that it’s super fun to hike with your dog off-leash.  There is one park in which I indulge in this act with Rufus.  It is always deserted an the only other person I ever see there has a dog that Rufus has met properly several times.  They greet each other with a sniff and play bow and then we all go on our merry way.  It’s quite nice, actually.  However, I always scope out the area first. It also doesn’t have any leash laws. 



At the end of the day, know your environment and know your dog.  If your dog has poor recall or wants to meet every single dog he spots, it’s probably best to keep him leashed.  All it takes is one chance meeting with a dog that is not so friendly for something to go horribly wrong.  And wouldn’t it be awful if it was all your fault?  


Thanks for keeping me safe, mom!


21 thoughts on “DINOS

  1. Good for you, knowing Rufus so well and not doing what most people in that situation would have done, being to tighten the leash and cause all sorts of unnecessary panic.
    Loved the cartoon – very funny. Yes, it is up to each owner to know their dogs well enough and to understand other peoples dogs as well. Never going to be an easy one to get through to the general public though.

    • It’s so true that it’s probably never going to be common knowledge, but it’d be great if we could spread the word as much as possible. I definitely think those that go through at least one basic obedience class should probably understand boundaries a little better.

  2. I 100% agree with this and love that you shared it. Also, Rufus and Melvin were separated at birth. I cannot tell you how many times in our neighborhood (not even on a secluded trail) we run into the same issue with the other person yelling ‘my dog is friendly’ and me yelling ‘my dog isn’t!’. Unlike Rufus, Melvin will lunge if an off leash dog comes into his space. It’s so aggravating when I spend time leashing them up, bringing poop bags and treats for distraction and others make no effort other than to open their back door a say ‘out’!

    • Seriously! Every walk is a training session for some of us, and people don’t seem to get that. Life would be a magical, perfect place if every single dog was super friendly and easy going, but that’s just not reality…sadly 😦

  3. Maggie loves other dogs as long as they don’t put a paw on her. Our friend’s husky tried to hump her and she grabbed him by the throat and had him on the ground in a second, even though he’s twice her size. No damage done, but it could have been bad if the husky wasn’t such a mush. Luckily his owner said that was one way to teach him not to do that! 🙂

  4. Also, we definitely don’t let Maggie or Duke off leash, except for fenced yards, and we don’t take them to dog parks because I’m afraid she might grab another pushy dog. She usually will wag, but both of them will snarl face and then bark if a dog gets in their space. It’s funny how many people don’t realize how rude their dogs are being. The Mr will say “would you like ME to come up and grab you like that?” (He’s kind of scary, I’ve been told.:)

  5. I identify with this so much.
    Also I am the queen of tightening my leash and adding to the reactions of my dogs. I am trying SO HARD to break that habit. It’s so ingrained in me and I need to stop. I have such a snap reaction to when I see a dog, I immediately assume my dogs will react. (Namely Hades.)
    I hate that by being a “my dog needs space” person everyone I meet seems to assume that means I have an unfriendly or aggressive dog 😦 I get so used to it at adoption events with adoptable dogs and in my neighborhoods I just want to shout out “My dog is friendly, I promise, but I’m mean and don’t want them to interact!” So I look bad instead of them! 😉

  6. So very true – and that’s not even touching upon the problem of people being scared of dogs that come gallumphing towards them at a million miles per hour… I’m glad you and Rufus are ok!

  7. Even though Nola is super submissive and non reactive to most dogs, I can not stand when off leash dogs come up to us, especially in designated on-leash areas. If I am in an area where it is off leash, I expect to meet dogs off leash. If I am not, then I expect dogs to be leashed. Why don’t people understand that dogs are on leash for many reasons?! With our last foster Anna it was so hard because she was EXTREMELY reactive and on the verge of aggressive. There were several instances where I had to do what you did, just keep calm and watch closely at body language because I couldn’t pull her away without her flipping out. As a dog owner, this is seriously one of my biggest complaints, ignorant, oblivious, apathetic PEOPLE.

    • Agree 100%! I used to think that Rufus was actually incredibly leash aggressive simply becaus he would start acting more pent-up if I tried to control him. Once I realized that the level of restriction correlated with his reaction, I have tried my best to stay calm. It really does work!

  8. Well said 🙂
    I’ve endured this same scenario a couple of times too. One of the issues when re-homing an adult rescue dog is that you have had no control over their much needed early socialisation, nor do you know if they’ve even had any. Then when you’re walking and training and so on in a public place, you often look like the bad guy if your dog is acting ‘odd’ in front of other people! I know people don’t always know the circumstances, but they don’t always help either!

    • I have been in that situation too many times, haha. Rufus is a growler in general – when he’s playing, when he’s nervous, and when he’s excited . Luckily I have come across a lot of people lately who totally get that and don’t pull their dog away simply because he’s growling while he’s play bowing…I mean, body language is everything!

  9. I’m so glad this situation didn’t end in tears/terse words/lawsuits. I have experienced this multiple times and it is so frustrating. I think the only way people will learn is if they are actually ticketed for not following leash laws…..or if their dog is hurt (or hurts another dog). But probably even then they won’t learn. 😦

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