By Alexandra Feldt, Assistant to the President and CEO
Beagle-extraordinaire Fred is afraid of dogs more than anything else in the world (with the exception of his rescue beagle buddy Loosey, pictured here). My dear boy works hard to keep cool around other pooches and it has been a long, ongoing process. Some days my husband Devin and I are simply amazed by how well Fred has done on a walk; others aren’t so great when he barks and lunges in a desperate attempt to keep nearby dogs at a distance. Frequently, we face triggering circumstances outside of our control and there is little we can do for sweet Fred. The good news is, YOU can help!
One of the easiest ways to be sensitive to any canine, especially one suffering from reactivity and similar emotional needs, is to follow the lead of the dog and his or her human. When we walk Fred, whenever possible, we turn around or walk across the street upon seeing another dog. We want to spare Fred and all involved the stress of an unpleasant encounter. If you see a dog and their person exhibiting similar behavior, take this as a request to keep your distance. Often, other people and their dog(s) follow us closely, no matter where we turn. Though likely just a simple case of synced walking routes, this means a miserable time for one big city beagle.
Worse still, some people misunderstand Fred’s upset behavior and assume that he wants to meet their dog. As some dogs are reactive due to out of control positive excitement, I can see how one could come to this conclusion. Again, it is important to follow the lead of a dog’s parent(s). If they are trying to move away, let them, and if they request space, give it. There have been several occasions in which someone has commented that their dog should meet Fred and doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer. In the meantime, Fred is getting more scared and more upset. All in all, it’s a very detrimental situation for my poor guy.
The scariest situation for Fred is encountering an off-leash dog.* More often than not these dogs are friendly, but such encounters pose a myriad of problems. Imagine the terror you would feel if your greatest fear was running straight at you. This is what Fred goes through every time a loose dog comes to say “hi.” To compound matters, as Fred is restrained by a leash he feels trapped. This is a very tense situation for any leashed dog (not just those like Fred) as well as for an approaching loose dog—such strain could lead to altercation. Luckily, though we have had close calls, we have managed to avoid serious incidents.
Even if you have the friendliest, most well-trained dog, he or she could do something uncharacteristic at any time, like bolting (they could get lost), taking exception to another dog or to a person for no apparent reason (possibly resulting in a bite), etc. Frequently, loose dogs have run across the street to get to Fred. Whether or not a reactive dog is involved in this scenario, this puts the free roaming dog at risk of being hit by a car and it has nearly happened several times in our experience. By keeping your dog on a (non-extendable) leash, you ensure consistent physical proximity that allows you to keep your best friend safe and promotes bonding.
Mine is not the only family to encounter these issues with others out in the world. In fact several groups and campaigns to combat these problems are fast growing momentum. DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space is a wonderful group providing resources like flyers, tips, and fact sheets to help dogs like Fred. The Yellow Dog Campaign, which now exists in 16 countries including the U.S., provides a novel solution: dogs who need to maintain distance are encouraged to wear a yellow bandanna, ribbon on their leash, or similar as a visual alert that other people and their dogs should give space.
By following these suggestions, it is so easy for everyone to help keep our companion dogs safe and happy as they walk DC’s streets with their families. It would certainly make a big difference to the ever-awesome Fred. We thank you.
If you see Fred out and about and you don’t have a dog with you, feel free to say “hello!” There is nothing he loves more than human meet and greets on the street.
*I would be remiss if I did not share that it is illegal for dogs to be off-leash in the District when not in a yard or an officially designated dog park.
Photo of Fred and family by Heather Jowett
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