When I brought Rugby home, I had no idea I was going to be dealing with the issues that surfaced with him. I expected bumps along the way, and I was prepared for those. But I never anticipated the depth of the issues that he’s had, and I certainly didn’t expect them to be present and ongoing nearly 8 years later! He has improved, to be sure, but he’s far from being a typical nearly nine year old dog.
Some of what made things really difficult for us in the early days, were having dog neighbors on either side of us who were uncooperative and not at all helpful. They stuck to their guns about what they wanted and what was easy and familiar to them, and made it clear that Rugby was MY problem. They made it clear that any discussion was over.
The biggest problem that they created for us was that they allowed their dogs to wander….off leash….basically wherever their dogs wanted to go, which included our entire yard, which was unfenced. Yes there are leash laws in effect in the town we lived in, and yes, they were breaking those leash laws. But both neighbors contended that their dogs were friendly, had always roamed close to home, had never been a problem for the time that they’d lived there, and so if I didn’t like it, it was really MY problem…not theirs.
I tried explaining Rugby’s fears and anxieties about new dogs, and that every time he was going potty, when their dogs wandered into his yard, it heightened his fears, and made it very difficult to get him to focus and potty. He was always scanning the horizon for a stray dog. One neighbor told me his dog was 13 years old, and he wasn’t about to put her on a leash. He did have a fenced yard, however, but apparently didn’t think she needed to be fenced, either. Go figure. The other neighbor, who also happened to be our HOA President, just contended that his dog wasn’t out much, stayed in their yard for the most part, and was friendly and not a problem to the neighborhood. He’d never had complaints, so he didn’t see any reason to change what he had always done.
I was put in a very awkward position of either choosing to be quiet and keep peace, or call animal control and be the neighborhood villain. Not an enviable position, to be sure. I opted for keeping peace, but that meant having a difficult and unfair environment for my own dog, in my own yard, which was completely unfair to Rugby and my family.
To make things easier for Rugby, we often did a tag team family approach when it was time to potty him. We sent a scout outside first, to see if any stray dogs were out and about, and then we quickly took Rugby out and hoped he would be quick before a dog came along. I lived that way with Rugby for nearly a year, and it was so difficult and unnecessary. We were blessed to have flexible hours with our jobs, so we could give him play time outside M-F while our neighbors were at work. Weekends and evenings were awful. Honestly, just awful. I won’t lie about that at all. And because Rugby was surprised by dogs coming around the corner of the house, or walking past our ceiling to floor windows on our front porch, it only served to heighten Rugby’s fear and anxiety of new dogs.
When we own a dog, I think we belong to a big family of other dog owners, and we have a responsibility to be good members of that family! It would have been so easy for our neighbors to have adjusted things with their dogs, and it would have made things so much easier for us and for Rugby. How selfish and uncaring they were to continue with letting their dogs roam when I told them that it was a problem for us with our dog. I attribute much of Rugby’s fear of other dogs to that first year of his life with us, when we couldn’t protect him from stray dogs wandering into his space.
Here are some things to consider to be a good dog neighbor:
- Leash your dog! Virtually every community has a leash law, but there are always folks who think that laws apply to everyone except them. If you don’t want to physically take your dog out on a leash, provide a fenced area that’s safe to confine your dog on your own property.
- When you walk your dog in the neighborhood, leave the retractable leash at home. Use a standard leash….I prefer one that’s six feet in length. Yes, retractables are “easy” and you can lock them…..I hear that ALL the time! However, you have virtually no control over your dog with a retractable, and they are often the causation of many issues on walks. Having a standard leash is like having your hands on a steering wheel. I can feel subtle changes from my dog on that leash and quickly respond, before things get out of hand and I have a problem. If you want to use a retractable, save it for your yard at home or for walks in an open field where you won’t encounter a single human or dog.
- Control your dog on leash. SO many dogs are anxious or fearful, and if you have an out of control dog on walks, you can’t imagine the fear that you cause others when they see you coming. When you stop to chat with someone in your neighborhood, watch what your dog is doing! Don’t let him be out of control while you’re oblivious to what he’s doing because you’re the one who’s distracted! I see joggers who are trying so hard to avoid a dog on a retractable leash, and the owner is yakking it up not paying any attention to their dog whatsoever.
- ASK to approach another dog! Don’t walk up to strange dogs, and it’s especially important to do this if you have a dog with you. If Michael had asked to approach the dog who bit him on Friday, he might have been spared a dog bite. Because a co-worker was already there greeting the dog, he assumed it was okay to approach, and he didn’t ask. Just because a dog is good with one new person or dog doesn’t automatically mean that they’re good with all new people and dogs. Asking is very simple, and saves lots of problems!
- Just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean that everyone in the world wants to meet him! This is especially true with puppies!! Yes, you want to socialize your dog and let him meet people and other dogs, but ASK! Many fearful or anxious dogs don’t want to meet YOU! Something that puts abject fear in my heart is when I’m working with a client’s dog, and I see someone walking their out of control dog toward us on a retractable leash, and that dog is barking and lunging to come say hi. It’s very, very scary!
- Pick up your own dog’s poop if he leaves a present when he’s out and about. We’re all adults here, so please don’t ask someone else to clean up after your dog. My two neighbors who wouldn’t leash their dogs, saw nothing at all wrong with letting their dogs poop in our yard, because hey! We’re all dog owners, right? This was honestly one reason they both let their dogs wander….because their dogs would poop in someone else’s yard and they didn’t have to clean up after them. This becomes such an issue for neighborhoods, and it’s so very easy to fix!! Grab a couple of empty poop bags before you head out the door, and stick them in your pocket in case you need them. Be an adult, and be a good neighbor!
Simple things like this can make someone else’s life so much easier, and as fellow dog owners, we really should care about the larger community of dogs and work together as a community to see that everyone gets respected and as much help as we can offer.