Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Walking with an Anxious Dog

For us, walking is always a major event that requires planning and equipment.  The first stage of planning is to identify a good walking location; if the weather is bad, then the beach is good, if the weather is good then the beach is the worst place to go.  Among his other issues, Caesar likes to scream and run towards other dogs.  It's highly embarrassing, particularly when people seem to see this as a threat and either freeze or move quickly in another direction.  Dogs, on the other hand, seem to see this as an invitation and many come over and investigate the strange noise thus making Caesar cry even louder.  This odd reaction has led me to believe that Caesar is not any threat to them and therefore the noises are either excitement or untamed nervousness.  In short, when we go for a walk, Caesar needs to remain on the lead and on his head collar at all times.  I feel sorry about this as his favourite thing is to have a good run and his recall is excellent so I would never have to worry about him running away.  My only concern would be what he did before he came back!

When we walk, I use an 8m extendable lead to keep control of Caesar and I'm well my way to becoming a pro at the 'click and yank' method, which is helpful for reeling him in if another dog gets to close.  As I explained before, Caesar has both an electric blue collar, an electric blue head collar an electric blue extension lead.  Why then do people feel that it's acceptable to allow their dogs to run up to him despite the combination of warning signs provided by me and the fact that he is screaming?

Yesterday, on the beach, I came across two women and a very energetic Labrador.  The Labrador was bouncing around the beach reasonably far from them as they chatted and wandered along.  Gemma was off her lead and, as a rule, is very good with other dogs but as she has been known to be defensive if they approach her, I quickly snapped her lead back onto her harness.  It took two seconds but it was a good job that I did!  The Labrador bounded up and put its young face uncomfortable close Gemmas.  She barked a warning at it but it paid no attention.  By this time, Caesar was inconsolable and was spinning in circles, wrapping me up in his lead as he did.  This odd behaviour interested the Labrador and he instantly moved his focus onto Caesar.  For a while, he followed us along the beach to the tune of Caesar's barking, howling and screaming without a word from his owner to bring him back. Sometimes I wished that I was more outspoken and could just march up to the couple and explain that every time something like this happens, it has a negative impact on Caesar, who was beginning to manage to ignore dogs who were running close by.  I wanted to shout at them all of the things we've been through to try to get him to accept other dogs.  How, unbelievably, we'd just sat in a cafe with a dog at the next table and he hadn't screeched or tried to get to it.  And how this major improvement may just have been undone by the fact that she was too busy talking to her friend to do anything about her out of control dog.  Of course, I didn't say anything.  

I'd learnt a few weeks after adopting Caesar, how ignorant people can be to dogs with his disposition.  As I had stepped down onto the beach one spring morning, I was relieved to see there was only a few people out walking their dogs but, as the tide was out, they were a safe distance away.  The nearest person was by the sea with two Golden Retrievers that were chasing each other back and forth.  Despite their distance, Caesar noticed them immediately and began to screech.  The next moment, the two Golden Retrievers were sprinting up the beach towards us, their owner was a dot in the distance.  My dad grabbed Caesar who was now struggling and writhing on the end of his lead and called to the man to 'bring his dogs under control please.'  I couldn't believe it when moments later the man began marching up the beach towards us, he was yelling something at me that I couldn't make out.  The dogs were either side of Caesar and were sniffing around at him.  Caesar was howling so loudly that it was impossible to hear the subject of the stranger's shouting.  As he moved closer, I suddenly realised the horrifying truth behind his yells "dog's like THAT shouldn't be in a public place like THIS!" he yelled at point blank range.  "You're dog is out of control!  Get it off the beach!"  I felt a lump start to form in my throat as I took Caesar's lead and marched him back across the sand.  I had garbled something about rescue dogs and unfair comments but the stranger replied with equally painful comments about Caesar's breed and nature.  

The truth is, many dogs are not bomb proof and dogs like these Labradors may well end up being injured by a dog who is on lead and, as much as possible, under control.  My heart truly goes to other owners who struggle with an anxious dog as, on this day, I learnt how cruel and arrogant people can be.  Luckily, as I previously stated, Caesar does not appear to be aggressive towards other dogs and I've never seen him attempt to hurt one.  However, there are plenty of dogs that, given a stressful situation such as this, would.  It was months before I braved the beach again.

A fantastic website for dogs with similar problems to Caesar is and, if the screaming alone does not do it, indicates to other dogs that your pooch needs space.  Caesar and I are awaiting our first yellow dog jacket.  It makes me sad as his behaviour around people is impeccable and the coat may mean that he loses the opportunity for a fuss but I have concluded that it may well be worth it.

Does your dog have any phobias?  Do you know a dog that does?  Have you ever heard of or used Yellow Dog?  I'd love to hear your comments.