I’d like to say for the record that if dogs are man’s best friend, they can be a turd in the punchbowl for us runners. Actually, it’s not the dogs that spoil the party, it’s a select group of their “clueless” owners. Hey, I’m all for pets, including those of the canine variety. But as a runner, I’ve learned to grow weary if not downright resentful of some dog owners. Hear me out on this one.
Last night I was on the back leg of a 6 mile out and back run I’ve completed dozens of times. As I ran along the dirt trail on the UCI Eco Reserve I could see a couple with a dog walking toward me about a half a mile away. It was dusk and the sun light was diming. As I approached the trio a long fence with a narrow opening stood between us. I could see that the dog, like most I come across when running on trail, was not on a leash.
Ok, here we go, I thought to myself, “the random dog encounter.” There are two types of dogs encountered on trail. Those that trod along with their head down that never notice you. These are the whimsical ones, either too old and tired to give a shit about you, or smart enough to understand that their business is keeping their snout to the ground seeking scents from the orifices of their four legged brethren.
Then there are the other makes. These are the direct descendants of Jack London’s Buck from The Call of the Wild. The kind with instincts that, if crossed on the wrong day or in the wrong mood, would be threatened by mother Teresa dancing a two-step. Ok, I’m oversimplifying here, but you get the message. To a runner there are dogs that are “friendlies” and the less preferred “un-friendlies.”
As I made my way through the narrow gap, I noticed this couple was immersed in deep conversation. No glance, nod, nor eye contact came my way. As one who has run thousands of miles and come across hundreds of dogs on trail, I always look at the owner of the unleashed dog to determine what my next move should be. If the owner makes a move to grab the pet as I approach, I always slow to a walk to give them the time to do so. If the owner makes no move at all, which is most common, my eyes quickly move from the owner to the pet, then I proceed with caution.
As my eyes moved away from the couple, their pet was already passing on my left a few feet away. I had slowed to a walk, sensing something was amiss about the situation. Then the dog, a youngish black and white shepherd, turned and lunged toward me, growling and barking like a rabid Rin Tin Tin. A standoff that lasted a few seconds ensued, until I heard the owner yelling at the dog as if she had never seen her little guy perform such an act. Hello? Dog owner, this just in: get a clue! Your dog should be on a leash! If you want Fido to roam free on your watch, call for him. He’s not a “friendly” and a stranger is approaching.
It amazes me time and time again when dogs turn aggressive and their owners seem so damned surprised. Again, I’m not a dog hater, in fact the opposite. I grew up with a dog named licorice that literally adopted our family one day when I was in first grade. He waited at the end of the driveway until we took him in as our own. We kids used to rub his stomach until he went crazy and ran around the house like a wild pig. He once got sprayed by a skunk and we had to give him a bath in tomato juice. He was a great dog.
To all dog owners out there, let's keep the turd out of the punchbowl, eh?