November 19, 2011

Man's Best Friend?

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? 


Asha said...

WORD Will! I'll take it a step further and say that I dislike about 90% of all dog owners and their little Turds. They'll get theirs one day. Also, I do plan to run more trail races this year!

EricG said...

I grew up with dogs too Will and like them. The owner's are the problem hear not the animal. I have been thrown off balance countless times with dogs jumping in my path, even when leashed. The owners often saying "oh no don't do that fido" as they act as if they can't hold the dog back. Try giving the lease a tug. That's what they are for. Again I like animals. Its the owners of many I get steamed at. Peace E

Will Cooper said...

Asha, the trails will be kinder to you.
Eric, I agree, it's not the animals that are the problem. My gripe is with the owners. This is just one example. There are many more with worse outcomes I didn't mention. We'll leave it at that.

Unknown said...

I'm with you too. There are some dogs, even in my local area, that put me on edge. In the winter time it is worse because their owners let them out unsupervised in the mornings. Laziness! For this reason, I've taken to running with pepper spray. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want to hurt any dog, but if I get bitten, one of us is going to have a come-to-Jesus moment.

Grant said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile, thanks for the interesting articles. I'm still into 5k's and the occasional 5-miler. Anyway, I run in my neighborhood a lot and have my share of run-ins, so I had to comment on this. My grandparents always had a dog in the house. I've grown up with them and really love the good-natured ones - "friendlies" as you say. But owners fail so badly so often. We used to have two neighbors with the same type of dog. The one took his to obedience classes, treated him well, took him out for exercise all the time. He was a great dog. The other one's owners were a couple looking to have a kid, had no time for a dog, and spoke to it like it was a plush doll. That thing was NASTY. I agree, owners really need to step it up. Dogs are wild and that can either make them great fun or a complete terror.

Grant said...

Just to elaborate.. by "plush doll" I mean the thing could be growling at runners or ripping the head off a squirrel and they're out there saying, "hey now, come on, settle down fido". Give the dog to someone who will really care for it and make the neighbors happy at the same time!

Paulie B said...

I train with my large breed dog all the time. It brings me great joy to be able to run with him, especially now that the weather is cool he can come out on the longest of runs. Your post is sadly accurate and events such as you describe all too common.

Having a large animal requires great responsibility - dogs require massive amounts of exercise and a strong leader. Many owners are unable to provide the structure these dogs need in their life to coexist and fulfill their dogs needs let alone their own. Both dog and owner are out of balance.

As you point out in the winter months more dogs will be off leash because less people are around. I tend to keep mine leashed. I frequently encounter dogs with owners far away and they are normally friendly. Their body language tends to give them away.

Regardless I stop, stand my ground, and tell the dog loudly "no" every time they advance. Some listen, some don't. On rare occasions some are aggressive. I understand dogs fighting but would put my own down if he was aggressive to people. Never let an aggressive dog get behind you, always face them.

On rare occasions I have had to put other peoples dogs on their backs, knee on stomached them, etc... I once jammed my hand in a dalmatians mouth to pull him off my dog. I don't care to break up dog fights but sometimes wonder if the dog would have come for me if it were not for my own.

The greatest public service you can do for these owners is let them know they have an aggressive animal they need to control. Police won't do as much as the local animal control department if law enforcement needs to be involved.

Unfortunate reality for runners and the higher mileage the more likely encounters are. I hate to say it but depending on individual experience and running location it may be prudent to carry a small defensive tool.

Tim said...

You wouldn't believe how many aggressive dogs there are loose on rural roads near my home. I love most animals including dogs, but once they become aggressive I'll protect myself. I've been bitten twice in the last couple of years. Once on a bicycle and once while running. I now carry pepper spray. Have not tried it yet. The owners are to blame. I just don't enjoy runs when I'm being harassed by dogs and it's getting worse. Makes me so mad!

Will Cooper said...

Christen, Grant, SP and Tim: thank you, thank you and thank you again. it is really important to share your thoughts, and you've done just that. this isn't an easy subject because most people love dogs, but unfortunately there can be a dark side to them, and it seems to emanate from their owners.

Brian said...

I'm a bit leery of even some of the "friendlies". Just because your dog is the nicest, sweetest, most good-tempered dog on the planet and he's just playing and would never hurt anyone, it doesn't mean that I know that and it also doesn't mean I want to run with him and have responsibility of worrying about watching for cars for him.

Also, dog owners, whether you're on the trail or sidewalk, clean up after your dog!

(I have no desire to own a dog, but I do in general like them when I'm not running.)

Jessica Gibbons said...

Laughing at this... I am a dog owner, dog lover and actually run with my lovely springer spaniel Archie. But I'm with you, in addition to putting up with the trips and jumping up you guys mention I have dogs chasing my dog after me. I can't count the number of times I've had to stop while a dog owner has had to come and retrieve their dog because it doesn't come when it's called. My dog, I am pleased to say, does (well at least most of the time and I do wear rose tinted spectacles when anything to do with Archie is discussed!).

david said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!


A journey for 100 miles said...

I love to run with my dog or dogs when I'm feeling particularly brave, but when irresponsible dog owners allow their turds to try and "say hello" to my guys without asking first, it really pisses me off. Also, while I'm the subject of irresponsible dog owners, granted I'm on a run and the last thing I want to do is stop and pick up my dogs' poop.....but I do because #1. It's the law and #2 I would want someone to do the same thing after their dog so I don't step in it.
People never cease to amaze me in their blissful ignorance. Safe running : )