It was 7 a.m. and I had just stepped onto the trail in Goosepond Mountain State Park with my dogs when a German shepherd came barreling towards us. Bella was busy smelling and paid no attention as the shepherd began circling. But Jason is leash reactive and started to lung at the intruder.
I’ve worked hard to manage Jason’s issues. When we see dogs approaching, I remove him from the trail and work on sit, look-at-me and reward exercises to redirect his attention from passing dogs.
Negative interactions such as meeting unsupervised loose dogs on the trail set this training back. On this particular morning Jason was stressed as the shepherd continued to get in his face. I couldn’t safely remove him from the situation, and the owner was nowhere to be seen. When he did finally stroll into view he shouted, “Don’t worry, he gets along with everyone.”
It didn’t matter to this man that I was struggling to prevent a dog fight and to keep his dog from getting tangled in the leashes. He just passed us by calling to his dog. There was no apology and he didn’t even try to leash the shepherd.
The Problem with Unruly Loose Dogs in Public
I’m hearing more and more stories about people whose dogs were attacked or ambushed by loose dogs in the park. Many, like me, are dealing with leash reactive dogs and these encounters can be a nightmare. Large loose dogs are also horrific for owners of small dogs who can be seriously injured. There are even horror stories about little dogs being killed after attacks by large off-leash dogs.
According to an article by Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, there are no numbers for how often big dogs attack little ones, but it’s a common enough scenario that veterinarians have an acronym for it, BDLD, which means Big Dog Little Dog. Veterinary experts say that these attacks frequently turn into serious medical emergencies.
Norine Twaddell, the owner of DogVentures, Dog Behavior Solutions LLC, a dog training business in New Jersey, has been called by clients for help after their dogs were attacked while out on a walk.
“These attacks can destroy a dog’s nature and it takes a lot of work to get their confidence back,” said Twaddell, who is a certified dog behavior consultant and a clinical member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
It’s not just leashed dogs and their owners who are affected by unruly off-leash dogs. There are plenty of non-dog people who don’t appreciate being jumped on by dogs. And it’s unfair to children who can easily be knocked down or traumatized. I’m a dog person and I can tell you that it wasn’t fun seeing that big German shepherd coming at us full speed. You just don’t know what to expect!
And now in the age of COVID-19, there’s an added concern. Nobody wants to be forced to have a close-up encounter with the owner of a loose dog.