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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scaredy Cat... It's Just a Dog!

Over the last few years, I've had the unique opportunity to do some extra special people-watching on the streets of New York City. I'm always fascinated and occasionally annoyed by how people interact with dogs. More specifically, I'd like to do a study on children's reactions to strange dogs they pass on the sidewalk. This morning I watched a little boy wave to my airedale client from a distance, but when she approached and turned her muzzle towards him to sniff, he jerked his hand back and leaned into his mom. Then later I watched an older girl nearly climb over her mother to avoid walking within 3 feet of my whippet. Are they really that terrifying?

Where I grew up, in the super-suburbs of Northern Virginia, most of the neighborhood dogs roamed around off-leash. Everyone had a collar and tags, and most of the kids knew every dog by name. We weren't scared when the black dog came wandering up- we knelt down and gave Shadow a good scratch behind the ears. We weren't afraid to meet new dogs, and somehow we all knew the proper etiquette (see earlier DO(N'T) post). No one got bitten or scratched. My parent's dogs were trained with an electric fence, but they don't wear the collars anymore, and they excuse themselves politely when they have to pee or poop by heading through the doggy door and out into the woods. I realize this idyllic situation isn't possible here in the concrete jungle, but there is no reason for so many children to be so terrified of dogs.

Honestly, I think it's a cultural difference. Where I was raised, we all had dogs. Here in NYC, those who can afford the luxury (it's EXPENSIVE to keep a dog here) have dogs, and many people don't feel they have the time or space to commit to a four-legged friend. But I think it's a damn shame that these pet-less people raise their children to be frightened of animals, and yes, I blame the parents. I watch mothers yank their children's arms to keep them a "safe" distance from my clients. I appreciate parents who don't want their kids waving their fingers in front of a mouth full of sharp teeth, but come on. I hear moms saying, "yes, thats a huge doggy. Look how big!" about my 60 pound airedale. Lady, you ain't seen big. When parents are smart, and ask me if their curious/nervous child can say hi, I go out of my way to make it a positive experience.

For some reason, dogs can sense if you don't want them to come close. Their reaction, however, is to investigate. So those people who cringe away end up getting more upset when my quizzical pup asks, "HEY. Why are you running away from me? I'm friendly! See?" I guess I also tend to take it personally. It's almost as though the parents, or children, don't trust that I will keep my dog next to me. If I were walking a dangerous attack dog, I wouldn't have a casual, relaxed hold on the leash. I would speed that sucker past any crowd we approached to avoid an encounter. Then again, I suppose we could blame THAT fear on the scores of bad dog owners/walkers who let their dogs jump up on people and lunge at passing dogs. I guess it's a complicated relationship between dog people and non-dog people. Either way, it's interesting to see how varied peoples' reactions are towards strange dogs. As a general rule, though, everyone needs to just calm the frick down.


  1. One more example of why people should really have to apply for licenses before breeding. They need to be screenedd so they don't pass along their stupidity, ignorance and fear to another generation

  2. it makes me so sad when people pull their children away, or even just themselves avoid my 75 pound german shepherd. Yes she is a german shepherd, yes they are often used as police dogs because of their intelligence and obedience, but she's just about the sweetest little girl there is...in a perfect world, people would realize that a responsible dog owner will let you know if the dog isn't good with other people - these people are sadly just reinforcing the next generation's opinion of what a "safe" dog is...and why so many of these wonderful "scary" dogs are put down at shelters