Monday, August 1, 2011

"I don't like dogs. Could you get him away from me?"

Everywhere we go with the Beast, people of all ages can not help but turn their heads to look at him. Many times, we get a "Ooooohhh, he is such a handsome boy," or a "Do you mind if I pet him?" and of course, the ever popular, "What kind of dog is he?" Sometimes, we get no more than a simple smile, which I am pretty sure means "My, what a well-behaved and perfect pet you have there." Either way, we are chuffed with pride whenever it happens.

Yet every now and then, we meet people who do not share our enthusiasm or admiration for the Beast. The first time this happened, we were at the dog park. The Beast was running around and herding all of the dogs in the park, and for the most part, they were all listening - staying all together in a close-knit circle around him. Except for one dog, who was sitting under a plastic white patio chair in which her owner had parked himself to enjoy a glass of wine. At the dog park.

Now the Beast, as we have already discussed, is one dominant little bugger. When said doggy wasn't listening to his clear and concise instruction to rejoin the herd, he began circling her like a crazed Tasmanian devil, barking like a maniac. At this point, I abandoned my conversation with another dog owner and came in to intervene and to teach Beasty that not everyone has to want to play with him.

Unfortunately for me, the Beast did not yet have great recall, as we were a mere two or three weeks into our lives together. (Truth be told, his recall still sucks, but that is the subject for another post). So of course, he would not respond to my instruction to cease and desist. As a result, I was forced - embarrassingly - to chase him in a big round circle, looking like that jerk of a dog owner that has absolutely no control over her dog. When I finally caught up to him, he had that crazed look of focus and determination in his eyes, and snapping him out of it was no easy feat. So I put him back on his leash and removed him from the situation, but not before I apologized to the victim of the Beast's tirade and his owner.

As I turned to walk away, head bowed low in shame because I knew my dog trainer would be disappointed in me, I heard said dog owner mutter under his breath, "Your dog is an asshole." I immediately straightened up, turned around, and said, "Excuse me?" to which he replied again, "I said your dog is an asshole."

Now I am trained in conflict resolution, and so I know that conflict usually emerges from an unmet or misunderstood need. Perhaps this individual really, really, really needed to have a quiet moment with his dog while sipping on a glass of wine (in a dog park) and my dog ruined that for him. Or perhaps he sensed that his dog was becoming anxious and wanted to protect her while he was sipping on a glass of wine (in a dog park).

Or maybe sometimes, conflict just simply emerges because people are assholes. Which is the obvious conclusion that I have drawn from this encounter with a man who came to sit in a corner by himself and drink wine at a dog park while his dog sat under his chair.

Nonetheless, I drew on my conflict resolution training, calmed myself down, and diplomatically said, "I apologize for ruining your evening. He is still in training," and turned around to walk away. And then, something more primal kicked in - perhaps some deep-rooted protective lioness instinct - and I turned back to him and said, "Besides, this is a f$!#ing dog park, not a bar. Dogs BARK!"

In my head, I heard other responsible and conscientious dog owners everywhere clapping and screaming my name as I walked away. In reality, that was not the case. But I felt much better.

The second episode was just today. After a weekend without the pooch, hubby and I vowed to give him a crate free day, and so we took him out with us on a three hour stroll, including a stop at a local celebration of an historical day in our city's heritage. The Beast was the model of a perfect dog citizen. For most of the walk to the park, I let the leash drag on the ground and he never once bolted ahead without permission. He let kids and adults come up to him and pet him. He did not bark once. When the parade came by, led by bagpipes (which made his little ears perk right up), he sat quietly and watched. And when the costumed 18th century British militia men fired their muskets, he was happily lying down beside me in the shade chewing a stick.

Which is why I was surprised when, after he got up to stretch his legs a little and wandered behind me (while still on leash hooked around my waist), I heard a lady behind me say in a very gruff voice, "I don't like dogs. Get him away from me."

Might I point out that at the time that she said this, the Beast was not even looking at her and was not making his way toward her. In fact, he was a good meter and a half away from her. So I wanted to say something to the effect of, "my dog doesn't like old ladies so perhaps YOU should move away from HIM." But my parents raised me to be far more polite than that. Instead, I redirected the Beast and brought him back towards me, where he happily resumed chewing on his stick. I am quite sure that she expected me to move to a whole new spot so that she could resume her dog free afternoon. But I did not. Because the Beast was being well-behaved, was on-leash, and frankly has as much right to be there as she does. She kept a nasty eye on him for the rest of the event, and I on her.

I'm okay with people disliking dogs in general. I'm even okay with people disliking my dog in particular, because let's face it, he can be a handful. But I am not okay with people who think that they are allowed to be jerks to me and the Beast because he is "just a dog." I mean, he is just a dog, but he is MY dog.

Could you imagine if it was okay to say these things about children? It's no secret that I have got the motherly instinct of, well, something that has absolutely no motherly instinct (I need to watch more of the National Geographic channel to finish that thought, I think...) And there are some children who, admittedly, I find unbearable. But I have never once said, "Your kid is being an asshole" while, for example, drinking a glass of wine in a day care centre. Nor have I said, "I hate kids. Get your screaming baby away from me."

Okay, perhaps I have wanted to say both. But I haven't. Because clearly, I'm far more civilized than the two anonymous individuals who inspired this post...

And worry not, dear readers. The Beast has recovered from all insults against his canine-ness, and is happily sucking every last bit of meat and marrow out of a bison bone on the back deck.