Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How well do you know your dog?

How well do you know your dog?  Or your wife, for that matter?

Today I was hiking in Reservoir Canyon, and passed a dog on the trail.  I wasn't running, just carefully picking my way up a wet part of the trail.  I was wearing my usual running clothes, doing my usual thing.  The dog was accompanied by a man and three women, nonchalantly walking back down the same bit of trail.  As I approached the group, I said a few kind words to the dog, and passed on.  After all, I am a little nervous around dogs.  But though it was a pit bull, I don't believe that any particular breed is any more friendly or nasty than the next.  I try to treat them all the same.  The dog walked around me, rubbing against my legs in a way that was not aggressive, but not altogether friendly either.  It didn't growl, look at me, move its ears or give any other sign that it was about to jump up and bite at me.  It nipped me under the arm, catching a bit of my shirt before coming back down to earth.

A few steps later, I thought to check out my shirt.  This was a souvenir from a soccer tournament, and not really cheap, either.  It's relatively form fitting, so didn't blouse or dangle where the dog bit it.  Sure enough, there was a little tear in the shirt.  I pulled out my headphones and addressed the group:  "your dog tore my shirt."  I really didn't have a plan, a request or anything else to say.  Just thought they should know.

'Tis only a flesh wound...
The man turned and looked at me.  "She's never done that before," he said.  I'm not sure if he said sorry or not, I'll assume he did.  I didn't even realize until much later how strange it was that he was wearing only pajama pants and flip flops.  Let's assume that his statement is true, and that she hadn't ever bitten a passing stranger on the trail.  He offered his phone number, if I wanted him to replace the shirt.  Not really.  Just thought he should know.  "No," I said, "just something to consider."  I mean, I didn't want anything in particular from this guy except that he should know that his dog might do something unpredictable.

With the exception of rampant poison oak, Reservoir Canyon is a magnificent place to be a dog.  Small animals to chase, a creek to play in, hills to bound over.  I'd never want a dog to have to be on a leash in such a perfect place.  Heck, the dogs aren't even the biggest predators out there.  On the other hand, technically, that dog bit me.  Just a little closer leap, stronger bite or perhaps one of us losing footing...and who knows?  I continued up the trail, and asked myself:  What did I want from that man or his dog?  Is there any way to know what might happen?  Is it fair to ask that dog to walk on a leash, even out in the country?  How well does he really know his dog?

How well do you know yours?

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