A Dog Park in Pisa

Well, I suppose I should begin by explaining my long absence for the blogosphere (I am so behind on blog reading and am unlikely to catch up). But there’s a good excuse, I promise: the Husband and I went off to western Europe for 24 days.

And it was awesome! We had so much fun and went to so many cool places!

But I didn’t completely forget about the Soapbox while I was away and have some travels to share.

For example, did you know there’s a dog park right next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Me neither!

IMG_8801

I don’t know if it’s an official dog park, but there were quite a few pups gathered there having a great time.

IMG_8805

Perhaps it’s the Capitoline Wolf sculpture that welcomes them?

It depicts the legend of Romulus and Remus (sons of Mars), who were rescued by a she-wolf after being cast into the Tiber River. They were then raised by a shepherd, grew to overthrow their great uncle (as prophesied, hence the banishment in the first place), and eventually established the city of Rome. (Later Romulus kills his brother, often taken to represent the city’s history of conflict.)

IMG_8808

IMG_8812

This little dude was chewing on a stick solo nearby, in front of the Pisa Baptistry

This little dude was chewing on a stick solo nearby, in front of the Pisa Baptistry

So, now that I’m back, what’d I miss?!

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 2

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 here.

So, I’ve been discussing Alma’s on-leash reactivity when seeing other on-leash dogs.

In an effort to fully assess everything, I developed what I’m now calling Alma’s Reactivity Matrix (details in part 1).

Alma's Reactivity Matrix

The point of this is to help assess where we’re at, and where we need to go for all of those boxes to turn green. Or at least yellow – I’d be happy with yellow. And I think green is noble, but probably unrealistic for almost any dog, considering that top right box. But hey, if you’re truly there: kudos. I call Moses our ‘perfect’ dog, but if I did this for him, even his matrix wouldn’t be 100% green.

So, Alma’s reactive. What am I doing about it?

Well, where the situation falls in the matrix really determines my response.

Getting a ‘Hail Mary’ lunging reaction from her is never the goal. If she does that, it’s a clear sign that the situation is too much for her (not to mention it’s not fun to deal with and can often been stressful and embarrassing for me, too).

And the green boxes – while totally awesome – aren’t learning opportunities (for this issue, anyway).

So that leaves me in yellow and orange – preferably yellow, but depending on the environment, it can be a very fine line between the two.

Alma

Alma

Yellow is the perfect learning opportunity – she’s aware of the other dog, but hasn’t lost her mind. She’s still paying attention to me and what I’m doing. I can experiment with proximity and gauge her reaction. If she stays calm, I can reduce distance (which is really what she wants in these situations – she wants to get closer and greet the other dog) and reward calmness.

If she starts to get more excited, we can pause, distract, or create more distance – this both relieves any anxiety or stress she may have about the situation and communicates that her exuberance doesn’t get her what she wants (which is to greet).

And we’ve seen some success. When we first learned Alma was reactive after adopting her, our definitions of proximity were much different – ‘too close’ was way farther away. But, as with all training, over time and as you have success you need to constantly redefine your goals – or redesign your matrix, as it were.

So here are a few of the strategies I’ve employed with Alma.

Note: our standard walking position is always at heel with a loose leash – Alma always walks in stride beside me on a regular 2 metre/6 foot leash. None of this pulling/flexi-leash business. We’ve walked like this since we adopted her, and it’s routine now. She pulls when she’s attached to the cart – that’s it. So the underlying context of these strategies is that she’s close and always starting in a loose leash/heel position.

The Sit & Wait 

Only useful when we’re in the yellow and Alma’s “intensely focused”. Obviously asking her to sit if she’s bouncing or lunging and completely overwhelmed isn’t a good option. It just won’t work; she won’t even hear the word. But when she’s still in tune with me, asking her to sit can be a great distraction.

But this is only if the proximity will never get too close. But if the dog is across the street, we’re usually fine.

Often, if the dog is approaching, I’ll have her sit with her back towards the dog and facing me. Then I’m still able to keep an eye on the other dog and owner, and Alma has to strain a bit to watch them – it’s harder for her to really focus on them looking over her shoulder. Once they pass, we continue on our way.

Alma working on a sit-stay

Alma working on a sit-stay

Changing Pace

Also useful in the yellow sections. This mostly means speeding up to jog past the distracting dog. If we’re moving quickly, Alma has to pay attention to me and where I’m going. Sure, she gets a little excited with the faster movement, but it’s excitement about me and what I’m doing, it’s not reactivity based on the other dog’s presence.

Unfortunately, if Moses is there too this doesn’t work as well. It’s like jogging with a piano tied to your ass. He’s got one walk speed – lumbering – and he likes it that way.

Moses' take on exercise

Moses’ take on exercise

Hide-n-Seek

If we’ve gotten to the orange section – or I think we might get there – I’m not above waiting behind a parked car for the distraction to pass. I’ve also definitely used this to gain some reprieve after Alma goes for a ‘Hail Mary’ too. Sure, the other owner might think I’m nuts, but that’s their problem, not mine.

Changes of Direction

I’ll use this in both the yellow and orange boxes – if I notice Alma’s escalated to orange (bouncing), my first step is always to change direction, create distance and get some focus back on me.

Back and forth direction changes while another dog is gaining proximity is a great way, I’ve found, to keep Alma in the yellow while distance is closing in. She’ll still keep an eye on them, but we’re able to create a situation where she knows they’re there and getting closer, but is still paying attention to me and staying relatively calm.

Even a quick left or right is helpful to maintain focus and calm, while creating some distance between us and the other dog.

Dr. Sophia Yin has this really great resource on changing direction (and speed), which I would highly recommend checking out by visiting this link.

Caution: if you’re walking two dogs, pay attention to where your other dog – and their leash – is, before you just suddenly change direction and potentially walk into them. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything….

Moses

Moses

Get the Hell Outta There

In the orange – and definitely in the red – my strategy is simple: leave.

Alma weighs about 100lbs. If she’s lunging for another dog, my best option is just to head the other way and create as much distance between her and the dog as necessary to get her to let go of her focus on the dog and pay attention to me again.

Especially because, in my experience, the other dog’s owner isn’t going to be much help. Upon seeing Alma get excited and bounce (orange), people have stopped and watched, or decided it’s a good time to try to talk to us. To that I say: WTF! Keep it moving, nothing to see here.

Schmidt demonstrates this technique

Schmidt demonstrates this technique

Complete Avoidance

Say we’re in the green, or not even in a situation covered in the matrix. I see another dog way on the horizon way before Alma’s even aware of them, and instead of continuing on in that direction, I’ll just head the other way.

Do we learn anything here? Nope. Reactions are prevented, sure, but this does nothing to help Alma work through it.

But you know what? Sometimes that’s okay.

Sometimes. It’s not a beneficial tactic to take all the time – or often – because you won’t improve, but everyone has days where they’re just not up for it. You’re tired, or sick, or just not of the capacity to deal with a reactive dog. That’s fine.

It’s hard work! It can be stressful and frustrating and embarrassing, and I admit there are nights when I’m just not interested. Rather than put myself – and Alma – in a situation that might not go well if I’m not up for it, I just won’t.

We all have those days from time to time

We all have those days from time to time

Granted, it’s mostly unavoidable; we live in the ‘burbs and see other on-leash dogs on almost all of our walks, so it’s always better to be prepared and optimistic than resigned (a certain amount of dog training, like anything, is a self-fulfilling prophecy).

But it’s still okay to take the odd night off. (Not from walking! Just from reactivity.)

And that’s about it.

There are lots of ways to work with a reactive dog; these are the ones I’ve found to work for Alma.

But, like I said, this is Alma-specific. This could be the completely wrong or unhelpful approach for a different dog. All reactive dogs – their triggers, their reactions, their owners, and their environments – are different.

So this isn’t advice. Or data. It’s an anecdote. Take from it what you will.

In the meantime, Alma and I will continue working to change the colours of those red and orange boxes.

What about you? Are you dealing with a reactive dog? What strategies do you find helpful?

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 1

I’ve mentioned before that Alma has some on-leash reactivity when we see other on-leash dogs, but I haven’t gone into any great detail about it. Well, now is as good a time as any.

(Soggy) Alma

(Soggy) Alma

But first things first; if my philosophy degree taught me anything, it’s this: define your terms!

Reactivity as I use it here is an umbrella term for any behaviour that results from stimuli, whether the reaction is a result of anxiety, aggression, fear, exuberance, stress, excitement… you name it. If your dog’s behaviour routinely suddenly changes in a manner that you need to/should address, they’re reactive.

Important: reactivity ≠ aggressive! Reactivity is a popular dog training buzzword these days, thanks in part to our favourite TV dog trainers, lending itself to be misused and misunderstood. Aggression is just one form of reactivity.

Alma’s reactivity is more of the stressed/exuberant form. She sees another dog on-leash and she’s excited to go greet and frustrated that she can’t, with both dogs being confined to leashes. The lack of control of the situation and her inability to do what she wants generates a reaction.

She can get excited to see off-leash dogs, too, but if she’s off-leash, there’s no problem. If she’s on-leash and the other dog is off-leash, still less of a reaction. Leashes – a necessity and important safety tool, certainly, but also a complicating factor in dog behaviour.

Alma’s reactivity is limited to dogs. We’re lucky that way. Cars, bikes, skateboards, birds, squirrels, hares, people, she’s all cool with or ignores.

There are four stages (I’ve decided) in which Alma’s reactivity manifests:

1. Mild Notice: Alma sees the other dog and watches them; her ears will perk up (as much as they do) and she’ll close her mouth, but she’ll continue to check in with you, too. Her body language is still loose and relaxed.

2. Intense Focus: She’s no longer regularly checking in with you; she’s focused on the other dog intently and starts anticipating what might be next; her body language is stiff and she’s panting heavily; she might start creeping out of the standard heel position we walk in.

3. Bouncing: Alma can no longer contain her excitement/anxiety; she’s still panting heavily and starts bouncing up and down beside you, which, when walking a 100lb Newfoundland is both odd and ridiculous. Strangely, she usually still maintains a loose leash and heel position.

Alma, Stage 3

Alma, Stage 3

4. The Hail Mary: Alma decides enough is enough and she’s going to try to take the situation into her own hands; she lunges in the direction of the target dog. You’ve pushed your luck with boundaries and thresholds if you let it get this far.

In addition to Alma’s reaction scale is a proximity scale. The proximity of the other on-leash dog to Alma impacts the intensity of her reaction.

My assessment of proximity comes from experience and working on this with Alma – the scale is very specific to her and can shift depending on the environment. It’s also shifted as we’ve worked on reducing her reactivity. But this is where I’m at today on my walks with her.

Too Close: The same sidewalk, a single-lane hiking trail, or basically within 5 metres/16 feet of the other dog (the length of two standard 6 foot leashes and their dogs, basically; greeting territory). The point on working with Alma on her reactivity is to diminish what is ‘too close’ so that it’s barely negligible. We’ve shrunk it, for sure, but we’ve still got work to do.

Close: Directly across the street (streets are about 40 feet/12 metres wide on average) or an equivalent distance in a green space or park.

Not Close: The dog is visible, but still off in the distance a bit. I’d say about a block/50m/165 feet away. Anything further away than this really isn’t an issue at all.

My last scale is the level of the distraction. This is based on what the other dog is doing, because in conjunction with proximity, the intensity of Alma’s reactivity is also heavily dependent upon what the other dog is doing.

Low: If the other dog is relaxed and mostly ignoring Alma, her reaction is substantially diminished. This means the other dog has loose body language, a loose leash, and isn’t giving her a lot of eye contact. There aren’t many of these dogs in our neighbourhood. Dogs walking away from us also lowers their level of distraction.

Medium: The dog is staring at Alma/giving a lot of eye contact, has stiff/erect body posture, and is moving in her direction. Consistent eye contact/staring from another dog is a key factor in whether or not Alma will react. Basically, the other dog is giving Alma intense focus, as I’ve described on her scale above.

High: The other dog is reacting: barking, pulling at the end of the leash, for example. Another dog overreacting to stimuli definitely encourages a reciprocal response from Alma. Dogs headed straight for us in close proximity are definitely a high distraction level.

Now, working in the corporate world, I do like my charts and graphs. Because who doesn’t love a good matrix, amiright?

So I’ve decided to take all of the rankings I just did when thinking about Alma’s reactivity and put them into a visual.

Behold! Alma’s Reactivity Matrix:

Alma's Reactivity Matrix

There you have it. Pretty rad, right?

Sure, this isn’t useful to anyone but me (I think even the Husband’s Alma Matrix would look a bit different), but I actually found working through this very interesting when characterizing Alma’s reactivity, her triggers, and prompting objective consideration about the whole thing. It really puts on paper where we’re at and where we want to be, and forces some specific reflection.

If you’re an analytical thinker with a reactive dog, I recommend giving this exercise a try.

I was going to continue on to discuss my responses to Alma’s reactivity and what I do to mitigate situations, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for today.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

No, Our Dogs Can’t Meet

It was as if they were waiting for the press release.

The same evening the local news ran stories about urban coyotes actively denning in Calgary (and thus being a risk for dog owners) was the same evening an urban coyote in our own neighbourhood began following me, Moses, and Alma on our evening walk.

A long time reader may recall this has happened before to a much greater degree, and my chosen solution ever since has been to carry an air horn when walking the dogs in the dark. The air horn is a great deterrent and scares them off so you can leave and give them some space. I wouldn’t recommend it for those who walk fearful dogs, but neither Moses nor Alma fall into that category, making it a great solution for us.

Of course, just because I have an air horn doesn’t mean I’m going to walk through coyote territory every night. As long as they’re denning (and thus threatened by big dogs such as Moses and Alma – hence the interest in our presence), we’ll cut that area out of the itinerary for evening walks, for about the next month or two.

Given that my weeknight dog walks often end up being post-sunset (I’m busy, a procrastinator, or both), this means we are left sticking to the densely residential streets of our neighbourhood.

And if my suburb is anything like yours, you know that means it’s littered with barky little dogs on the end of flexi-leashes. And some barky medium-sized ones, too. Yes, even at 10:00pm.

Barky dogs on flexi-leashes - an accurate portrayal

Barky dogs on flexi-leashes – an accurate portrayal

Having walked the dogs regularly for so long, I’ve come to recognize most other neighbourhood dog walkers and from which general areas they will emerge. One condo complex in particular can produce a little barky dog on a flexi-leash in whatever colour you desire: white, grey, black, brown… there’s (at least) one of each.

Now, I do not permit on-leash greetings with my dogs very often, if ever. I always want Moses and Alma to have positive interactions with other dogs. If I can’t guarantee that, I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and not have any greeting. Especially when it comes to agitated dogs who seem put off by Moses’ and Alma’s sizes alone.

In the case of dogs on flexi-leashes, that often means remaining across the street. Even if Moses has no response to these dogs barking and straining on their retractable contraptions (aside from the odd glance over at the commotion, he just keeps on truckin’, not even an ear perk most times).

This strategy recently bewildered one neighbourhood small dog/flexi-leash owner in particular. She’s a regular – we usually see her and her barky little dog a few times a week.

Each time, Moses and I walk past, her dog barks and pulls. Each time, she pauses to watch us walk by. And, each time, she coos at her dog: “shhhh… it’s okay… be nice… you just want to be friends, don’t you? It’s okay….”

We just keep walking.

One night in particular, we reached a junction to find her and her flexi-leash loitering there. Depending on which direction she and her dog would choose to go next would determine what Moses and I would do to avoid them.

So, while her dog barked and pulled towards us, I just asked Moses to sit so we could wait and see what direction she was heading.

She must’ve thought I was nuts.

Her dog continued to bark and pull, and her typical high-pitched attempt to sooth her dog (“shhhh… quiet… it’s okay… he’s a friendly dog”), did exactly what it always does; i.e., nothing.

We continued to wait patiently.

Then she picked up her dog – who continued to bark – and started towards us.

“Can they say hi?” she hollered towards me.

“No, thank you,” I quickly replied. Then I crossed the street with Moses, leaving her behind us holding her still-barking dog.

All of that greeting she’d requested seemed like a bad idea. Barking dog. Being carried. Oblivious owner. Flexi-leash.

Nope, not going to happen.

If her dog freaked out even more, or something went sour, do you know whose fault it is? It’s the giant black dog’s fault. It’s always the big dog’s fault. Or, more accurately, it’s always the big dog’s owner’s fault. So, no, thanks.

I like to set up for success, not failure.

We saw her again a couple of nights after this happened.

We were across the street heading in opposite directions, and I stuck to our usual plan of keep walking/no greetings.

As usual, her dog barked at us.

And, as usual, she began talking to it.

“Shhh…. Be quiet…. It’s okay… that lady doesn’t WANT you to be friends with her big dog… yes… even though you’re really nice… it’s okay… she doesn’t like us.”

38270d72_TheOffice-Ummm

Now, I’m not one for confrontation, so I just passive-aggressively made eye contact with her instead of shouting “IF YOUR DOG WAS BETTER BEHAVED MAYBE THEY COULD BE FRIENDS” like I was tempted to.

But that’s okay.

We just kept walking and I started writing a post much like this one in my head.

She’d soon get some perspective, however.

Last week I was walking Moses and Alma and we passed this very same lady and her barky dog.

And you know when you’re just having one of those ‘off’ nights? You’re cranky or tired and walking the dogs mostly because it’s your responsibility and obligation even though you’re not really in the mood?

And then to top it off the dog is excited by EVERYTHING?

Yeah, we were having one of those nights. I don’t know if it was the wind or the recent snow melt, but Alma was jazzed by everything. OMG – a bunny! OMG – I must sniff this! OMG – we’re walking and it’s the best!

Alma

Alma

Her enthusiasm is adorable…  if you’re prepared for it.

You see, one of the things we continue to work on with Alma is her reaction when she’s on leash and sees other on-leash dogs. There have been marked improvements since we got her, and the overall trend is good, but we still have occasional off nights.

On those off nights, she gets incredibly excited. She pants heavily, she bolts towards the other dog, and she bounces up and down like she’s on a trampoline. She’s very exuberant and – I think – frustrated that there’s another dog just RIGHT THERE, but the stupid leash won’t let her do what she wants.

If you’re on your game, anticipate it, and handle it well, this reaction can be mitigated. If you’re, say, tired and cranky and not on the ball, the reaction can get the best of you.

The latter was the case this time.

Alma was excitable and I was slow to see the dog and do anything about it before she could. I could’ve stopped. I could’ve turned around. I could’ve asked the dogs to sit. But I didn’t do any of that and we walked right into it.

As soon as the dog saw us, it barked and pulled per the normal course. And as soon as Alma saw this, she went for it.

And I mean WENT for it.

She used all 100+ pounds of her to sprint towards the lady and her dog – Moses and I bewildered and in tow behind her.

By the time I recovered my balance, we were a few steps off the sidewalk and onto the road. The little barky dog still barked. The owner stared at this commotion in surprise. (Though, it’s not like my dog was exhibiting any worse behaviour than her dog, it’s just that my dog is bigger.)

I got my wits about me, got everyone back on the sidewalk, and ducked our little pack behind a parked car to take a moment. I heard the lady tell her dog “shhh… quiet… let’s keep going.”

Good call.

Now when we see her on our walks, she continues on her way. Her dog still barks at us, but she no longer pauses and talks to her dog about being nice or the potential to be friends.

Because maybe you don’t want to be friends with everyone.

And some times, people have a good reason for not being friends with you.

Barks&BytesThis post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

When NOT to Get a Dog

I am always happy to help people look at the cute dog and puppy photos in adoption listings when they want to add a new or another canine to the family. The thought that another dog will be able to leave the rescue system and find a happy new home is always a positive one.

This adorable pup, Mara, is currently adoptable through ARF - Alberta Rescue Foundation

This adorable pup, Mara, is currently adoptable through ARF – Alberta Rescue Foundation

So when a coworker recently asked for assistance on this very issue, my gut reaction was enthusiasm. Sure! There are lots of great rescues in the Calgary area to look at!

But that positivity immediately waned.

Upon further consideration of the specific circumstances surrounding this adoption enthusiasm, it immediately occurred to me that helping look at dog profiles possibly wasn’t sending the right message in this case.

Now, people are going to do what they’re going to do. And maybe definitely it’s none of my business. But when I get asked for advice, I want to give good, appropriate advice. And my former stint as a dog trainer means I still get asked for advice frequently enough. So, despite my better judgment, I often give it (in my experience, few people actually act upon it, and then complain to me further later, so really this is just an exercise in self-disappointment).

So this has me thinking: adopting a dog is great, BUT it’s not always the right thing to do.

This is Emily. She is currently adoptable through AARCS. I find her canine version of RBF hilarious.

This is Emily. She is currently adoptable through AARCS. I find her canine version of RBF hilarious.

Here’s when you shouldn’t get another dog:

1. When you don’t have positive things to say about your current dog. If you frequently complain about your current dog’s habits – or lack of habits – you should probably work with the dog you have before you add another to the mix. Don’t like how your current dog doesn’t play fetch with the kids or go on walks? Those are all “problems” you fostered as an owner and can be worked on with the current dog – it doesn’t warrant replacing them.

2. When you’re getting the second dog to keep the first one company. Think the new dog will keep the old one entertained? Maybe. But the new dog will also pick up on the habits of the old dog – the ones you like, AND the ones you don’t like. The result? Two dogs to complain about. Example? Alma learned to lift her leg to pee – and marking behaviours – from Moses when we adopted her. No, not a huge deal. But still. Weird. Get your first dog where you’d like behaviour-wise before adding another canine to the mix.

3. When you’re promising extravagant changes. Don’t get out much? Don’t walk the current dog but you’ll definitely walk the new one every day? Sure, that’s possible. But, like failed January resolutions, it’s also (more) likely you’ll continue the well-ingrained habit of no dog walking at all. Get the routine changed first before you make the big commitment to another living being.

4. When not everyone is on the same page. Some want a puppy. Some want to adopt an adult. Some want a big dog. Some want a medium-sized dog. Some want a dog that’s super active. Some want one that will be calm in the house. Some don’t know what they want. You really need to figure out what works best for your family before impulsively adopting a dog that won’t fit. The whole family needs to be on the same page about everything both before the adoption and after – going to puppy classes, reinforcing training rules, reinforcing house rules, etc.

5. When the dog is for someone in particular. First, living things don’t make great gifts. Second, you think he’s going to be your child’s dog, but you’re wrong. He might be the family dog, but he’s also going to be adults’ responsibility. A young child can’t be in charge of long daily walks when the dog is bigger or stronger than them and when they’re not allowed past the end of the street unsupervised. You – the parents – will primarily be the ones walking, training, feeding, grooming, cleaning up after… all of that. Your kid might make bold promises, but, even if well-intentioned, they will likely be short lived. Trust me, I know. This is how I conned my parents into a second cat when I was 14. Maybe they should’ve taken me up on my threat to “never speak to them AGAIN!” (Aren’t teenage girls just the worst.)

6. When there’s change afoot. Stressed? Busy schedules? Changing jobs? Moving? Kids changing school schedules and extracurricular activities? Introducing a new dog to chaos isn’t exactly fair to them or you. Wait till life settles down and if you still want to adopt, do it then.

7. When your current dog isn’t well socialized. Like point 1, you need to make sure your current dog has good manners before expecting her to share her house, her toys, her space, her family with another dog. A second dog is going to be a big adjustment for your first one, and you can’t ignore how they respond to the transition.

8. When you don’t have time. A second dog isn’t 50% more work; it’s at least 100% more work. Definitely more if you’re getting a puppy. Now you have two mouths to feed. Two vet bills to pay. Two poops to scoop. Sure, you can walk them both together… most of the time. But now you have two dogs, they each deserve one-on-one time on a regular basis, even if that just means individual walks on weekends. And if you get dogs with different exercise and training needs – definitely more work.

9. When you haven’t fully thought it out. Sure, you saw a cute pup at a local adoptathon and the kids fell in love. As hard as they may try with their screening processes, rescues can’t weed out all impulse adopters. Even if the process goes for a week or more, the decision itself to adopt can still be impulsive. You need to more than sleep on it. You need to be realistic about what a second dog entails. And you need to pay more than lip service to the responsibilities.

10. When you (and your family) have some things to learn about dogs, interacting with dogs, and dog behaviour. Don’t tell me how “adorable” it was when your toddler walked up and hugged a strange dog in a pet store and expect me not to dust off the soapbox and launch into a lecture about kids and dogs and strange dogs and greeting dogs… I’m getting worked up just thinking about it.

Somtimes I feel like I could share this graphic by Dr. Sophia Yin every day and it wouldn’t be enough.

11. When you’re getting said dog from a pet store or an online marketplace like Kijiji or Craigslist. If you need an explanation here, I have nothing more to say to you.

So, in the case of my coworker, I’ve changed my tune, specifically highlighting several of the points I made above. Will she take the advice? We’ll see. It’s hard to pull people back to logical thinking when they’ve got adorable puppies in their crosshairs.

A quote I think of frequently when I resolve to be bluntly honest.

A quote I think of frequently when I resolve to be bluntly honest.

Will at Marking Your Territory made a good, relevant point on this very subject earlier this week, when he wrote “Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to get a pet“. The point isn’t to get a dog in spite of all the problematic circumstances I’ve listed above; it’s to change your circumstances. Or, in Will’s words: “Don’t wait for the right time, make it the right time!”

This is great advice. For example, is your current dog somehow an obstacle to you wisely adding a second dog to your house? That’s completely within your power to change as you work towards training and socializing your first dog in preparation for the next one.

These things are almost always in our own hands – and it’s only fair to you, your current dog, and any potential new dog that you make the smartest decision, not the impulsive emotional one (sometimes those can be the same thing).

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

Dogs and Gender – Does it Matter?

When I’m out with Moses and we meet new people, they almost always correctly assume he’s a male dog. I can’t think of any instance whatsoever where someone thought Moses was a female dog. Even with his purple collar.

This makes sense – in most breeds of dog, the males are slightly bigger than the females. It’s biology. Moses is a pretty darn big dog, so you’re hedging your bets to assume he’s a dude.

When I walk Moses and Alma together, almost everyone also correctly guesses that Moses is a ‘he’ and Alma is a ‘she’, though sometimes they assume they’re both males, probably just because they’re both big.

When I walk Alma alone, however, without Moses there to make her look comparatively small, people assume, most of the time, that’s she’s a male dog. It doesn’t help that she frequently lifts her leg to pee.

Moses & Alma

Moses & Alma

When I used to work in the dog training biz, I always made an effort to try to use the correct gender pronouns when talking with the clients about their dogs, even if it wasn’t always easy to tell. (They all can’t be intact shorthaired male dogs.)

It was always easier for me to remember the dog names over the people names, and the dog’s name was usually a decent hint if the dog was a he or a she. Of course, there’s always those gender-neutral names (e.g., Charlie, Sam, Lucky, Dakota) to foil that theory, and occasionally you’ll get one completely out of left field to keep you guessing (e.g, Homer for a female; a female cat I used have that I named Plato).

A young Moses and his female buddy Homer, back in the day in dog school

A young Moses and his female buddy Homer, back in the day in dog school

The last resort – aside from eliminating pronouns altogether (“how’s it going here?” / “how’s the little fuzzball doing?”) – was to guess based on collar colour. Of course, Moses’ collar is purple and Alma’s is blue, so my own dogs serve as perfect examples of this not being a good hint. And it’s really not. It often steered me wrong, and I’ve made many incorrect assumptions based on colours and gender stereotypes.

You know what collar colour really shows? What colours the owners like. They say almost nothing about whether the dog is male or female.

While taking care of Crosby, I've noticed people mostly assume she's a male. She's not.

While taking care of Crosby, I’ve noticed people mostly assume she’s a male. She’s not.

So why all the effort to make sure I correctly identified dogs as male and female?

Because, despite liberally picking collar colours, owners still get bent out of shape about it!

I’ve accidentally referred to a female dog as ‘he’ only to have the owner stop me mid sentence to sternly tell me “she’s a SHE.”  I’ve noticed this will still happen occasionally during some brief dog park small talk.

And I don’t fully understand why it’s such a big deal.

Sure, if someone calls Alma a ‘he’, I’ll continue to use the proper female pronouns in the conversation when referring to her. If they pick up on it, great. If not, I’m not about to make a big deal about it. I don’t really care if a stranger thinks my dog is a boy or a girl – especially during a fleeting conversation. And I’m certain Alma doesn’t care.

Alma's just Alma

Alma’s just Alma

But to some dog owners it seems to be a big deal, this whole gender business.

Ever see two male dogs playing in the dog park when one mounts the other? How long until the jokes about sexual orientation begin amongst the owners? Not long.

A dog’s sex – like every other animal, humans included – refers to its biological parts, and we talk about male or female in terms of reproductive roles. But for most pet dogs, those parts are out of commission, or they will be.

Gender, however, is something different. Gender “refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.” If you click the hyperlink, you’ll read how gender identity is how people identify themselves (which is not always the same as their sex, and is not the same as sexual orientation), and gender expression is how people communicate their identities within a culture. For example, my sex is female, my gender identity is female, my sexual orientation is heterosexual, and I communicate my gender identity in a pretty typical western way, with my long hair, dresses, high heels, makeup, etc.

Humans sure are preoccupied with relationships between sex and gender and like it best when they can categorize others easily to make sense of their worlds, even if “non-binary gender diversity exists throughout the world, documented by countless historians and anthropologists.” My post last week is a great example of gender-normative stereotypes driving me a little crazy.

So I suppose, whether correct or not, it makes sense that these preoccupations are imposed upon our pets, too.

But does it matter to our pets?

I doubt it. I seriously doubt Moses and Alma have gender identities; they’re just themselves. They don’t even identify as “Moses” and “Alma” respectively, given that all their names really signify to them is a verbal cue that I want their attention. And they’re both fixed, so they’ll never fall into the male and female reproductive roles.

Outside of the biology and making puppies business, they actually behave materially the same. Their play styles are similar. Alma doesn’t bark in a particularly ‘feminine’ way and Moses doesn’t walk in a particularly ‘masculine’ way.

There’s no one telling Alma – in a way that she can understand – that she ought to squat to pee and that she snores like a dude. There’s no one telling Moses that his empathetic nature and his Care Bear toy make him a sissy. And Moses doesn’t care if the dog he’s trying to mount at the park is male or female as long as he gets away with it (he doesn’t).

But there still is talk of behavioural differences between male and female dogs. As they say:“If you want a good dog, get a male. If you want a great dog, get a female and cross your fingers.”

But if gender is a human construct, how much of this is generalization based on our own preconceptions? A self-fulfilling prophecy? A product of socialization and training? Probably most of it. A quick Google search didn’t turn up any credible studies showing otherwise.

And we’ll never be able to confirm for certain with our dogs – they’ll never be able to tell us.

But I doubt they have gender and I don’t think assigning them any communicates anything of value.

Not for our domestic dogs, anyway (primates may be a different story). Sure, there are lots of species out there where the males and females look (sexual dimorphism) and behave significantly differently, but our pets are not examples of that.

Yet people still get tense when I screw it up. It’s an honest mistake! And certainly not a judgment statement. If you’re insulted that I mistakenly called your male dog a “she”, that sounds like a you problem.

I think the offence taken when I make mistakenly guess a dog’s sex really speaks to larger issues people have with ideas about gender norms and roles, burdening our pets with a lot of human issues. I mean, there are species of animals out there that can change their biological sex, so trying to assign genders in the animal kingdom would be incredibly complicated and wholly unnecessary.

A photo of a parrotfish I took on a dive trip to Bonaire many years ago. Fun fact: parrotfish can change their sex.

A photo of a parrotfish I took on a dive trip to Bonaire many years ago. Fun fact: parrotfish can change their sex.

What about you? Do you think gender applies to our pets? Do people incorrectly assume the sex of your dog? Do you care if they do?

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

I am well aware my dogs are not kids

Moses and Alma are not my “children”.

They – and the cats – are not our “furbabies” and we are not using them as practice kids nor for exhibiting nesting behaviour (unless, perhaps, the nesting period is longer than a decade?).

Both the Husband and I grew up with pets in the home. Dogs and cats are part of what makes a home a home; even once out on my own, it wasn’t long before there was an unauthorized cat smuggled into the apartment.

I say Moses and Alma are not kids because I am acutely aware they’re not. It’s intentional.

We have our pets on purpose; we also don’t have any children on purpose.

Dogs, not kids

Dogs, not kids

The Husband and I are happily DINKs. That’s double-income-no-kids, for those who forget their junior high social studies. Or, perhaps, we’re DONKs: dogs-only-no-kids. (But I don’t think sociologists recognize that term… yet.)

Sure, I may be occasionally tempted to respond to a story about a toddler’s drool with a story of Moses’ drool, but that’s not because I think he’s the equivalent of a toddler; it’s because I find some common ground with my own experience of sharing a home with a drooly creature. It’s intended to be funny – and probably gross – but it’s not supposed to be insulting or demeaning to the child.

Moses exhibiting frozen drool

Moses exhibiting frozen drool

And it certainly doesn’t mean that I think my role as a dog owner – no matter how extreme I take it (raw diets, crazy vet bills, hours of training, a blog…) – as anything at all equal to the responsibilities of parenthood.

Any dog/child comparisons I may make, though intentionally rare, do not mean I think of Moses and Alma as children. They’re dogs. They’re part of the family, of course, but they fill the role they’re supposed to: pets.

Sure, they’re a commitment that requires training, a good diet, medical costs, daily walks, etc. I frequently stress the importance of being a good pet guardian. But they’re still not kids, which (I can only assume) are a whole different, scary-looking thing. They certainly appear to be, anyway. I mean, I’m able to  leave my dogs home alone for ten hours while I’m at work. You can do that with a two year old dog. You can’t do that with a two year old human.

IMG_5609

The Husband and I are soon to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary and we continue to be childfree.

Something about this piques interest in people, and, for whatever reason, it is a frequent go-to for small talk with acquaintances, coworkers, and business associates.

Truthfully, I have no idea when ‘small talk’ was expanded to cover biology, reproduction, bedroom activities, and major life decisions; that sounds like pretty big talk to me.

No kids? Why not? Well when are you going to start? Don’t wait too long. You’ll change your mind. You’ll regret your decision. Don’t worry, your clock will start ticking and you’ll get baby fever when you turn 30. [I’ve since turned 30, and my temperature is fine.] There’s no point in waiting – you’re never truly ready, anyway. If you wait until you’re ready, it’ll never happen. You don’t know unconditional love and happiness until you have a baby. Don’t you feel like you’re missing out? That’s a selfish decision. Having kids is part of being human. Everyone should have kids. [Have you read the news lately? Not everyone should reproduce.] Don’t you want to pass on your genes/your name? It’s part of God’s plan, to populate the earth and whatnot. [Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the buffet approach to religious texts.] Who is going to take care of you when you’re old? Don’t you want to give your parents grandkids?

stop listening

I’ve mentioned before that I am an introvert, which means personal stuff is off the table for sharing with… well,  all but a select few. But the intrusive nature of these exchanges isn’t the only thing that raises my hackles, though that’s certainly a big part of it.

It’s also the ridiculousness of it.

Most of the people who interrogate me on the state of my ovaries won’t be affected in the least if we decide to have kids in the future or not at all. And even if they are affected, that impact does not at all put any weight on our decision to create and be responsible for a new human life. Those aren’t decisions to be made by committee.

Not to mention, my reproductive status reflects nothing about your family and your own decisions, or my opinion of them. Someone having a child does not validate someone else’s similar decision to have children. Nor does not having kids insult those who do.

That’s the most irritating part about this issue: just let everyone live their lives.

If you ask, and I confirm I don’t have kids, just move on. No need to badger with “Why not? When are you going to?” I’m not a riddle that needs to be solved.

It’s none of your business and it doesn’t matter.

To you, anyway. It actually might matter a great deal to the person being asked, but it is certainly not your place to pry (consider how much pain you might cause when harping on this issue and the person in question has been struggling to conceive or may never be able to).

Unilaterally turning my reproductive status into a big deal, and a defining part of my identity, is disrespectful and incredibly close-minded. I don’t know if you got the memo, but women are much more than just their uteruses. (Uteri?)

feministrants

Sure, I realize that by being a married, thirty, and childfree female I’m not necessarily following the status quo. But who cares? And if you do: why?!

This is not intended to equate childbearing with death.

This is not intended to equate childbearing with death. [Comic: Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis]

The Husband and I make decisions based on our lives and our goals. I expect you to do the same. And I don’t expect our decisions to be the same as yours, because I don’t expect our experiences and situations to be identical. No one’s are.

So when you harass someone about having kids, or not having kids, or having only one kid, or having too many kids, or adopting kids… what’s the point?

Or if you question someone’s choice to not get married; or keep/change last names after marriage; or have a home birth; or get an epidural; or breastfeed; or bottle feed; or be a stay-at-home parent; or a working parent; or an attachment parent; or two working parents… what’s it to you? Shouldn’t you be too busy with your own goings-on?

No one should be expected to quantify major and personal decisions to every person with whom they have a fleeting conversation. It is just concern-trolling? Or is it to validate your own decisions and ideas of happiness in the choices of others? Because that would be ludicrous.

For example, I do not at all understand how someone could decide to have six kids. That sounds ridiculous (and expensive, and tiring) to me. But it’s not up to me. And as long as I’m not on the same airplane as them, it doesn’t affect me. If they’re happy and capable – great! Who am I to weigh in on that?

Or if someone says “I don’t like big dogs” or “I’d never have a big dog” or “I don’t want a big dog”, I don’t take that as a personal insult. They like small dogs. Their experiences have lead to a conclusion and it’s a statement of opinion and preference. They’re not saying “everyone should have a little dog” or “no one should have big dogs”. They’re just saying what they like. And that’s totally fine because someone else choosing something different from me is not an affront to my own decision.

How one person lives life is not a judgmental statement on how someone else lives his or hers. Thus, our decision to be childfree does not mean we think everyone should make the same choices, or even expect that everyone else could. And it doesn’t mean we don’t understand that people change their minds as their lives change.

I expect this sentiment to be reciprocal.

And if you think I’m overreacting… I’ve actually had a 60-something male coworker tell me my eggs will dry up if I don’t have a baby soon. I’ve been told my life will be incomplete without kids by a 20-something male business acquaintance during an introductory meeting. I’ve actually had to sit a female coworker down and utter the words “my reproductive potential is not appropriate office conversation” (even then, it hasn’t worked). I’ve, more than once, had people start to whisper that I “must be” pregnant simply because I didn’t order an alcoholic beverage (sick, tired, working, driving, going diving, simply wanting something else – all apparently less reasonable excuses).

Drawing an obvious parallel here.

Drawing an obvious parallel here.

So yes, my experience is that people are intrusive on this issue. I find it perplexing, discomforting, and irritating.

As the saying goes, live and let live.

Or, more contemporarily, you do you.

WhatYouShouldFocusOn

So, no, random acquaintance, we don’t currently have kids. It shouldn’t matter why and you shouldn’t think yourself privy to that information.

And no, Moses and Alma are not our pseudo-kids; they’re our dogs. But if you’re just looking for something to converse over, I’m happy to talk about Moses and Alma for hours.

So how about you – any other DONKs out there with similar experiences?

For more great reading on this subject, check out this post: You Shouldn’t Need a Reason for Not Having Kids. Though this post has been in my head for a long time, reading the Thought Catalog one definitely prompted the timing. 

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

“My dog doesn’t like to go on walks.”

“My dog doesn’t like to go on walks.”

Ever have someone say that to you?

I have. And obviously recently, or I wouldn’t be spurned to write about it.

My response is usually one of two things:

1. Changing the subject. “Right… so I spent an inordinate amount of time last night trying to ace this quiz where you name all the countries in the world in 12 minutes. I swear it’s impossible.”

Sometimes, I just... can't.

Sometimes, I just… can’t.

2. Challenge it. If I’m feeling particularly spry or comfortable or bored, I’ll be up front: “You’re going to have a tough time convincing me that’s true.”

Because when someone says to me that his/her dog “doesn’t like” walks, my bullshit detector sounds pretty loudly.

will smith bs

Barring some sort of medical condition, or mental condition that should be addressed, I don’t think saying your dog “doesn’t like” walks is entirely truthful.

Instead, I think that statement can probably be replaced with one or more of the following more accurate statements.

  • I don’t like walking my dog. People project a lot of things on to their dogs, and I’d say it’s pretty likely that people who think their dogs don’t like walks are just making excuses because they don’t want to walk them. I mean, dogs spend most of their days confined to a house or yard – of course most of them like to get out and explore and spend time with their family! If you don’t like walking your dog, to that I say: TFB. Who obtains custody of a dog these days without realizing they need regular exercise? Exactly – no one who intelligently pondered the decision. Walk your dog!
  • I haven’t shown my dog that walks can be fun. If you don’t like spending time with your dog, they’ll pick up on it. It’s not necessarily the walks they dislike, it’s the owner begrudgingly doing it. Make it fun – for both of you! Go interesting places, play fun games, meet up with friends, enjoy your time outside. Make the best of it, because it’s your responsibility and a key part of their overall health.
  • Walking my dog is hard. Dog walks can be a real challenge if you’re working through some reactivity or anxiety issues with your dog. That is certainly no reason to make up excuses to avoid it, though. Avoiding walks just ignores and compounds the issues, meaning the fewer walks you go on, the tougher they will be. Seek a good trainer for help with this if you need to.
  • My dog doesn’t like walking in this weather. -25°C in the winter is not a condition all dogs like, or are built to tolerate, and that’s fair. But it’s not the walk they don’t like – it’s the wind or the ice. If this is the case, make sure you keep them active in the house until it warms up. Walk time shouldn’t be foregone, but it should be replaced with something else. However, if you’re trying to claim your dog dislikes the when it’s +5°C in February… well, most any dog acclimated to Alberta’s usually unusual weather should be able to handle that. Grab them a sweater and boots if you must. Or schedule walks appropriately – for example, in the summer when Moses and Alma can get uncomfortably hot, we’ll walk late at night when it’s cooler or ensure there are swimming opportunities on our routes. The benefits of regular dog walks outweigh any initial protests you may get. If they’re physically able to do it, you should teach them they can.
  • I don’t like walking in this weather. If your dog is on the same page as you, fine and see above. If you’re like me, and have dogs that thrive in winter, you’re going to need to suck it up and buy yourself some snow pants.
  • I usually take my dog for short walks and the one time I expected him to go on an usually long walk he got tired and sore. I bet he did! Let’s say I suddenly decided to forego the elevator and take the stairs up to my office on the 25th floor. This is not something I usually do and it would certainly leave me tired and sore. Does that mean I’m not physically built to do it? No. If I did it regularly, I’d have the stamina. The situation with the dog isn’t much different; if they’re not used to exercising, then the one time you ask a lot of them is going to be too much. They won’t be conditioned for it. But that is your fault, not theirs. All dogs were bred for active reasons, whether it be giant working breeds or small rat-hunting breeds. Your dog being out of shape is a sign to you that you should fix it – but don’t suddenly amp it up. You’re going to need to slowly increase their walk distances to something every healthy dog should be able to handle (say, an hour or 5km?).
  • I’ve taught my dog I will always carry them around when they ask. Is your dog begging for attention, whining, exhibiting a learned behaviour, or are you carrying them because you actually observe that they are tired and sore?
  • I interrupt my dog to go for walks. Wake them out of a dead sleep? Take away their toy or bone? Sure, in those cases they might not seem stoked to drop what they’re doing to leash up. Observe their behaviour when out on the walk to determine if they like it – are they engaged, relaxed, interacting, wagging their tails? They may not have wanted to go for a walk in that moment, but I’m sure they enjoy it once they’re out there.
  • I don’t know my dog that well. As I mentioned before, what’s not to love about a walk if you’re a dog? It’s a chance to socialize, check out the scenery, exercise, and spend quality time with their owners. It’s possible that any perception that the dog doesn’t like walking is a gross misinterpretation of something else.
  • I don’t know (or – worse – care) how important walks are to my dog’s mental health. Yes, your dog can suffer from what is essentially cabin fever. A lack of exercise and stimulation can result in all sorts of anxious, destructive, and hyperactive behaviours. They will be as bored and frustrated as any person locked in a confined space for days on end.
  • I don’t know how important walks are to my dog’s training and social skills. Does your dog bark a lot? Chew your shoes? Dig in the yard? Race around the house like a maniac? Lunge at other people or dogs on walks? Ignore you when you want them to do something? There’s a reason one of the first questions most trainers ask their clients is “how often do you walk your dog?” Walks won’t necessarily resolve these behaviours, but they sure do shave the rough edges off undesirable behaviours and make training easier. Spending regular time with your dog improves the relationship you have with them and increases how much they pay attention to you. And getting out and experiencing the world – people, dogs, cars, bikes, wildlife, etc. – is essential to a socially well-adjusted dog.
  • I don’t know (or – worse – care) how important walks are to my dog’s physical health. If not for regular walks, how else would the average pet dog get exercise? Exactly. Regular exercise – just like with people – is essential to their overall health. Obviously regular walks will help prevent or cure obesity, but a dog can be a perfectly appropriate weight and still be out of shape if they’re not regularly exercised. Regular walks help with muscle tone, joint issues, heart disease – the same sorts of things regular activity does for me and you. Every breed has conditions they are prone to, but ensuring dogs are generally healthy with a good diet and regular exercise is your best defence to them.
  • I’m lazy. Or neglectful. Or my dog isn’t a priority I want to make time for. Yeah, I said it. It’s very easy to explain away guilt if you put the onus on the dog – “they don’t like walks anyway, so I don’t have to worry about it.” Wrong! Everyone has busy lives, but if you choose to have a dog, you’ve also chosen the affiliated responsibilities. This should surprise no one. But there are lots of options out there to help if you need it: dog walkers, doggy day cares, several short walks per day, treadmills, or having the whole family pitch in with dog responsibilities.

With all of these potentially truthful explanations (did I miss any?), I find it pretty hard to believe someone’s dog “doesn’t like” going for walks.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

Moses and Alma definitely enjoy walks

Moses and Alma definitely enjoy walks

Moses’ Sixth Birthday

Just a quick note to say Happy Birthday, Moses!

Looking back at past birthday posts, it seems that snow in March is common. Not this year. This year is muddy. Muddy outside, muddy dogs, muddy house.

Ah well. He doesn’t seem to mind!

Muddy Moses enjoys a birthday bison bone

Muddy Moses enjoys a birthday bison bone.

Crosby's here, celebrating with Mo, chewing bones with her behind in the air

Crosby’s here, celebrating with Mo, chewing bones with her behind in the air.

Nice birthday dog walk - a good portion of that mud is now in my house and/or still stuck to Mo

Nice birthday dog walk – a good portion of that mud is now in my house and/or still stuck to Mo.

Here’s to 6 more great years, buddy – at least!

What To Do If You Get Bit by a Strange Dog

Disclaimer: If you’ve stumbled upon this post because you got bit by a strange dog and are now Googling what to do, here’s your advice: get off the internet and seek help from a medical professional. Seriously. I take no liability for you.

If you recall, on Monday I wrote about how my intercepting of a bit of a tussle in the off-leash got me bit by someone else’s dog. If you’d like to read the full story, click here.

Suffice it to say, doing so should come with a don’t try this at home, kids warning. Even if you go in as an unbiased arbitrator, you can easily find yourself on the pointy end of 42 teeth. I was a completely biased arbitrator and I sure did.

That’s not to say I would go back in time and not intercept the dogs – I still would. But there are risks.

Anything can happen at the off-leash park

Anything can happen at the off-leash park

So say you do get bit by a dog you don’t know – then what?

1. Exchange information

Step one and I already failed. Yep, after separating the dogs and enduring some awkward small talk, I got the heck out of there. To be honest, I knew I got bit but I didn’t know I had any injury myself. I knew Moses was fine, so we left. It wasn’t until we finished our walk and got home that I discovered my own injury.

But what you should really do is get some information about the owner and the dog. Is the dog a local? It he up to date on vaccinations? Get a name and phone number.

You should also give some information yourself. I didn’t do this either. I actually have no idea if those guys knew I got bit, but I should’ve (calmly) told them. They need to know what their dog might do in the heat of the moment and mitigate accordingly (training, no more off-leash, a muzzle, whatever’s right for the dog).

2. Clean up

Because the dog didn’t puncture my jacket, I didn’t think he’d puncture my skin. He did.

A scratch and a lovely yellow bruise - not exactly a big deal. (That's Emma photobombing.)

A scratch and a lovely yellow bruise – not exactly a big deal. (That’s Emma photobombing.)

Just like every other time you do something dumb and subsequently injure yourself, you should wash up with soap and water, and disinfect.

Even if you’re not punctured but you have some drool on you from the strange dog, you should clean up – especially if rabies is a real concern.

And, obviously, if you’re seriously injured or bit on the face/neck, you should just go straight to a clinic or emergency room (use your judgment) and they’ll clean you right up.

3. Contact a medical professional and follow his or her advice

I had the great timing of getting bit by a strange dog on a long weekend, but if your family doctor’s office is anything like mine (has the most inconvenient hours), they’re probably not going to be open anyway.

In Alberta, we are lucky and have Health Link – a 24 hour hot line you can call and get connected to a nurse for some general advice. Since I don’t go to a clinic unless absolutely necessary as a general rule, this is what I did.

Why? I got bit by a strange dog! I could get rabies! And then die!

Couldn’t I?

Fans of The Office? Anyone?

Fans of The Office? Anyone?

Well, not so much, as it turns out.

There have only been 3 cases of rabies in Canada in the past 12 years and all of those were due to bat-related incidents. An altercation with a domestic dog does not pose much of a threat for contracting rabies in Canada. Even cats pose a higher risk, the nurse on the phone informed me.

I described the incident and my little scratch and she went through the official decision tree, which I later found online here.

Bite/Rabies Decision Tree

Bite/Rabies Decision Tree

Domestic pet dog? Check. Provoked attack? Check. (Technically, involving yourself into some canine commotion is considered provoked, which does make sense.) Albertan dog? Probably. Happened in Alberta? Check.

Risk is basically nil. Phew!

If it was a stray dog or cat or a wild animal, the decision tree is a bit different and the risk is higher.

Rabies - wild animals

I didn’t get off scot-free however.

The nurse was asking me about my little laceration and then said “when was the last time you had a tetanus shot?”

Ummm… no idea (which means definitely not in the last 10 years).

Well, she informed me, an animal bite, no matter how minimal, is considered a “dirty wound”. Gross.

So off I went for an injection after all. Say what you will about our health care system, but I was in and out in 15 minutes and didn’t pay a dime.

Telling the doctor the reason for my visit granted me a nice lecture about how I should’ve gotten information from the other owners before leaving the scene (I know, I know), but further assurance that I wasn’t in need of a rabies vaccination. (I may have even asked him to give me one because… you know… what if…. But no.)

In any case, I’m glad I confirmed with the authorities, even if it’s just a stupid little grievance. It would just be my luck that I’d let it slide and then something ridiculous would happen. And I really don’t recommend Googling information about rabies to make yourself feel better… because you won’t. 

And if something ridiculous still does happen, I’m advising publicly now that I’d like my tombstone to read ‘Tis But a Scratch.

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes