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.

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Coyote Encounter: A True Story

It was Sunday evening.  The clock read 8:00.  Just as good a time as any to walk the dogs, I figured.

And then I looked over at Moses.   He sure was rocking the scruffy, homeless look.  Kind of like a canine hipster.  I debated adorning him with a keffiyeh from some place like American Apparel to finish off the look, but with a name like Moses, I doubted he’d appreciate it.

So instead I grabbed the grooming tools, cued up my backlog of The Colbert Report, and set to work.

When I finally determined I’d done enough to make him look respectable once again (or when I ran out of Colbert – the two occurrences were not unrelated), it was past 10:00.

We better hit the road; after all, it was a work night.

When Moses, Alma, and I left for our walk, it was still daylight, and the neighbourhood was busy.  But as over an hour passed and we neared the end of our loop through the neighbourhood, it was dark.

We were in the final leg of our walk, about five minutes from our front door in NW Calgary suburbs, when a coyote crossed the street ahead of us, onto our side of the road.

The stage for the encounter: we were on the right-hand side, near the houses, heading up the hill to where the photo was taken from. The coyote came from the untamed wilderness on the left.

This kind of sighting was not uncommon in our neighbourhood, and over the years I’ve frequently crossed paths with lone coyotes while I’m walking the dogs – especially so when walking at night.  In the normal course, they keep their distance and scurry off quickly.  There’s nothing remarkable about it.

Besides, when I’m accompanied by two Newfs, I’m never worried.  180 pounds of Moses vs. a 45 pound coyote?  Not likely to happen.

A local urban  coyote (Photo from The Calgary Herald)

Or is it?

Instead of ducking into suburbia to hunt rabbits, this particular coyote did not scurry away quickly at all.

In fact, he got closer.

It took me a second to realise it, but instead of crossing the road in front of us, he was actually doing circles around us, getting closer and closer each time.

I figured it out about the same time as Moses and Alma did.  And they took great exception to his presence.  Moses dashed to the end of available leash length, which I gripped for dear life, and directed a couple of his deep, looming barks at our visitor.  Alma more silently, but similarly, responded, pulling on her leash in the excitement of the escalating situation.

Yet, amid the commotion and clear contention to his presence, the coyote not only continued to circle, but tightened his circumference.

He stayed low to the ground and made direct eye contact the entire time, and as I reined in the dogs as close to me as I could, he continued to close in, approaching as close as just a few feet.

It was unlike anything we’d ever encountered in our neighbourhood; usually the local canine aggressors are barking maltese-crosses, straining in their harnesses on the end of a retractible leash.

Obviously the coyote’s brazen occupation of our route home continued to hold the attention of Moses and Alma.  I did what I could to move our travelling circus slowly up the sidewalk, but those efforts were largely futile, as most of my energy was concentrated on not letting go of the leashes.

Moses was held close, attached to a regular 6 foot leash, and Alma was connected to me on a hands-free leah, though I still kept a grip on her extension to maintain my own balance, lest we create a real emergency.  The last thing I wanted was to let go and watch Moses to chase the coyote across the street into the dark field, where another was waiting.

Coyote target?

The coyote continued to gain ground, orbiting our little pack; steps towards him and a couple of weak shouts of “Hey! Get out of here!” from me produced no results, other than to add volume to the chaos.

At one point, a car passed by on the road, which caused our antagonist to briefly retreat.  I was relieved and hoped to flag down the car to honk and perhaps scare him off more, but my efforts failed, and as soon as the car disappeared around a corner, he was back and just as brazen as before.

After what was likely just a couple of minutes – but felt much longer to all involved – I turned around to see a barefooted man wielding a golf club and coming to our rescue.

Our shoe-less friend had been relaxing at home and heard the furor; once he spotted the source of my struggles, he dashed into action.

The Good Samaritan hollered and swung the club, startling the canine provoker and causing him to retreat.

Or a certain extent, at least.  The coyote continued to follow and observe at an increased distance while our rescuer and his impromptu battle-ax escorted us towards home.

After lamenting over the bizarre and somewhat frightening encounter we just experienced, I then emphatically thanked our liberator and Alma, Moses, and I jogged the last block home, not looking back until the front door was bolted behind us.

* * * * *

Personality assessments suggest I am high in compliance, so my natural next course of action was to proceed with reporting the dangerous wildlife to the proper authority.  I mean, what kind of ballsy coyote approaches a human and nearly 300lbs of dog?!

Not to mention, just an hour prior on that very same walk and only a couple of blocks away, I’d passed two separate other people out walking dogs – but theirs were small and on long, loathsome, flexi-leashes.  How differently would an encounter like that go for them?

Our city’s 3-1-1 service game me the number to Fish & Wildlife and I made my report.

Coyote pups – awwww. (Photo from ecobirder.blogspot.ca)

The next morning, the officer in charge of my region followed up for a conversation and to provide advice.

In June, coyotes have pups in the den that are becoming more active, so when dogs the size of mine go by, they are not prey like a small dog, cat, or rabbit would be; they are a threat.  And this coyote was doing his duty of protecting his family.  It’s all very Hatfields and McCoys.

The officer explained that the coyotes’s behaviour was entirely directed at Alma and Moses, and was his way of telling them to get out of the area or there would be trouble.  His female mate was waiting in the wings to add her support in protecting the litter should things escalate.

Of course, little did this coyote know that the chaos that ensued was actually the least effective way to get us on the road in a timely fashion, but I now see where the communication breakdown happened.

The officer’s parting words of advice were to carry a walking stick (a golf club also works), a noise maker (like an air horn), or bear spray if walking in that area at night again (if you can find any of these items in ACME brand, even better).  Most important is to ensure any attempted approach of people or pets by a coyote ends with them being scared off, so repeat offences are not encouraged.

And to that, of course, I add always ensure your cats are kept inside this time of year, and your dogs are on short leashes, giving you the best chance to keep them safe if something weird happens.

Trust me.  Weird stuff can happen.

Learning from our experiences and walking in the daylight.