Well, I was that person today. That. Person. The one with the unruly dogs who really, really wanted to greet another dog that didn’t want to be greeted while I struggled to get them under control.
This spring has been abysmal for bikejoring so far around here. The trails I usually use have been flooded for weeks with no end in sight, and my alternative sites are getting busier and busier from soaking up all the slack. Many biking trails that are usable right now explicitly prohibit dogs. So I’m not running dogs very much, which is disappointing.
The silver lining is that as we’ve been forced to do a lot of groundwork, commands have gotten more solid (or, foreshadowing alert, so I thought). But I’ve definitely struggled with managing the boys’ excitement and energy levels overriding their brains when we DO get out for a run.
Today I checked out a new trail for the first time. A paved, multi-use trail that was not terribly busy but not super quiet either. As I came around a bend I saw a man and an off leash dog up ahead, but as soon as he saw me he recalled his dog, put it in a sit-stay, and stepped off to the side. Normally in this type of situation, I’ve always pulled off to the side myself, gotten off the bike, and let the other dog owner walk by while I practice sit-stay with my dogs. But in a moment of what proved to be a stunning lack of judgement I figured that his dog was so well behaved, mine had been practicing so much lately, and the trail was wide enough that even if they pulled to the side the man and his dog were out of reach… so let’s just go for it.
We almost made it past them before Aspen and Squash decided “nah, actually, let’s go say hi.” They pulled me over onto my back, the bike on top of me, and then dragged me AND the bike towards the poor man and his dog. My dogs like other dogs, but they’re very big and very vocal when they’re excited, so I’m sure they scared the crap out of the guy though to his very great credit, he didn’t panic; he just calmly collected his dog and moved away while I struggled to get out from under the bike while being dragged across the pavement and called “I’m so sorry!” over and over again. In a minute, it was all over and no one was hurt but me.
Also to his very great credit, he didn’t tear me a new one, which he had every right to do. He just calmly left with his dog. And I collected myself and left with my dogs (after we had a short remedial lesson on lining out and waiting). My dogs, who in one fell swoop had punched a hole in my pride, pointed out a training deficit, and reminded me that they are a combined almost 200 lbs of very strong dogs who most of the time choose to do the things I ask of them. But if that dog or owner had reacted differently, the whole situation could have been very, very bad. We were lucky.
To my credit, while I shed some tears of abject embarrassment afterwards, I didn’t get angry at my dogs at all and got only a slightly-more-than-useful amount of angry at myself. And when a bit down the path we came upon another family walking their two small dogs, I took the lesson I’d been given and made a better decision to pull off the path and practice sit-stay with my dogs. Oh, and then on our way home I found a loose dog in my neighborhood and got him home, so hopefully I’ve balanced my good and bad for the day?
Now I decide if this is a situation I manage as I have been forever or if I try to recruit some friends/dogs for training scenarios to work on going on by other dogs. Probably the former, it’s safer and pulling off and stopping for a few minutes isn’t really a problem to me.
Anyway, I’m not telling this story to fish for pats on the back. I still feel terrible that it happened in the first place rather than being proud that I didn’t do the same dumb thing twice in a row. But I just want to make a couple of points:
- Train your dog, strive to make good decisions about challenging situations, but realize you and your dogs are not perfect. Shit will happen. Most (if not all) of that shit will be 100% your fault. It’s ok, we all mess up and this one thing doesn’t make you a bad person, dog owner, trainer, bikejorer. But what do you do next, and next, and next after that might. Will you recognize your mistakes and strive to do better next time?
- When shit happens, own up to it. Apologize. Acknowledge your mistake and make amends if there are damages. If you have a chance, explain how you’ll do better next time. Don’t make excuses (and remember there is a fine line between explanations and excuses). That other person deserves to hear you say “I’m sorry” and it will go a long way towards their reaction to you. (Don’t wallow in self-loathing, though, it’s bad for you and everyone around you.)
- If you’re on the receiving end, don’t necessarily judge a person by one awful encounter especially if they are doing the stuff in #2. It’s scary to get rushed and you have every right to be upset. But it’s scary and upsetting to be the one messing up, too, and someday that might be you. (However, if their response to being upset and embarrassed is to defensively project their anger at you for something that was their fault? By all means, go nuts with the judgment.)
That’s about the extent of my wisdom for the day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go clean up my scrapes, ice my bruises, take some ibuprofen, love on my dogs, and thank my lucky stars that this was an “all’s well that ends well” kind of morning.