Dogs on the Path and an Open Apology

Why do some people insist on letting their dogs run free on the trails here in  Eden Prairie when it is marked clearly that dogs are to be on a leash at all times? I have come to learn that most people abide by this simple rule and there are a consistent few who do not.

Most of the time, those who let their dogs run while they bike or jog along the beautiful trail through the woods and along a lake behind my house don’t cause any problems. These dogs seem well trained and generally behave as instructed.

The problem comes in when my dog, Walt, is on a leash and one of these dogs decides to give him a sniff.  He gets a little, shall I say, rambunctious, when this happens.  I can’t blame him, he’s tied-up, the other dog is not and he probably has a flood of animal, fight-or-flight instincts happening when this situation arises.

What’s funny to me are the looks and guffaws that I get from the other dog’s owner when Walt gives a feisty response to this one-sided sniffing arrangement. They say things, like, “Wow, that dog needs a little discipline.” I respond to this with, “He has discipline, he’s on a leash; what about your mutt?”  Well, I don’t say “mutt” but you get the gist.

It’s an easily avoidable situation.  Let’s not start with the “people who break the rules change the world” stuff.  I agree with that statement when it comes to lots of things, just not when you breaking the rules ruins the serenity of my morning ritual or puts my dog and me in a potentially dangerous situation.

This happens often enough that I am getting frustrated with whole deal and I wonder why people feel that the rules just don’t apply to them? I’m not judging, or trying to be up on a high horse, I just really don’t see the benefit to letting your dog run around on a trail. We build off-leash dog parks here in Minnesota just for that purpose. What am I missing?

Is it that the dog runs around more and therefore receives more exercise while the owner can traverse a shorter distance or at a slower pace? Then walk, run or bike faster and/or farther with the dog on a leash.

Enough about that. On to the apology. This morning as I was coming to the end of my run, I could see across the marsh a young man running at a very fast pace.  I thought to myself, “Oh to be young and full of enough vigor to run like that.”

Then, around the curve came Bolt.  Without a leash and running fast.  What I don’t know is if the young man was running for pleasure and left Bolt off of a leash or if he just got away from him.

Bolt is a Silver Labrador Retriever just like Walt, he lives two-doors down from us with a fenced in yard and they don’t like each other.

I see what’s coming here and my intensity level immediately goes through the roof as Bolt is making a bee line for Walt and showing his teeth.  The boy sees us and begins screaming how sorry he is and the dogs start to go at it.  I have Walt under control as we use a “Gentle Lead” system for training back-stopped by a choker chain in case he were to somehow slip out of the lead.

The young man really doesn’t know what to do, I am hollering at him, pushing Bolt away and trying to pick-up Walter while Bolt is biting at him. As I bend down to pick up Walt, he weighs 60 pounds, the choker slacks, he gets his head out of it and now they are both off leash and starting to go at it pretty good.

Finally I get Walt in my arms, I can feel his heart pounding through his chest, mine is too and I am screaming at this poor young man who is also terrified.  Luckily, Bolt decides to continue running down the path and the young man runs after him while saying how sorry he is.

I settle Walt down, get his harnesses back on, get myself settled down and start running to finish up my morning constitutional 3.2 miler. Much to my chagrin, all of sudden, here comes Bolt again from the back-side now. Apparently, the young man could not corral him because he had no collar on and I started yelling at the kid to “Just pick him up!” He kept saying, “I can’t, he’ll bite me.”

I picked-up Walt again, this time didn’t allow the choker to slack and kept him under control.  I started talking to Bolt in a calm manner rather than screaming at him, he turned, ran away the other direction, the kid ran after him, I put Walt down and we ran fast the opposite direction. Here is where we encountered the owner of the dog running down the path towards us with a leash and collar in her hands. I slowed my pace after she went by and it was now that I began to think about how differently I could have handled the situation.

Grace under pressure is something that I regularly pray for in business and life situations. In this instance, I failed.  This young man was scared and the dogs were too. I wonder, had I been more calm, could we have used this intense situation as a way to get Bolt and Walt to co-exist a little better and avoided the whole ordeal?  Was my thought of “great, another dog off of the leash,” a trigger for a response that can only lead to a bad outcome?

I am humbled on so many occasions the influence that my thinking has on the outcome of a situation.

In the end, I apologize to the young man on the path for not being the person to display a degree of calm sufficient to diffuse a highly-charged situation that I believe neither one of us wanted to be in.  I don’t know the circumstances of how Bolt came to be off of the leash and I’m not sure that it really matters.




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