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I Don't Deserve Your Dog: Controlling Your Dog in Public

Thursday, March 28, 2024

I Don't Deserve Your Dog : Controlling Your Dog in Public

I knew the bite would happen a few seconds before it occurred. It wasn’t an unlucky guess on my part. Rather, my hunch was based on my personal experience of having been bitten by a dog under similar circumstances and my observation of the attacking dog’s behavior before the bite.

At the time, I had been walking behind a young couple and their dog long enough to observe two different joggers having to leap off the sidewalk to avoid being bitten by the couple’s dog as they ran past it. Both of the joggers were able to steer clear of the dog because their frontal approach was noticed and aggressively acted upon by the dog well in advance of their arrival. The dog’s growling and lunging at the end of the thirty-foot retractable leash served as a warning not to pass too close, and both joggers were able to heed the warning. However, the jogger that raced past me from behind was not afforded the same opportunity to avoid an attack, because his rearward approach went unnoticed by the dog until he was passing it and consequently, his leg was bitten before he could escape the dog’s reach.

More shocking than the bite was what happened next. Instead of apologizing to the jogger who was injured and upset, the couple immediately became defensive and blamed the jogger for not warning them that he was approaching. WHAT PLANET DO YOU LIVE ON? CERTAINLY, NOT THE ONE THAT PLACES THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR CONTROL OF DOGS SQUARELY ON THEIR OWNERS! The couple then went on to explain that had they known the jogger was going to run by so close - HE WAS ON A PUBLIC SIDEWALK FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! - they would have pulled their dog closer to them. NOT TRUE. ON THE PASSES BY THE JOGGERS I HAD PREVIOUSLY OBSERVED, THE COUPLE HAD MADE NO ATTEMPT TO REEL THEIR DOG IN. INSTEAD, THEY HAD RELIED UPON THE JOGGERS TO TAKE WHATEVER ACTION THEY DEEMED NECESSARY TO AVOID THEIR AGGRESSIVE DOG. Harsh words flew back and forth between the victim and the dog’s owners until the owners, sensing the victim wasn’t about to accept the blame for being attacked, - WHY SHOULD HE? - tried switching victim roles by claiming their dog had been abused by its previous owner and therefore, was not at fault for its actions because a PTSD type condition caused its aggression. THAT TIME, THE COUPLE GOT IT RIGHT. THEIR DOG WASN’T TO BLAME FOR ITS ACTIONS, THEY WERE! The whole thing ended when the injured jogger realized he was dealing with a pair of irresponsible idiots and decided to leave before he was bitten a second time by their dog. As he hobbled off, I overheard him say, “What I deserve is an apology. What I don’t deserve is your dog!” CORRECT ON BOTH COUNTS.

The needless attack that happened to the unfortunate jogger and the subsequent denial of responsibility by the offending dog’s owners is something that I have personally experienced on three separate occasions while running in a public setting and once while I was competing with my dog at an AKC sanctioned event. Like the jogger, I was a bit “shell shocked” each time after being bitten. After all, when you run or walk on a public street or sidewalk, or when you participate in an open event, whether it’s a dog show or not, you don’t expect to be attacked by someone else’s dog. When it does happen, at a minimum, you expect the dog’s owner to apologize. As a bonus, you hope they learn from their mistake and do whatever is necessary to ensure their dog doesn’t bite again in the future. However, logic dictates that won’t happen because, when you think you’re not responsible for your dog’s behavior, you don’t do anything worthwhile to change it.

No doubt, this recent cultivation of an uncaring and reckless attitude by many dog owners has been partly to blame for a 34% increase in the number of dog bites to people that have occurred in public settings in the past two years. As a consequence, many insurance companies are adopting a “CYA” attitude regarding Homeowner and Renter insurance policies in that they are no longer extending coverage for dog owners beyond their property (premises only coverage). In a further move to decrease their losses, they are also excluding protection and guard dogs and breeds such as Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Akitas, Doberman Pinschers, Bullmastiffs, and others, from all “bodily injury” liability protection. It doesn’t matter if these breeds are on or off the owner’s property. If they bite someone, the owner isn’t covered, period.

If a drastic increase in dog bites to people in public areas and the subsequent contraction of liability coverage for dog owners wasn’t bad enough, many of these types of attacks were caused by dogs that were fraudulently passed off as service dogs by their owners. As a result, many states, municipalities, and major businesses are now enacting stiffer leash laws and limiting access to some public areas to only trained service dogs for the physically disabled. For instance, Walmart, Publix, and Target no longer allow emotional support dogs or therapy dogs in their stores after receiving a multitude of complaints from customers saying such dogs bit them or they had witnessed the dogs relieving themselves in the middle of shopping aisles or on the stores’ products. Delta, American, and United Airlines, along with fourteen major airports, have also tightened their rules on service and support animal travel and twenty-three states have recently passed legislation that punishes dog owners who fraudulently misrepresent their dog as a service dog with fines ranging from $250 - $1,000. As hard as it is to believe, there is an alarming number of dog owners that are willing to lie and cheat the system while risking your safety so that they can take their dog everywhere they go.

I can’t help but think, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? Why are dog attacks to people on and off of personal properties increasing when we have the means to prevent it, and why are some owners using deceit as a way to gain unfettered access to places with their dogs that are typically reserved for valid service dogs? Have we become more concerned about the welfare of our dogs than we have about the protection of the people they encounter, or is it our personal welfare - because of our newly found inability to go to a movie, or to a restaurant, or to travel by plane without being accompanied by our dog - that is our concern? Is it a matter of I can’t or I won’t when it comes to controlling our dogs around other people, or are we just confused as to what we can and can’t do with our dogs outside of our homes and in public? I believe all are true and have contributed significantly to the problem.

Nonetheless, there’s not much that can be done to change one’s attitude about whether or not their dog is a public risk or to shore up one’s ethical standards enough to sway them not to pass their dog off as a service dog when they’re not. However, any confusion we have regarding what we can and can’t do, or what we should or shouldn’t do, with our dogs in public can be cleared up and it should. After all, my grandfather used to say, “thinking right leads to doing right” and I always considered him to be a bright man, so let’s clear up a few of these areas of confusion for the sake of doing right.

We have confused rights with privileges regarding our dog’s access to public spaces. You have the legal right to visit open spaces as long as you abide by the laws and rules governing them. Your dog does NOT. From a legal standpoint, your dog is merely property and therefore, it has no more legal right to visit public areas than my refrigerator. However, dogs are allowed privileged access to many public spaces and venues as long they also abide by the laws and rules governing them and behave in ways that are not offensive or dangerous to the other visitors. It’s your responsibility as the dog’s owner to ensure this happens or as you can tell, their privileges will be revoked.

We have confused disillusioned with disability. Many of the people who fraudulently misrepresent their dog as a service dog believe they are disabled. However, needing your dog to help break the ice on a date because you are an introvert, or to be a pillar of support at a scary movie because you’re a chicken, doesn’t quite cut it. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is defined as, “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.” Therefore, before you strap that service dog vest on your dog - YOU KNOW, THE ONE YOU BOUGHT ONLINE - make sure your disability is real and requires real help from a real service dog.

We have confused Autocracy with Democracy when trying to control our dogs off our property. Whenever you take your dog to any public area occupied by other people, it is incumbent on you to maintain absolute control over your dog for the safety and well-being of the other people you encounter. Absolute control means your leadership is not distributed. Hence, it is not shared with your dog. You do not ask your dog to do your will because your leadership is autocratic and your will is law, and the outcome of any command you give is never in doubt. At a minimum when out in public, if you command your dog to remain by your side, your dog should do precisely that. In doing so, it should not attempt to jump on, harass, or bite anyone that passes nearby. If you tell your dog to sit when you stop to visit with someone, your dog should plant its butt on the ground and keep it there. It should not suddenly lunge at the person you are talking to or attempt to bite them either. If your dog’s training is so inadequate that you have to ask, plead, bribe, or bargain with it to accomplish either of these two simple behaviors, seek good training help or stay at home.

We have confused “you’re to blame” with “I’m responsible.” Two seconds after assessing the damage their dog has inflicted on someone with its teeth, the first thing that comes to mind for most dog owners is LAWSUIT! The second thing is a mental image of the thirty plus billboards with pictures of smiling personal injury attorneys glued to them that they pass every day on their five-mile commute to work. The third thing is “OH, SH*T!” Perhaps it’s just a reflex or a highly evolved survival mechanism in humans, but either way, the fourth thing is a physical action; an index finger pointing in the opposite direction of the one that’s been pointing at them by the victim. However, to clear up any confusion surrounding who is to blame, you may wish to investigate whether or not the state where the attack occurred is a “statutory strict liability” dog bite state (most states are). If it is and you’re the owner of the offending dog, you are liable for any injuries your dog causes regardless if you were involved or not, or even if you weren’t doing anything wrong. Therefore, if your dog does bite someone, the finger you use to cast blame in the opposite direction would be better served to join your other four fingers which should always be tightly wrapped around your dog’s leash when the two of you are in public, so a bite doesn’t happen again.

We have confused properly restrained with property lines. If someone else’s dog has ever bitten you, you probably didn’t care at the moment it had its teeth sunk in you if the dog was on its property or not. Dog attacks may be global, but the pain is local, which means it doesn’t give a crap about property lines and neither should you as the dog’s owner. Unless the person being attacked by your dog has criminal intent, your focus should be on bite prevention, not bite location. To accomplish this, you will need a good leash and excellent training on and off your property along with a tall fence or an underground electric containment system that can be used to keep your dog away from people when it is at home but not being directly controlled by you.

Now that some of the confusion regarding our responsibilities as dog owners have been cleared up let’s get busy “doing right.” Let’s do right by considering the safety of others and by taking control of our dogs on and off of our properties. Let’s do right by becoming transparent about our physical and emotional needs and utilizing a trained service dog if we need one or by learning how to cope with being in public without one if we don’t. Let’s do right by learning to say, “I’m sorry” when it’s called for, and by learning to point our index finger at ourselves instead of at everyone else. Lastly, If you and your dog can’t be nice, do right and stay at home, because I DON’T DESERVE YOUR DOG!

Bryan Bailey

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Bryan Bailey

CBCC-KA Certified

Bryan Bailey, an acclaimed author, media personality, and expert in canine behavior and training, co-founded Taming the Wild and brings his diverse experience and innovative methods to his role as a mentor and director at The Academy for Canine Behavior and Training.

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