We’ve all heard it, “Its ok! My dog is friendly!” The words every leashed pet owner dreads as you turn to see 4 legs and teeth coming in the direction of you and your own dog. “He just wants to say hi!” as they run behind trying to get a handle on their dog, or not at all. Just kick back and watch it happen. I will admit, there was a point in my life that I have yelled those words behind a bolting Dalmatian.
Dot was an interesting case when she came to my house in 2007. She was all but starved, she stunk, she was scared of everything. She had very little in the way of leash manners and literally ZERO recall. She would bolt given the chance at any time in those first few years. I remember her flopping like a fish on her leash in the park across from my house when we were working on sit one day. She managed to break free of her leash and run toward another person and their dog. “It’s ok!! She’s friendly!” I yelled while running behind her. And its true, she was. But in her need for flight, who knows how she could have reacted. Thankfully, she let the person grab her collar and get a hold of her for me. Completely disinterested in the other dog, just working on full “flight” mode. I look back on it and *facepalm* myself.
As in my own experience losing the dog who I had to qualify as friendly, and being on the receiving end of “MDIF!” I have found that this phrase is typically only uttered in 1 circumstance. When the owner has ZERO control of their dog. When a dog who has zero recall in that instance starts making a bee-line toward a person, another dog, traffic, a schoolyard, etc; the answer is not “Don’t worry!! He’s friendly!” None of us have any idea if a dog who is in full on “flight” mode is interested in making friends. None of us know if that dog is going to react in fear if the person or dog makes them feel threatened in any way
The solution to this problem is simple, maintain control of the dog on the other end of the leash. I get that sometimes things happen to even the most diligent of dog owners. Mine have bolted out the gate before, but their recall is pretty darn good at this point in their lives. I’ve lost the leash or had them Houdini out of a collar. It happens. But it should be a limited occurrence. No “bomb-proof” recall? No off-leash time, buddy. No “bomb-proof” recall? No lunge line time if you’re not going to respect the boundary of the lunge line, dude.
No “bomb-proof” recall? No flexi-lead, Princess. (Seriously… this is another blog all together. We NEVER, EVER, EVER recommend the use of a flexi-lead. They are dangerous, send mixed messages, and that little string or flat tape does not give appropriate control over large dogs, especially and allows the dogs to explore beyond the circumference of actual control of the dog.)
How many times have you been out with your dog and experienced the “MDIF”? (My Dog Is Friendly!) Seriously, I would say it happens roughly 50% of the time with me. I used to take Trace to the dog park, wayyyyyy back in the day. That is, until I realized that people looked at my dog differently. His square jaw and muscular body meant that if something happened at the dog park, it would be his fault. (even though he almost never left the bench beside me and only wanted to people watch. No, really…) On more than one occasion, people who seem to know very little about dog body language would holler at me “Don’t worry! He’s friendly!” as their dog came running into my dog’s space (or mine) at break neck speed and bully body language. (bully as in attitude, not breed) Wow, that’s what you call friendly?! Thankfully Trace has never felt the need to handle anything on his own, like, ever. He’s happy to let me intervene for him, and not raise an eyebrow to think it should be the other way around.
As a bit of an overprotective pet parent, I am always surprised when folks just open their door and let the dog out into the un-fenced yard and go back in the house leaving the dog out with no supervision or control. What happens if I am walking my dog and your dog becomes protective of its space? What happens if your dog with a prey (chase) drive sees a squirrel or a bunny and bolts into traffic? What happens if that dog with a chase drive catches a neighbor’s small dog or cat? Then what? What if they shake it like a tug rope or a chew toy? No matter how friendly they are, dog instincts are dog instincts.
“MDIF” is a quick way for folks to relieve themselves of the responsibility of the actions of their dogs who are not under control. “MDIF!” if there is an altercation, it must be your leashed dog that is under control that started it, because… well… My Dog Is Friendly. “MDIF!” if you get bitten because you’re walking or riding a bike past my house, you must have antagonized my dog because… My Dog Is Friendly! Its also pretty irresponsible to believe that even if you have the best behaved dog in the world, who walks wonderfully off-leash and you allow it to approach another dog or a person, that everyone else wants to meet your dog. Yes, most of us who love dogs fall to our knees for belly rubs and pets behind the ear and kisses, but not everyone appreciates a dog off-leash and in their space. People and dog alike.
We have a number of dogs who join us for pack walks that are not so cool with other dogs in their space. These are well-behaved members of our community who are comfortable in their leashed environment around other dogs who are also comfortable and well-behaved in a leashed environment. They may be a little agoraphobic and prefer to keep to themselves, especially in a crowd. They deserve the right to enjoy a walk as well. Their people deserve the ability to enjoy spending time with their dogs in public places where everyone obeys the leash and containment ordinances.
I’ve also found that “MDIF!” is often times hollered by folks who may not have the best understanding of doggy body language. Stiff legged, tail straight back and hackles up is not “friendly” body language (unless you’re Trace and you never learned to play appropriately and you send mixed messages because you truly love everyone, you just don’t show it in the right ways. Its off-putting to other dogs, really.). When we discuss body language at our Positive Dog Interaction Discussions, it becomes apparent that folks try to humanize dogs, especially. Unless dogs are full on barking and growling and baring teeth, people can find ways to make dog language translate to human language… and often it is very incorrect.
“Look at him give me the stink eye! (hahahahaha)” that “stink eye” is called whale eye, and it means the dog is uncomfortable, not snarky or sarcastic (usually).
“Look at her yawn, she must be tired! Playing is really wearing her out.” No, that is often a sign of stress and anxiety. Happy, playing dogs don’t stop to yawn.
“Oh, look at them put their tails straight up and prance around each other. They’re so proper. Its like a Brittish handshake!” Nope. Nope. Nope. That is 2 dogs that don’t particularly love the sight of each other, but they don’t come out swinging like MMA fighters. They are sizing each other up, not being proper blokes. And when the size up becomes a confrontation, folks don’t know what happened because… “MDIF!”
And for those of us with breeds that carry a negative stigma like “Pit Bulls”, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Chows, Shar Peis, Akitas, Mastiffs, Presa Canarios, Dogo Argentinos or any other large breed, well-muscled dog, we bear the brunt of the “MDIF”. If something goes south, even if it is at the instigation of another dog, our dogs are labeled as aggressive. Vicious. Violent. Unfriendly. Killers. Afterall, the Maltese with the tough guy complex was friendly when he ran up to the Mastiff barking like he wanted to eat the big guy. Its funny because he thinks he can take on the big dog. The Dachshund who tried to bite the ankles of the Rottie while they walked past the house, teeth bared and hackles up… he’s friendly. The Lab that bolted and approached the leashed pit bull on a walk with aggressive body posture, he’s friendly.
For those of you reading this who don’t have a discriminated breed, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? Dogs will do dog things.” The deal is this. Its “always” a pit bull or a Rottie or a Doberman or a German Shepherd that was the instigator. As a vet tech, I see the aftermath of neighborhood dog fights, of “I was out on a walk and it came out of nowhere” dog v. dog situations. For those with “family breeds” (Labs, Collies, Herding Dogs, Spaniels, lap dogs of varying size, purse-sized dogs) it is ALWAYS a big mean, vicious, salivating at the mouth, monster of a pitbulldobermanrottiegermanshepherdmastiffthing that tried to eat Fluffy. (Or Sparky, or Gunner or Lilly.) Truth be told, often times it may not be one of those breeds at all, but the perception is that “family breeds” are never the instigators and that discriminated against breeds of dogs must want to eat every dog they see. A lot of times when I push for more information I will hear things like, “My dog just wanted to say hi and that Pit Bull attacked out of nowhere!” or “We went for a walk and she was on her (flexi)lead and the neighbors dog just attacked her in the front yard!”
Believe me, I get it. Dog fights are traumatizing to witness. and when it is your fur baby in another dog’s mouth, its petrifying. This is why it is so important to have your dog in your control at all times. This is why it is so important for all dog guardians to have their dogs in their control at all times. Things can happen in a split second that can change your life.
Did your dog bite someone or attack another dog on your property? What does your landlord say about that? You can be evicted. The rent could go up. The landlord could have a lawsuit filed against their homeowner’s insurance. Own your home? Is your insurance going to drop you? How much are your rates going to go up? Can you afford that? Who gets the ticket if animal control is called? Who is paying the vet bills if one or both need medical attention? If a person is “bitten” (I put it in quotes because a lot of statutes consider a bite to be anything that breaks the skin, nails included… it could be entirely possible that teeth have never entered the equation) can you afford their medical bills, the possible litigation, the attorney’s fees, the possible quarantine of your dog, the possible loss of your dog?
Is an off-leash dog worth risking EVERYTHING? Is having your dog not appropriately trained worth risking it all? Is hollering “My Dog Is Friendly!” going to mitigate any of that?
Wanna know how to fix that? Training. Train your dog. Create a recall. Create a bubble that they stay in. Create an expectation. Create a relationship that your dog understands that YOU will handle things and they don’t need to take matters into their own paws. Be vigilant of your surroundings. Have an exit strategy in case of an off leash dog during your on-leash excursions. Carry deterrents if necessary. Know and obey all city, county or area ordinances and laws regarding confinement and leash restrictions.