To People With Non-Reactive Dogs

Hello, dog owners! I can tell already that you’re a partly decent person, because you’ve decided to care for an animal that is not yourself. I see you out there, walking your pup all hours of the day. Good for you. There are so many awesome dogs on this planet in need of homes. You’re doing your part.

First, some backstory

I’m doing my part, too. I got my previous dog from a rescue. She cost a lot of money to adopt from the rescue, at least $300 if I recall, but I never regretted it. When she died of cancer, I decided I wasn’t going to adopt from rescues anymore, because rescued dogs have homes until they’re adopted. They’re not in danger of dying. I decided I was going to go straight to the source, the animal shelter, where animals are killed daily.

Not long after my previous dog died, I went to Los Angeles East Valley Animal Services. If you’re not familiar with East Valley, it’s a rather depressing place. It’s where strays are taken. It’s where people who can’t or don’t want to take care of an animal dump them. It’s a horrible place full of sad, frightened animals. But, it is also a hopeful place when you can lessen their load by even one animal.

I saw this picture on their website and an hour later, I was standing in front of her cage.

An aside to people who surrender their pets

As I was standing in the “checkout” line to “purchase” that dog for all of $50 dollars (really, she cost me $100 since I doubled it as a donation), I saw several people there surrendering their pets. Look, I get it. Owning a pet, particularly a dog, is a lot. A dog requires patience, time, attention, and money. It’s a huge responsibility and some people are not up to the task. I’d rather have you surrender your animal to someone who is capable of taking care of it than abuse, neglect or otherwise mistreat an animal.

That said, must you drop them at a high kill shelter? Couldn’t you find them a home with someone else? Couldn’t you beg, plead, or even just ask for help? I see fund raisers and pleas for adoptions all the time on social media from people who are probably in similar circumstances as you. There are tons of individuals and rescues out there who would help, but no, you chose to dump your buddy at a kill shelter instead. Shame on you. I think it should be a law that if you surrender an animal at a kill shelter, you’re not allowed to adopt another one.

Back to the backstory

I don’t know who owned my dog before me. She was picked up as a stray. That’s all I know of her history. I don’t even know her real age. The shelter just labeled her as a year old the day they picked her up. I am almost positive that she was owned by someone before me, because of her uncanny leash untangling skills. She can untangle herself better than any dog I’ve ever known, which means she was probably tied up a lot, if not always.

My dog, at a year old, had no idea what to do with furniture or toys. She was not housebroken, because I don’t believe she had ever been inside. She had no social skills, either with people or other dogs. When I adopted her, even after two weeks at the shelter with regular meals, she weighed 50 pounds. She now weighs a healthy 75. She had worms and the worst case of fleabite I’ve ever seen. She was not spayed either and probably had at least one litter before I adopted her. My theory is that she spent her puppyhood tied up in a yard and ignored. She broke free and practically starved to death before animal services picked her up.

Even after all of that, she is the sweetest girl. She is grateful for what she has. She’s not food aggressive or possessive, and if you give her a bone, a toy or a treat, she’s always surprised, like “this is for me?” With the exception of water and scratches, she never demands anything. Her eyes shout “I love you” and she’s always thrilled to see me, even in the morning when I’ve only been sleeping and haven’t gone anywhere. It didn’t even take her long to trust me completely–all of three days.

Dogs are amazing. My early life wasn’t the best either. I was homeless, ignored, and tied up, too. I don’t trust people easily and I was angry for most of my life. After having gone through what she went through, there’s no way I could be as sweet and trusting as she is. She’s remarkable.

Even so, she is not free from her past. She has terrible anxiety. Now that she knows there’s a difference between outside and inside, she is terrified of outside. She’s scared of dogs, people, and even cars. When I first got her, I couldn’t even take her for walks. I could only take her out in my front of my building to do her business, and even that was dicey if there was a dog or a car drove by.

She’s on anti-anxiety medication that seems to help. With the meds and a couple of years of work, I can take her for daily walks around the neighborhood, but I still have to cross the street when I see another dog walking by. I hide behind parked cars or trees, but sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes, I come face to face with people who don’t understand what it’s like from my point of view.

To people with non-reactive dogs

And now, we get to the crux of this post. I’d like to directly address dog owners who see me struggling with my 75 pound German shepherd snarling and barking on the end of a leash or any other reactive dog.

Now that you know the story of my dog, I hope you will understand my situation a little better. Though it may look like it, my dog is not actually out to kill you or your dog. From your perspective, you probably see something like this:

Image from German Shepherd Central.

Yeah, that’s scary. But, from my perspective, it’s actually more like this:

Image from O-Rex on Reddit.

That’s right. My angry, aggressive German shepherd is not angry or aggressive; she’s actually TERRIFIED of you and your dog. If you were the one holding the leash, you would know that she is actually trembling with fear.

I know for a fact that my dog doesn’t want to kill you or your dog. The day I brought her home, I didn’t have the appropriate gear for her yet and she slipped her collar. Seconds before, she had been barking at a dog across the street. When she got free, she ran across the street to the other dog while I had a mild heart attack. Instead of attacking the dog, she ran up, wagged her tail, and sniffed his butt. That was the sum total of her response. Phew.

I realized that it was the leash that was the problem. She’s great off leash. I even take her to the off leash dog park and she’s fine. I worry about her less at the dog park than my previous dog who ran towards fights. This one actually avoids them. Off leash, she’s fine. On leash, she’s a snarling monster.

The problem is, she can’t be unleashed. I don’t have a private yard, so she has to be on a leash—the one thing that makes her crazy. In the 2+ years I’ve had her, we’ve been working on it. Believe it or not, she’s significantly better than she used to be, but her leash aggression is still very much a work in progress.

This morning, as my dog was in the process of pooping, a woman walked down the street with a dog. I saw her coming, because I am always scanning the horizon for problems. She saw me and my pooping dog, and kept walking straight towards us. When she was about 20 feet away, I had to quickly run across the street to avoid her with a bag full of poop in one hand and a snarling dog in the other. I said, “thanks for that” in a rather sarcastic tone, because she could have easily gone around us, but she chose to blithely walk right straight towards us anyway.

Even with my snark, she seemed supremely unconcerned that I had to rush across the street to avoid her. She seemed to think that it was solely my problem. True, it is not her problem that my dog is reactive, but by walking straight towards us, she caused a problem. I was unable to move since my dog was pooping; she could have. Had she done so, I would have thanked her genuinely for her consideration instead of responding with sarcasm and writing this post.

I’m jealous of non-reactive dog owners and your ability to walk down a street without worrying about cars and people and dogs. I don’t have that luxury. I have to constantly be on the lookout for danger.

So, owners of non-reactive dogs, here’s what I would like from you; an action plan of sorts. If you see a person walking a dog while you are walking your dog, please, do your best to leave them alone. Especially, if you see a dog ahead pooping, please avoid that dog. It’s possible that dog is friendly and crossing the street is unnecessary, but maybe not. Just do your best to avoid them anyway.

Even if a dog is friendly like your dog, it’s best to ask first instead of just assuming. While your dog may be friendly, not all dogs are. Try to think about it from my perspective. Thank you in advance for your courtesy.