It’s fitting that I had the experience I had today while walking with Hawk in Coolidge Corner. Since she came to me at 5 months of age last August, I have posted many photos and entire albums of Hawk’s Socialization Adventures on my Facebook page. Next week, May 20-26, is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. With nearly 5 million dog bites reported every year, it is the mission of many dog trainers and behavior consultants to promote dog behavior education to children and adults alike.
Residents of Brookline and surrounding communities in Boston know how busy Coolidge Corner can be on a mid-Saturday when the weather is gorgeous. It was the third time Hawk has been on a walk there and, as before, our outing started with me doing my banking at Brookline Bank. After leaving the Beacon Street branch and heading to the intersection with Harvard Street, I pulled to the building side of the sidewalk and asked Hawk to sit as the first throng of people approached. Of course, being the very pretty girl that she is and behaving so well, we attracted the attention of a few passersby. Lucky thing for Hawk was that she got to see someone walking with a cane, others hustling by and a runner before we had a delightful conversation and greeting with a woman in a wheelchair. Notable is that she engaged me from 8 or so feet away and asked permission to greet Hawk.
Hawk window shoppingOnce on Harvard Street, the activity level increased substantially. I walked with her at my side and slowed to allow folks to pass us in the ‘lane’ they were already in and meandered around others so to give Hawk wide berth to those who were unaware that we were near. She was curious enough to want to go into a shoe store, a hair salon and even got startled by a stuff lamb while window shopping. As we passed the Arcade Building at 316 Harvard Street and made our way to KI (Kehilath Israel) it was evident that Hawk needed a breather- that is, to get off the pavement to allow her to sniff the earth. New experiences, no matter how exhilarating, are stressful for dogs just as they are for lots of people.
We sat for a bit on the temple stairs then Hawk wanted to get moving so we crossed the street to the grassy area in front of Devotion School. This provided Hawk with lots of new inputs– people lying on the grass, bicycles, skateboards and a family with children picnicking. My ‘standard operating procedure’ when I see children playing in the distance is to let her see them and watch while I give her a loose leash and when she’s no longer watching, we move on. I do the same with other novel stimuli. The goal– owner/handler obligation actually– is to let dogs see people, places and things and decide for themselves/show us what they can handle and no more (as we say, keep them under threshold).
By the time we made it to Babcock Street, Hawk really needed open space so that’s what she got. She also had a brief greeting with a black lab named Jack. The owner was (initially) disturbed when I told him that Hawk is deaf saying, “Poor thing.” Of all the special needs that a dog could have, being deaf or partially deaf, is a best case scenario in my mind. As I told him, Hawk is spared having to endure all sorts of unpleasant noises and thus, has a measure of decreased stress. Her greatest benefit is that of living with me. I am her advocate through and through. I see in my dog what others do not.
Our socialization adventure was a success! Additional novel inputs for Hawk included the olfactory buffet of all sorts of food coming through open restaurant windows; crowds of people passing; a few dogs; a 4 or 5 year old child whizzing by on a razor; and a stroll through Brookline Booksmith (one of Szap’s favorite destinations all those years ago when we lived in Coolidge Corner ). It was what happened outside of the Booksmith that caused me to write this piece.
Once outside the store I resumed a conversation that started before we went into the book store, I stood with Hawk with our backs to the street and parked cabs so that passersby would not be coming straight at Hawk but rather, from the left or right. I saw to my left a young man looking at Hawk and walking intently to her. He stopped short at about two feet (give or take a few inches) from her and crouched down then extended a hand under her chin. He did everything right except for ONE thing, ONE VERY BIG THING that so struck me that I addressed it right then and there, in the moment.
It wasn’t that Hawk had a negative reaction. It was that he did NOT ENGAGE ME before greeting MY dog. He did not allow me to have a say in the matter. For that, I launched into teaching mode. I’m sure he perceived it as ‘lecture’. Oh well. It’s the price he paid for the trespass he committed, in my opinion.
In my dog behavior education series I call The Kids & Dogs Project and in each and every dog training class I teach and in many if not all dog behavior consultations I conduct, I emphasize that dog owners must be willing to look out for their dog’s behavioral health. In dog bite prevention programs throughout North America, children are taught to ASK for PERMISSION from the dog’s owner or handler to greet the dog.
Is it really too much to ask ADULT ‘dog lovers’ to do the same?