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Posts from the ‘people problems’ Category

The Vet’s Office: Waiting Room or Dog Park?

I love going to the doctor. It’s my absolute favorite place to meet new friends.

I especially like meeting new friends at the doctor’s when I feel really sick or have a painful injury. I like to shove the icky, hurty part of my body in stranger’s faces, so they’ll poke at it, while slapping me on the back.

Sometimes I’m just there for an annual check up and I feel fine physically, but I’m nervous. I’m worried that I’m going to sit in the waiting room all day and be late for work. I’m anxious that I’m going to get a mean doctor that will pinch me and talk to me about my BMI again.

When I’m really stressed, that’s when I like to look around to see if there are any people I can make friends with in the waiting room. And when I feel this way, there’s nothing I enjoy more than when other patients run up to me and ask me to do a few Zumba moves with them before it’s my turn to see the doctor.



Yep, I love being sick and nervous, in a tiny space, with no way out, and meeting new friends at the same time.

And see that quiet lady in the corner who’s nervously eating a 100 calorie pack of almonds and trying not to make eye contact with me? I asked her to arm wrestle while I was waiting to pay my bill, but she said “No thank you”.  The nerve!

So you know what I did? I turned to the receptionist and I said, in my best stage whisper, “Some people are so MEAN. I guess that patient’s not friendly, huh?”  I sure showed her how rude she was for telling me no.

SCRREEEEECH! Hold the phone. This is bananaballs, right? No one wants to do group aerobics in the waiting room at the doctor’s. No one goes to the doctor’s to meet a new BFF.

So why are so many people doing this with their dogs in the waiting room at the vet’s office?  If there’s ever a place where dogs need space from each other and the dog owners need to ask permission before their dog approaches another, it’s the vet’s office.

Seriously, why do I have to even explain this? But I do, because this happens constantly, every day, to DINOS owners at the vet.

Lots and lots of people seem to think that socializing at the vet is a good thing and dogs who can’t do that are “bad dogs”. Is it me, or do we have some totally out of whack expectations for dogs when they’re at the vet?

Dogs at the vet are sick, injured, anxious, stressed, or just plain don’t wanna play. Almost every dog at the vet is a DINOS (at least temporarily). It’s not the dog park. It’s a doctor’s office for dogs (and other small animals stuck in their carriers).



Next time you’re at the vet, keep in mind how much you would hate it if every time you went to the doctor’s office, you had to deal with a parade of “friendly” people who invaded your space, touching and poking at you, and talking non-stop. You would hate it and rightly so.

Common sense rules for the vet:

Keep your dog on leash when entering, leaving, waiting, and paying. That’s everything except the exam room.

Lock your flexi-leads. Don’t let dogs wander around, scaring cats and upsetting other dogs.

Ask permission before you allow your dog to approach another dog.

If they say “No”, just accept it.

Don’t call the other dog owner or the dog “mean”.

Don’t passive aggressively whisper about how “unfriendly” that other dog is.

News flash: When you do that, YOU’RE THE MEAN ONE. People go home and cry about how mean you were to them and their struggling dog.

To the staff at the vet’s office: please require and enforce the rule that all dogs must be on leash. Require that all small animals be secured in carriers. Stand up for your clients when other’s treat them badly by reminding everyone that the waiting room is not a dog park and there are sick, injured, and stressed pets in the room – they have a right to their personal space. It’s just safer that way.

And a final note to DINOS families: If you can, wait outside or in the car with your dogs. Ask the staff to let you know when a room is ready, then go directly into the exam room. Ask if there is a back entrance (there usually is) that you can use, so you can avoid the waiting room entirely. Let the staff know ahead of time that your dog needs space – there may be a particular time of the day when it’s slow and you’re less likely to run into crowds.

Fair enough, right? We can do it folks. Respect, compassion, manners – we’ve got that.

Speaking Dog with Photo Lab

I recently got a chance to contribute to a blog series about learning to “speak dog” hosted by my friends over at Photo Lab.

Here’s a little sneak peek of my guest blog, plus the fabulous photo they created to go with my post. You can read the rest over on their blog Tails from the Lab!

I’ve been dog walking for almost ten years…day after day, as I walk my pals, I encounter a real problem for us: many well-meaning people have no control over their dogs (or themselves). People allow their dogs to drag them across the street, forcing nose-to-nose greetings with strange dogs. Or they ignore leash laws and let their dogs run loose in designated on-leash areas.

When I encounter these scenarios I feel like I’m robbed of my ability to do what’s best for the dogs I’m walking. The dogs are telling me what they need – space – but I can’t always get it for them, because people aren’t respecting our boundaries. 

Read the whole post HERE.

Dog Bite Prevention Week: How to Safely Interact with Humans

Dog Bite Prevention Week is a favorite of mine –  every year there’s a ton of great advice floating through the interwebs.

Thanks to trainers, vets, and other dog pros, we know how to prevent dog bites: understand dog body language, manage dogs properly, socialize and train them, teach kids how to safely interact with dogs, don’t chain them in your backyard or let them roam unsupervised. Got it.

Here’s one more from me: Get fluent in human body language and communication.

Nothing for nothing, but is anyone else stunned at how often fellow humans completely ignore or miss huge, obvious cues from other humans who are trying to communicate on behalf of their dogs?

You know, the ones that are saying, “Please don’t come any closer!”

So, how come so many of us keep getting closer?

I feel like the dogs would benefit if we humans got better at communicating with each other. In that spirit, here’s my contribution to Dog Bite Prevention Week 2012.


How To Safely Interact with Humans and Their Dogs


Right there! Do you see it? It’s a human walking their dog.

In order to approach them safely, you must observe. Before you or your dog gets closer, let’s look at the human:

What can you tell from their body language and facial expressions?

Start with the eyes. Are they darting back and forth, looking for a way to escape? Are the human’s eyebrows furrowed and pinched? You’re witnessing signs of stress. Do not ignore them.

Scan their bodies and look at their hands. A human that is not comfortable being approached by a stranger will often raise one or both hands towards you. If you see body language such as an outstretched hand, palm towards you, this is a clear signal to stop!  Do not continue approaching.

credit: stevensnodgrass


Next, focus on their mouth. Is it open? Are sounds coming out? It is not unusual for a human who is feeling trapped to say: “Call your dog” or “My dog needs space.”

Occasionally, humans caught by surprise might have a hard time using their words. In that case, screams, shrieks, and expletives might be used.

Do not ignore these verbal warnings. Do not argue with the human. Do not tell them they are wrong and that it is ok for you to approach them because “All dogs love me” or “It’s ok, my dog is friendly“.

Listen to the exact words the human uses. This is a clear warning.

If you’re still not sure if you should approach, look closely at their feet. Are their feet facing towards you or have they turned to sprint in the opposite direction? When a human is running away from you, they are clearly signalling that they do not want to hang out.

Do not follow them across the street. This is not a game of chase.

In some cases, it can be difficult to read a human’s body language because it is so subtle. But the signs are always there, even if we don’t recognize them right away.

For example: you spot a human standing off to the side of a walking path. They may look relaxed, but study them at a bit closer. Are they standing in front of their dog? Are they giving their dog treats as you pass? These are signs that the human is busy working with their dog.

Tip: When someone sees you and then turns away from you, they’re just not that into meeting you.

But what if the human is hiding, you ask? Should I approach them then?

If you spot a human hiding behind a tree, car, or telephone pole. Do not make eye contact. Continue walking. Pretend that you do not see them and their dog. This human is cornered and making one last attempt to escape. If you approach you will be forcing them into a situation where they might feel trapped and bite you. Keep moving.



This person is not into you.


Sometimes we can’t help but have an encounter with humans and their dogs. If that happens to you, please do the following:

Do not flail your arms or shout.

Control your dog, so that they cannot approach them.

In a calm voice, always ask: “Can we meet your dog?” or “Is it ok if I say hello?”

Wait for the human to respond.

If they say no, do not force the situation. The human has clearly expressed a desire to be left alone. Do not ignore these signals.

Give them enough space to pass and keep moving.

Phew. That was close.


Well, there you have it folks. The last piece of the Dog Bite Prevention puzzle: Human Body Language. If we just pay a little more attention to each other’s signals and respect each other’s space, we’ll be doing our dogs a real solid.




Be Polite. It Could Save an Epileptic Dog’s Life.

DINOS touches on all kinds of issues, but mostly it’s all about this idea: Some dogs need space, so it would be awesome if everyone had control of their dogs, obeyed leash laws, and always asked permission before allowing themselves or their dogs to approach unfamiliar dogs.

That not-so-complicated idea can be boiled down even further to this really, really simple idea: Please be polite, respectful, and responsible.

I heart boundaries tee

Got Boundaries?

Regardless of why a dog may need space (there are so many reasons: health, medical, occupational, and behavioral) the only thing most of us want is the opportunity – the right – to choose whether or not our dogs will interact with other dogs or people.

We’re reasonable about this. We’re upholding our end of the bargain by responsibly managing our dogs and getting out of the way. We know we can’t always control our surroundings and we don’t expect others to go out of their way to avoid us. But it stinks when our ability to choose what’s best for our dogs is taken from us. That happens when someone is breaking the leash law or can’t/won’t control their dogs (on leash or off).

For many of us there are serious consequences when our ability to choose who our dogs interact with is taken away from us.

I recently heard from a reader named Mary:

“I just wanted to thank you for making people aware of this. My dog has epilepsy and while people’s ‘dogs are friendly’ they can kill my dog.

Certain scents cause him to go into cluster seizures that take a dosage of Valium to wake him up. Just smelling the medication put on the back of a dog’s neck used for heart worm/fleas can cause a horrible reaction.

I’m sick of having to run away or protect my 100lb dog from these very hyperactive dogs. If we wanted to encounter off leash dogs, we would simply go to a park. It’s so very frustrating…If people would just ask before approaching and not unleash their dogs to meet us, I would be so happy. It seems so simple right? We all deserve respect.”

Please help me stay healthy. Ask permission before approaching.

This blew me away.  Taz is a DINOS because he has epilepsy and he needs space to stay healthy. You would never be able to tell, just by looking at him. But you can help keep him safe just by being polite.

The thing is, Mary purposely walks Taz in areas that have leash laws, but still encounters off leash dogs who run up to her dog and can compromise his health. She’s not going to off-leash areas or dog parks. Mary doesn’t want to ruin anyone’s good time with their dogs.

She just wants to be able to walk her teddy bear of a dog in public, without fear that someone else will break the law and let their uncontrolled dog (friendly though they may be) run up to her dog and possibly cause a reaction that could kill him.

She’s not asking for much, but she’d really appreciate it if we were all polite, respectful, and responsible.

We can do that right? We can obey leash laws, control our dogs, and remember to ask permission before we allow ourselves or our dogs to approach an unfamiliar dog, can’t we? We teach children to ask permission before approaching a strange dog. Why can’t adults do the same?

I think we owe it to each other to do so. In this wacky world, a leash and a few polite words go pretty far in keeping us all safe and comfortable in public places. Accidents happen, of course, but we can at least try to be respectful of one another.


Download on Flickr:

And it’s not just those of us with DINOS that wish dog owners would be more courteous. Senior citizens, children, and people afraid of dogs – they all have a right to use public spaces without fear of being chased or jumped on by dogs that are out of their owner’s control (on leash or off).

But this blog is about dogs, so back to them.

Taz is a reminder that you may not be able to tell just by looking at a dog if they’re epileptic or recently became blind or if that puppy will be a Seeing Eye dog one day. Or maybe they’re just having a tough day and need space for a few minutes.

When we assume that another dog will be ok if we allow our loose dog to chase after them or we let our leashed dog pull us over to say “hi”, we’re making a judgment call without all the facts. And in doing so we are taking away that other person’s right to choose what’s best for their dogs.

It’s impossible to know what’s going on in someone else’s world just by looking at them and their dogs. That’s why we need to remind dog owners to take responsibility for themselves and their actions all the time, around ALL dogs.

Doing so allows all of us to be part of a community that treats everyone – two and four legged – with respect.

It starts with obeying the law, having control over our dogs, and asking, “Can we meet your dog?”, then listening to the response in case the answer is “Sorry, but no.”

Just good old-fashioned manners. A bit of politeness towards a stranger and you could save a dog’s life.


You can help pass along this reminder with the Ask First poster and handout. Trainers, vets, shelters – these resources are free. Please pass them along to your clients and the public!


(2013 Note: Yes, yellow ribbons  are now one way to signal that a dog needs space, but not everyone will understand what it means or be able to see it or stop disregarding leash laws. For long lasting changes, we can focus on educating the public about being respectful and responsible for their actions all the time, around all dogs.)


How to Score a Dog Bite: The Joggers and Bikers Edition

Hi there. You look really fit. All tan and muscle-y and stuff. Oh, it’s because you’re a jogger. You look like a long distance kind of dude. And you’re a cyclist too? Well aren’t you the picture of health.

What was that? I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. Did you just say you really want to get bit by a dog?

You did. Um, you know that’s crazy right? No one likes dog bites. They kinda hurt. Ok, ok. You really want to get bit, huh?

Well, since you asked…

So You Wanna Get Bit By a Dog: The Joggers and Bikers Edition

If you really want to get bit by a dog while you’re jogging:

Scout out a narrow trail, filled with pedestrians and dog walkers. With no audible warning, sprint up behind a dog, passing it so closely that your personal gust o’ running wind parts their fur.

The surprised dog, startled by a total stranger rushing them from behind, will likely be one of the following: scared, threatened, excited, or spun around and confused.

You’ve increased your chances of getting bit. Well done. If you aren’t too busy bleeding, don’t forget to check over your shoulder. You may not have scored that dog bite you’re bent on getting, but you’ll get a good chuckle at the dog walker who is now struggling to calm her startled dog. Score!

Did you see me scare the crap out of that dog? High five bro!

Not into doing it from behind? Try sprinting at a strange dog head on! When you spy a dog strolling on leash, pick up your pace and run right at the dog. Most dogs will think you’re coming to hurt them, hurt their human, or play with them.

Either way, you’ve got their attention now! Bravo. Look forward to lunging and barking. Fingers crossed for that dog bite you’re obsessed with getting.

Like riding bikes? Why not do it on a crowded sidewalk or walking trail, filled with pedestrians and dogs? There’s nothing that screams, “I want a dog bite!” like speeding past a dog who has no room to escape you and your hot wheels.

For extra points, scream at the dog walker for not getting out of your way. What do they think they’re doing walking on that sidewalk? They should stay out in the road with the cars….where it’s safe!

Obviously, I’m kidding here. Don’t ever do this stuff. Stop it right now.

For real: Can we talk about how crazy it can be negotiating bikes and joggers with our dogs?

They way they charge at our dogs is like some special brand of stupid. They’re just begging for a dog bite.

And I happen to know that they can’t stand us either. I love checking the search terms that people plug in to find my blog. I’ve gotten a bunch of search terms that go something like this: ‘”I hate dogs while I’m jogging” and “I want to run over dog walkers with my bike and then back up and do it again, while ringing my dumb bell.”

Ok, not the second one so much, but I do see the first one a lot – joggers don’t like dealing with our dogs any more than we like dealing with joggers.

If we’re both miserable, why can’t we call it a truce and end this perpetual Fight Club we’re in with each other?

Here’s what I propose:

Joggers: if you see a dog, go wide. Do not run directly into, up to, or past a strange dog. Exit the sidewalk and run in the street. For like 10 feet. Then you can get back on. No biggie. If you’re trapped on the path, slow down and walk. I can hear you guys now: “Walk?! I’m a runner!” Fine.

At the very least, say something clear and understandable from a distance, like “INCOMING JOGGER BOMB ON YOUR LEFT!” or whatever you think will be the best way to alert a dog walker that you are coming up from behind and they need to move over. Please don’t heavy breathe a polite, quiet, “excuse me”, at the exact same time you’re passing us. That doesn’t give us enough time to react. I’m usually thinking about my next snack while I’m dog walking. Please give me enough time to snap out of my cupcake cloud and move over.

That’s all we want, really. The chance to move out of your way. Cuz we like our space.

And if you run with your dog, keep them close to you. Don’t let them run right up to, squeeze by, or surprise strange dogs.

Bikers: Get off the sidewalks. Period. Unless you’re in elementary school, it’s time to suck it up and ride in the streets. It’s just not fair that pedestrians have to contend with bikers on sidewalks. Especially on crowded city streets. This actually has nothing to do with dogs. I’m saying this for all of us: dog walkers, senior citizens, children, people who dislike being run over.

If you think it’s too dangerous to ride in the streets (I feel you on this, by the way – I was terrified to ride my bike in the city), take the subway. And don’t you dare give me lip if I’m in your way and don’t move over fast enough. These aren’t called bikewalks.

The City of Evanston gets it. Those people look really happy.

Dog walkers: We need to behave too. Don’t let your dogs lunge at or jump on joggers and bikers, if you can help it (meaning – you weren’t caught completely off guard). If they’re giving you space, be thankful and control your dogs. Keep your dogs on leash. Retract your flexi leads.  At home, contain your dogs in your yards by fence or lead, so that they can’t chase people.  Get off the phone and take off the headphones, so you can hear what’s going on around you. Be good, responsible dog owners.

That’s not so bad, is it?

No one wants to get bit. No one wants their dogs to bite someone. Instead of creating the prefect storm for a dog bite: charging and startling an unfamiliar dog, let’s work together to set dogs and humans who like to sweat in public up for success. We can do it – this whole being polite and giving each other space thing – I just know it.

(p.s. I know you guys know this already, but don’t be silly about what you read here. That stuff in the beginning was a joke. You will not hold the author of this blog responsible for any incidents related to the materials published here. assumes no liability or responsibility for your actions.)

Hello Off Leash Dogs. Meet My Friend Direct Stop.

(Download and print the pdf version of Hello Off Leash Dogs)

Ask anyone who walks DINOS: “What’s your worst fear?” and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Off Leash Dogs (OLDs).

When you’re out walking your DINOS and you spot a loose dog, with no owner in sight, it’s hard not to throw up, just a little, as you mentally run the list of ninja moves you might need to escape untouched.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some tips for dealing with OLDs. But just so we’re clear, nothing works 100% of the time.

The thing about off leash dog encounters is that they’re a little different every time and there are always a lot of variables in play. So what works once, doesn’t always work the next time. What’s safe to try with one dog, may not be safe with another. I know, because these tips don’t always work for me.

I’d be perfectly happy if someone invented a Pop-up Teflon Dog Walking Tent, so that I could lurch down the block with my DINOS, safely ensconced in our own personal fortress. But hey, sometimes these tips do work, so they’re worth storing in the old noggin.

Here they are, starting from the beginning:

INVEST in a wardrobe that has generous pockets or a little dog walking bag.

On every dog walk, you should take the following, in addition to poop bags:

High Value Treats

Cell Phone with Camera and Animal Control on Speed Dial

Direct Stop aka Spray Shield

+ One Bodyguard (it does help to have a second set of hands, just saying)


There are a lot of loose dogs hanging out in their yards. The very first thing you can do to avoid a confrontation is to slip by unnoticed. I do this two ways:

Cross to the other side of the street, so I’m not directly in front of their property

 Tell my dogs to put a lid on it aka silence those tags

Tip for Leashed Dogs or Dogs Inside Houses: Being quiet helps, even if the dogs you’re passing are inside or on leash. I used to walk a reactive Olde English Bulldog that wore so many tags, collars, harnesses, gold chains, gongs, and sleigh bells that we alerted every dog in the whole of South Philly that we were coming. Not surprisingly, we had to walk a gauntlet of barking dogs and he struggled mightily to keep his cool. It was unnecessary work – we were bringing the dogs to us, when we really wanted them to go away.


Sometimes our DINOS are the ones attracting the attention with all that “debating” they like to do. So if you spot a dog before (or after) your DINOS does, be sure to engage your dog. Keep them focused on you, instead of staring or lunging at the other dog. Ask them to “look” at you. Talk to them in a happy, loose voice. Sing them a silly song with their name in it. Put a treat or toy in front of their nose. Do whatever you need to do to keep their attention on you, as you steer them past the dog hanging out in your neighbor’s yard, or while you do a u-turn (see below).  You can flash a “stop” hand signal at the other dog too, just to reinforce the message that you and your dog aren’t interested – thank you very much.

Tip for Fenced in Dogs: If you’re passing dogs that are contained and barking or running the length of the fence, try this: Cross the street to make space and say “Hi Guys!” in a loud and cheery, high-pitched voice. Sometimes that’s all it takes to shut them up and it tells your dog that things are ok.


You need to try to stay calm, if you want your dog to stay calm too, so do a body scan. Are you pulling the leash tight? Relax a little. Are you holding your breath? Lick your lips. You can’t really hold your breath and lick your lips at the same time. Talk in a happy tone. Let your dog know you’re cool.


In any situation you have to do two things – deal with your dog and the oncoming one.

This is really hard because these encounters typically happen in a matter of seconds, so even the best laid plans go out the window.

I won’t lie: I full on face-planted a few months ago when a total loser  lovely gal opened her front door, which opened right onto the street, and let her dog run out just as I was passing with a reactive dog. As the door opened, I was already moving to the other side of the street, to make some distance, and called “Get your dog NOW!”, but the dog was sprinting and caught up in a second. I tripped on my dog as I was trying to wrangle her and I fell. It happens. So I held on to the leash, as tight as I could while lying on my stomach, and my dog lost her marbles at the end of the leash. The other dog, stood, just an inch out of my dog’s reach, until the gal finally came to get her dog. I was glad I didn’t let go. I had a skinned knee, but neither dog got hurt and I have no doubt that had they made contact, that wouldn’t have been the case. Just wanted to share that even though my brain was telling me to do this stuff, I couldn’t make it happen that time, so I just wiped out and held tight!


Teach your dog to move quickly and calmly in the opposite direction, so that when you encounter a loose dog or a scary person, you can make a fast getaway. Teach them to do this on cue using a phrase and tone you’re most likely to use if you encounter this scenario.

Like “Uh-Oh! Let’s Go!” or “Holy Shit!” Whatever you think you’d actually say.

Here’s one way to teach them this trick and check out Feisty Fido for more, including Emergency Sit.



This means getting in between your dog and the oncoming OLDs. Ideally, you’ve taught your dog a great sit-stay, so that you can step directly in front of them to deal with the loose dog.


That’s the Voice of God aka what James Earl Jones sounds like.

Step in front of your dog and, using the VOG, say:

NO, SIT, or STOP and flash the universal hand signal for stop: a flat outstretched palm.

The goal here is to startle the crap out of the other dog, so you want to really BOOM! If you’ve got their attention, try telling them to STAY or GO HOME. Be fierce, stand tall, say it like you mean it.



Take a handful of those high value treats you’ve got in your pocket and throw them right in the other dog’s face. The goal here is to startle them, then have them look around for the food, giving you enough time to get away. I’ve had a 50-50 success rate with this, so it’s worth a try, but I’ll be the first to admit, it doesn’t stop all dogs. Patricia McConnell did a test run you can watch here.

Or Toss Pea Gravel at their feet. If you’ve got room in your cargo pants for a hand full of pea gravel, it can be worth carrying some to startle oncoming dogs by throwing this at their feet.

Tip for On-Leash Dogs: Occasionally, I let a few treats slip out of my hand when someone is rapidly walking up behind me and my DINOS and I can’t get away or make space. I’ll just drop a few treats on the sly, so the dog coming up from behind takes a second to sniff around for the food, and I’ve got an extra minute to make some distance.




If your voice and treats don’t work and you can’t get away (and really, you only have a few seconds to make these calls, so you can just skip to this step, if you need to), this is when it’s handy to have another tool on you. If you frequently walk in a neighborhood plagued with off leash dogs that you anticipate fending off, it’s worth carrying one of the following:

Direct Stop

Umbrella (pop-up)


Shake can

Walking Stick

The idea would be to body block your dog, by standing in front of them, and then use any of the tools you have to stop the oncoming dog. Spray ‘em, pop the umbrella open in their face, throw the penny can at them, blast the air horn, block them with the stick.

I vote for Direct Stop, a citronella spray. It won’t harm the dog, if you have to spray them, so you’re not risking their health. Plus, if their owner is nearby, just the sight of the spray will likely get them motivated to grab their dog, since they don’t know it’s harmless. If you use it, spray the dog right in the muzzle.

I highly recommend practicing with these tools. I’ve heard from dog walkers who have had Direct Stop on them, but in the chaos of the interaction, their brains totally bailed and they couldn’t remember how to use the spray. To build confidence and a higher chance of success, practice unholstering and spraying. By repeating the movements when you’re at ease, you’ll build a muscle memory for that action, so that when panic takes over your brain your body will still remember what to do.


Here’s what some people I know have done, to get their dogs away from OLDs:

Thrown them over a fence

Thrown them over their shoulders while kneeing/kicking the loose dog

Thrown them into the bed of random a pick-up truck

I’m just saying, it’s been done.

If the two dogs actually do connect, expect a lot of noise. Dogs sounds awful when they’re in a tussle, but it’s usually far worse sounding then it actually is. Try to stay calm (so hard), but if you’re alone, I do suggest calling for help. I’ve yelled loud enough to get neighbors to come out of houses and give me a hand. Having a second set of hands is worth screaming for.

If you have a helper, break up the fight by: making a loud noise, spraying the dog with your Direct Stop, or finding something to use as a physical barrier to smash/slide in between the dogs so that you can safely separate the dogs. Look for something big, like a trash can lid, a chair, a recycling bucket, anything large and nearby that you can wedge between the dogs. Grabbing collars is an invitation to get bit (your own dog is likely to swing their head around and redirect on you), but sometimes people do it anyway. If you do grab collars, you can try twisting them to cut off air supply briefly. Try holding the back legs instead. When you‘re able to separate the dogs, both parties need to move away from each other, preferably in a wide circle – not straight back – and do not let go of the dogs.

If you are all alone, I’m not going to lie. It’s really hard to break up a dog fight by yourself. I’ve never had to do this alone, but what I know for sure is that when you break up a dog fight, you need to make sure that after the dogs are separated, they don’t go right back at each other. One way to do this, if you are by yourself, is to tie one of the dogs to a fence or post or whatever is there, separate the dogs, and then do not let go of the one you’re holding. Move the dog as far away as you can. If there is any way to tie them up or enclose them (unlocked car anyone?), do it. Call for help, call 911.

I know that sounds super scary, but in all the years I’ve been dog walking and dealing with OLDs, I can say that things rarely get this far (not that they don’t – they do), but for the most part, dogs chase you away from their property or chase after you to play or try to start a little bit of trouble that you can stop with one of those tools.

No matter what happens, it’s best to think about these things before they occur. Have a plan in place. Know the hot spots in your neighborhood with OLDs and avoid them, even if you have to take a less convenient route. Walk at off hours. Bring a friend, so you always have a second set of hands. Drive your dogs to a safe spot to walk them. If your dog is aggressive, use a muzzle,  so you don’t have to worry about them hurting a friendly off leash dog that gets in their face.


Give all dogs space by moving away from their property

Engage your dog – keep them focused on you and quiet enough not to attract unwanted attention

If you see a loose dog, try doing an Emergency U-turn and scoot out of there

If you’re stuck, Body Block your dog, step forward and use the VOG

If the dog keeps coming and you feel like there’s no escape, spray them with Direct Stop, blow your air horn, use your tools.

If contact is made, spray the dog or use whatever large object you have access to (from a stick to trash can lid) to slide in between dogs.

Separate dogs and do not let go. Call for help.

Go home and have a beer.

If just reading this exhausts you (sorry it’s so long), I want you to know that it’s ok to exercise your dogs at home, in your yard, or whatever it takes to keep them safe and happy. I want you guys to be as stress free as possible and for your dogs to enjoy life. Some days, that might mean skipping the walk.

Download and print the pdf version of: Hello Off Leash Dogs

I know you guys have thoughts and tips to share on this subject. Please do! We can all learn from each other here at Team DINOS, so if you have a trick, I want to know about it!

Pocket Sized DINOS™ Handouts

UPDATE  10/1/12: Cafe Press is stocking business cards again, so you can now purchase mini-handouts (if the whole DIY Flickr option isn’t your jammy jam).  Find the cards here.

Remember that time when you were walking your DINOS and you noticed a woman and her dog walking straight at you? Remember how you looked around, wondering if there was someone behind you, but there wasn’t, so you realized she was coming for YOU? Remember how she had a big smile on her face as her goofy dog dragged her towards you at an alarmingly fast pace?

And how you had to scramble to get out of the way, but she kept calling “Wait, my dog is friendly!” and “My dog just wants to say hi!” as she chased you across the park? And then, sick of hiding behind trees, you turned around and said, “My dog needs space. Here’s a card that explains everything. See ya!” and then you skipped home smiling because, for once, you didn’t waste any time trying to explain your DINOS to a stranger? Remember that time?

Now those cards exist!

I whipped up a teeny tiny, business card size version of the DINOS Manifesto.  It’s available to all of you to download for free and print at home. Yippee!

All you have to do is go to the new Team DINOS Flickr page and you’ll see two images: DINOS Cards Front and DINOS Cards Back.

Download both images (choose “original” size), then print them out (double-sided style) on a regular sheet of paper or, better yet, business card paper. Viola! You have a pocket-size handout to give out to MDIFs you meet on your walks.

(p.s. If you’re like me and, while you’re with your DINOS, you can’t get close enough to a strange dog to hand these to the other person, feel free to stick them in mail boxes or leave a bunch at the local park.)

Here’s the text on the back:

(note: The text might look blurry here, but when you print it out, the words are clear)

If you live in an area without leash laws or if you use the term “lead” instead of “leash”, here’s a version for you.

And here’s the logo on the front:

Nifty, eh?

I know there’s much more we’d all like to say, but that’s all I could cram onto a business card in a regular size font!  If you’d like to share the full length version, check out the DINOS handouts.

I hope you find these helpful as you spread the word that DINOS are GOOD dogs, they just need space!

(And special thanks to Team DINOS member Nadia B. for giving me the loving push I needed to finally get these suckers out into the world!)

You Might Be a MDIF If…

If you’ve recently read My Dog is Friendly!, it may have left you wondering: I have a friendly dog. Am I a MDIF? 

Or maybe the PSA made you kind of mad. You read it and thought, “Hey! I have a friendly dog. Don’t make me the bad guy here!”

Kind readers, allow me to explain. Just because you have a friendly dog, doesn’t mean you’re a MDIF. If you have a friendly dog and you are a thoughtful, responsible guardian – you obeys leash laws and do not permit your dog to act rudely towards others in public – then you’re probably not a MDIF.

Most MDIFs are well meaning people, totally unaware of how their actions impact others. And they don’t actually realize they’re MDIFs!  So in an effort to spread self-awareness across the land, to keep DINOS and dogs of all kinds safe and stress-free, I’d like to present this MDIF self test.

And just in case you think, “Boy, this lady sure has met some odd people! I’m sure this doesn’t happen to everyone!”, I’ll share a real life MDIF scenario from a different DINOS family to illustrate each test item.

Got your pens ready? You might be a MDIF if…

  • You have actively pursued someone walking their dog, calling out to them, “My Dog is Friendly!”  I don’t mean passing another person on a sidewalk and making this remark. That’s normal. I mean chasing another human, typically one who is hiding or speed walking away from you. If you’ve ever made a u-turn or crossed the street to follow someone, so that your dogs can meet each other, you might be a MDIF.

Real Life MDIF spotted by Kathryn H. “I had someone follow me across the street and then back to the other side of the street again. When I turned around to walk the other way, because the person was obviously not getting it, they called “Wait up! My dog wants to say hi to yours!”


leash sign

  • You allow your dogs to run off leash, in a designated on-leash area. You let them approach strange dogs, without asking the owner’s permission. You are too far away from your dogs to catch them and you do not have voice control over them. If you’ve ever stood by and watched your dog follow or chase an on-leash dog, you might be a MDIF.

Real Life MDIF spotted by Renee K. “I  had two off leash dogs running towards me, crossing streets, while I’m yelling at their owner to get her dogs. She was walking slow and yelling how her dogs were friendly, while I’m yelling “Mine isn’t!” The dogs were fast and caught up with us quickly, so I had to pick up my 45 pound pit bull, while the two small dogs are jumping up my legs and the owner is taking her time coming to get them. When she finally got there I told her, again, to leash her dogs and I felt like she looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!”


  • You are adamant that your dog should meet all dogs, regardless of the other dog’s comfort level. If you’ve ever insisted, despite protests from the other party, that your dogs should meet and be friends, you might be a MDIF.

Real Life MDIF spotted by Jennifer S. “I have a dog reactive, territorial German Shepherd Dog. She is especially reactive to small dogs and to other female dogs. One day, I had her out in our fenced back yard…While I did some gardening, I heard her start to go ballistic – charging the fence, growling, and barking. When I ran over to see what was wrong, I saw our sweet, but clueless neighbor holding up her Rat Terrier mix to the fence. I pointed out that Frieda was dog-reactive and given enough incentive could probably clear our six-foot fence, so she should leave. She continued to hold her dog up to the fence and told me, “It’s okay – my dog is friendly. Everyone loves my dog, and I just want them to be friends.”


  • You believe that dogs can and should sort out problems on their own. You feel that, if need be, our dogs will teach your dogs a lesson. If you’ve ever disregarded a stranger’s plea to keep your dogs away and said, “It’s ok. My dog needs to learn” you might a MDIF.

Real Life MDIF spotted by Rachel M. “I was getting into the car with my 40 pound dog when a large off-leash Akita and his owner came strolling down the street. She said “My dog is friendly!” as he advanced, and I said “My dog is not!” She replied, “Then my dog will learn”, right as my dog lunged. In response, the Akita immediately went after my dog. I managed to kick him away and shove mine in the car. I wondered, what did she expect her dog to learn?”


  • You think that if other people knew the correct way to introduce dogs to each other, all dogs would get along. You feel obligated to show them how it should be done, regardless of their protests. If you’ve ever grabbed a stranger’s leash or physically interfered with another person’s dog, you might be a MDIF.

Real life MDIF spotted by Briana K. “A man came around a blind corner with a Golden and surprised Dexter and me. Dex snapped a bit. We were trapped on a crowded sidewalk waiting for a light, so I turned Dexter around. I kid you not, this man pulls his dog around and sticks the dog’s rump in Dexter’s face, saying, “It’s important that they have a positive interaction.” Luckily, Dexter was so confused by this that I had another moment to turn him around, yet again, and tell the guy it wouldn’t end up being positive if he kept forcing his dog on mine.”

  • You think that because your dog is wonderful, all dogs will like him. You believe other people are wrong when they tell you their dogs don’t like your dog. You think they will be happily surprised by your dog’s magic friend-making skills.  If you’ve ever ignored someone’s attempts to avoid your dog, calling out “It’s ok! Everyone likes Buster!” you might be a MDIF.

Real life MDIF spotted by Heather M. “My neighbors, who are nice, but clueless, used to let their dog, Sammy, out loose while I was walking my dogs, Iggy and Priscilla. I would say to my neighbors, “No, no! They don’t like Sammy!”  My neighbor would look at me like I had three heads and say, “But everyone likes Sammy!”


  • You get personally offended when someone does not greet your dogs. If you’ve ever spoken in a stage whisper to your dog, so that the other person can hear how offended you are, you might be a (passive aggressive) MDIF.

Real life MDIF spotted by Jenn G. “I walk many DINOS-by-design for my SPCA (they are DINOS  because they are shelter dogs and volunteers are required, while walking them, to keep them away from other dogs and the public due to a variety of reasons, like vaccinations and stress. This policy is to protect both the shelter dogs and the public’s dogs). Once, I was walking a lovely Rottie-cross shelter dog, minding my own business when a black Lab came flying toward us, with the owner not far behind. I called out “Could you do me a favor…and please leash your dog? I have an SPCA dog here”. After arguing in vain with him for a few minutes (from him: “Don’t worry, my dog is friendly” and “Oh, he needs to be socialized, that’s all”), the man stormed away. But later our paths crossed several times on the same set of trails. Every time we passed he would lean into his dog and say to the dog in an extra loud voice, so as to be sure that everyone nearby was listening, “No dear you can’t go and see THAT dog. THAT dog thinks he is really, really special because he lives in a shelter. THAT dog is too good to say hi to you…I know you’re disappointed sweetie. Let’s go now!”. I’m not joking – he did this three times!


  • You understand that some dogs need space, but because you love dogs, you think this doesn’t apply to you. If you’ve ever been told that a dog is afraid of strangers, but you insist it’s ok for you to pet them because you’re really good with dogs, you might be a MDIF (Tricky, eh? You didn’t even have a dog with you here!).

Real life MDIF spotted by Kelly S. “I was in the parking lots of the vet’s office with my dog who is scared of new people. This woman came walking over asking to pet him, but I told her, “No thank you, my dog is afaid of strangers.”  Instead of respecting my wishes, she just kept coming, saying, “It’s ok, all dogs love me!” and proceed to try to pet him over his head, while he ducked away from her hand. I had to stand in front of him to body block her from further attempts.


  •  You know that leash laws and “no dogs allowed” rules exist, but you don’t think they apply to you because your dogs are so friendly. If you’ve ever let your dogs run loose in  pharmacy, a pet store, or any other place where they’re not allowed or are required to be leashed, you might be a MDIF.

Real life MDIF spotted by Rebecca A. “Our local Home Depot is dog friendly, so we often bring in our people-loving pittie and American Bulldog when we shop there for a little Nosework practice. This weekend, a couple was there with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks off leash and not under good voice control. What were they thinking? I got the usual response from the couple when I asked them to call their dogs back – “They’re just being friendly!”


  • You believe it’s rude not to let dogs meet each other. You think it’s unfriendly when someone pulls their dog to the side and puts them in a sit-stay, so your dogs can’t meet. You think all dogs should be able and willing to meet other dogs and if not, something is wrong with them and their owners. If you’ve ever called someone a nasty name, criticized their dog, shouted at them for being rude, or stormed off in a huff, simply because they do not want to meet you, you might be a MDIF.

Real life MDIF spotted by Gato L. “A woman let her off leash dog approach the dog I was walking, a shy puppy. The off leash dog was approaching in a pretty aggressive manner- hackles up, ears and tail forward, all that. I can’t recall what I said at the time, as I was too busy trying to keep her dog away and mine from freaking out. But I recall her saying, “Is your dog EVIL? Dogs should be allowed to meet! Look, he wants to say hi! It’s natural! It’s not fair to keep them from greeting!”  It took all the treats I had to get the “evil”, cowering puppy back home.


  • You allow your children to chase, touch (without permission), or shout at other people’s dogs. If you’ve ever stood by while your child runs up to a strange dog and shouted, “It’s ok, he loves dogs!”, you might be a MDIF (Another tricky one! But it doesn’t matter if it’s your dogs or your kids that are friendly – same rules apply).

Real life MDIF spotted by Jackie D. “I was walking along a country lane, with my needs-space-from-everything rescue dog. A little way ahead was my friend with her not-keen-on-children rescue dog. A family was approaching. Both of us took our dogs up onto the verge and put them into a sit. The two small children ran away from their parents and flung their arms around my friend’s dog. My friend yelled, “Call your children away, my dog doesn’t like children!” Guess what the parents said? “That’s all right, they don’t mind.”  Yes, we yelled at the parents – they were very lucky they picked my friend’s dog to hug, not mine.”


If you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, you may be a MDIF. But fear not! Knowing is half the battle. Many of us are former MDIFs, but have learned from our mistakes.

As Oprah always says, “When you know better, you do better” and I’m absolutely sure she was talking about MDIFs.

Now that you know about DINOS, you understand that they have valid reasons for needing space from other dogs (and sometimes people), so you can change your approach. It’s simple, really. Obey leash laws, ask permission before approaching, and respect personal boundaries. Before you know it, you’ll have left the MDIF category and can live, acronym free, as a responsible owner of a friendly dog!

Now Showing: The DINOS™ Movie!

What are DINOS and what do they want? Find out in the new DINOS Movie!

Read more

Safe Communities Begin with Responsible People

Note: I originally wrote this for StubbyDog to educate the public about the failings of breed bans, which are frequently proposed after a human has been seriously hurt or killed by a dog. 

Breed bans lead to a false sense of security, because it’s impossible to accurately determine how safe a dog is (or will be) based solely on looks or breed.  The real cause behind dangerous dogs?  People. It’s always the people.

How does this tie in with DINOS? Because we all suffer when people fail to act responsibly. Everyone with a DINOS has had negative encounters with unfamiliar, uncontrolled dogs. It’s almost always due to the irresponsible actions of another person who is not properly managing their dogs. 

Sometimes it’s minor: a friendly, loose dog that chases another dog with no contact. And sometimes it’s major: an abused, starved dog is chained in their neighborhood and gets loose, seriously injuring a person.

The most effective way to create a safe community, and prevent negative encounters with dogs (major and minor), is not by banning dogs based on looks or breeds or labels – it’s by creating and enforcing breed neutral laws that hold humans accountable for their dogs.  

People acting more responsibly would be pretty awesome for all of us.

Checklist for a Dangerous Dog
By Jessica Dolce

Originally posted on StubbyDog

Photos by Melissa Lipani

Are you a politician or resident in an area where a dog-related injury or fatality has recently occurred? If so, you’re probably working to determine the best way to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again. Right now it may feel like dogs are posing a large threat to your community, but what you’re experiencing is actually quite rare. Dog bites are at historic lows in our country and, as a whole, we’ve never been safer. But there are certain criteria that are consistently present in regards to dog-related injuries, so as you look at the details of the tragic events in your community, here’s a reference checklist for the ingredients that, when mixed together, have the potential to create dangerous dogs.

First, take a look at the function of the dog. Is the dog a member of the family? Keep in mind that just because a dog lives with a family doesn’t mean it’s a family dog. Determine why the family owns this dog. What purpose did they intend for the dog to serve?

Was the dog used for:
_Fighting and gambling?
_Protection of property or other people?
_Intimidation or status?
_Backyard breeding?

If you’ve checked any of the above, you’ve determined that the dog is not a family member. Now it’s time to look at the conditions the dog was living in. Family dogs are provided with basic care, such as food and water, regular vet visits, and time inside a home where they can socialize with their human family members. Take a look at the dog’s daily life.

Was the dog:
_Suffering from untreated medical problems or injuries?
_Intact (and not being shown or bred responsibly)?
_Not vaccinated?
_Living outside or in a garage full time?
_Abused or neglected?

What did you discover? If you checked any of the above, then you know that the dog was not provided basic care and may, in some cases, have been physically abused. These are further indications that the dog was not a family dog and was the victim of mistreatment.

Next, examine the people involved. The actions of a dog are always directly related to how they are managed by humans. Did the dog owner act in a reckless manner by creating scenarios where a dog, confronted with situations without proper management by humans, is likely fail?

Did the owner:
_Allow the dog to roam freely?
_Fail to supervise the dog around children?
_Fail to socialize the dog with people?
_Have multiple unsocialized dogs?

If you’ve checked any of the above items, then you’ve determined that the dog was not properly managed by its owner. The human set the dog up to fail.

Lastly, look at the history of the dog owner. When tragedy strikes, most people are slow to take responsibility for how their actions contributed to the problem. They may say they’ve done nothing wrong, but since you’ve looked deeply into their daily life with the dog(s) involved in the incident, now you can trace their history. It’s likely that this isn’t the first time the owner or their dogs have encountered trouble.

Does the owner:
_Have a history of criminal behavior?
_Have past citations with animal control?
_Not have a current license for their dog?
_Have a history of training their dog to be aggressive?

If you checked any of the above, then you’ve determined there was a history of reckless behavior on the part of the owner and a failure of law enforcement and/or animal control to follow up on a known problem.

Every one of the items in this article is a warning sign that went unchecked for some time until a serious incident occurred. Luckily, the overwhelming majority of dogs that are victims of one or more of the criteria listed here still do not cause harm. We are safer now than ever before.

So, what’s missing from the list? The breed of the dog is not a checklist item. That’s because any dog, of any breed or breed mix, can become dangerous in the hands of a reckless, irresponsible owner. Sadly, in the last few decades, abusive and neglectful humans have gravitated towards pit bull type dogs because false information and sensationalized myths, from various sources, have glamorized pit bull type dogs as status symbols for criminals.

Just like any other dog, if pit bulls are not treated as family dogs, then they become canine victims, set up to fail by humans that care little about their health, training, or for that matter, the law. If you choose to ban pit bull type dogs in an attempt to make your community safer, these reckless humans will move on to another breed (like they did earlier this century when they chose to own German Shepherds or Dobermans) or it will simply push their pit bulls further underground, hiding from the law, where they will go without medical care and proper socialization.

Now that you’ve looked at the checklist, it’s plain to see how those circumstances, exacerbated by a breed ban, could create a dangerous dog. It is time to move away from fixating on the breed if you want to create safe, humane communities. Instead, focus attention on the elements present in this checklist, since it’s the cocktail of human-related criteria listed here that is to blame.

By addressing these items through the creation and enforcement of breed-neutral dangerous dog laws which address reckless owners, you’ll be creating truly safe communities, without punishing the millions of families with pit bull type dogs that are loving, law abiding guardians of family dogs.

Bad Rap
listing out warning signs – a media first?
When Dogs Bite
The Cruel Cost of Breed Specific Legislation
Animal Farm Foundation
Resident Dog vs. Family Dog – What’s the Difference?
A Community Model For Responsible Pet Ownership
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Dangerous Dog/Reckless Owner Laws
National Canine Research Council (NCRC)
What is a dog bite?

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