This is just one of those random thoughts that I sometimes (ok, often) have. From the dog's point of view, I'm this person who shows up pretty much every day, comes in, gives them love, takes them out for a walk so they can do their business, give them treats (if the owner is ok with that), possibly feed them, fill their water bowl, etc. Do they just think of me as their personal slave? Ha Ha!
There is definitely an art (or, perhaps, a science) to dog walking. There are so many different factors involved when we, as dog walkers, are out on the street with a dog for its half hour walk. We have to make sure the dog doesn't eat anything off the street. We have to make sure the dog doesn't do its business where there are signs posted to not let the dog do its business. We have to make sure the dog doesn't do its business in the tiny plot of land in front of the apartment building where the gentleman will come out and yell at us for letting our dog do its business there. Some dogs are leash aggressive and we have to make sure that it doesn't get too close to another dog. Some dogs don't like men (or women) (or children) and so we have to make sure to keep the dog away from anything it might try to attack.....I could go on and on.
For these reasons (and many more), dog walkers need to be extremely focused at the task at hand. Remember, this *is* a job. We are responsible for the well being of another creature that is extremely beloved by its owners - and by us. Each dog is different. And each dog comes with a set of instructions/warnings from its owner. Now, I may deal with this more than other dog walkers because I am known for dealing very well with problematic dogs. I own one myself and have walked MANY "issue dogs" over the years. So I get recommended to people who have dogs that need special care and attention.
Therefore, I don't necessarily look "happy" or "approachable" while I'm dog walking. This has been ingrained in me after years of first walking dogs for dog walking companies/doggie day cares. Every single owner of these companies has asked me to, in their own words, put my "don't mess with me" face on. This is to ensure that no one comes up to me and asks me if they can pet my dog. These companies are terrified of a dog biting someone and then getting sued by that person. In fact, when I first moved here to NYC, I had a woman who owned her own dog walking company tell me that con artists actually go around New York getting in dog's faces, TRYING to get bitten, so that they can sue. (Or extort money - something else with which I have personal experience.)
Now that I have my own company, I try to find a balance. I don't want to look like I'm angry or unapproachable. If someone needs a dog walker, I'd like for them to be able to come up to me and ask me for my card. However, if someone asks me if they can pet my dog, I try to very kindly and politely explain to them that the dog is not mine, and I have no way of knowing how the dog may react and so, for legal reasons, I am unable to let them.
We've got to find a way of protecting ourselves, yet be happy and enjoy the fact that we have one of the best jobs in the world: being outside spending time with fun, lovable, loving dogs!!
One of my dogs, the adorable beagle, Bailey, is a rescue dog. She was found on the streets of DUMBO in 2011 when I was working at a Doggie Day Care in the neighborhood. The residents of the neighborhood took her in and tried to find her owner for 2 weeks; however, no one came forward to claim her. Bailey has terrible separation anxiety. If she is put in a crate or restricted in anyway, she goes absolutely bonkers. The residents of the neighborhood found that no one could keep her in their apartment for more than 2 nights before passing her on to someone else in the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to them, they were fueling and feeding her separation anxiety. She got worse and worse, until finally, one of the residents brought her to the Doggie Day Care to see if she could be placed.
Bailey would not let any of the men who worked there come anywhere near her. I, being the dog whisperer that my friends call me, was determined to help her feel safe around men. It only took about 6 hours, but I finally got her to trust me, and then she bonded with me immediately and wouldn't leave my side. My husband and I had been discussing getting another dog for a few months, and so I brought her home to see how she would do. It quickly became clear that she had all sort of issues - she will attack children, she will attack other dogs, the separation anxiety was worse than we knew and she would go to the bathroom all over our furniture and carpets whenever we would leave the apartment.
I was no longer working for the Doggie Day Care, and I did not feel comfortable taking Bailey back there because the owner had made it clear she just wanted to be rid of the dog. I did not trust that she would do the research needed to find Bailey the proper home. So I contacted the ASPCA - they told me to put her down. I contacted the Humane Society - they told me to put her down. There was not a single No Kill Shelter in the Tri-State area who would take her due to all of her issues. My choices were to keep her or put her down. I could not, in good conscience, put down an animal who had so many issues that were not her fault. From her behavior, it was clear that she had been separated from her mother too early, she had been abused by whoever had her before us, and we knew that she was just left on the streets to fend for herself. So, my husband and I made the decision to keep her. She's a very loving dog and is one of the sweetest creatures I've ever had the good fortune to know.
However, on the streets, she is a different creature altogether. She's Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, as it were. She goes into "fight or flight" on the street, specifically "fight". As soon as we leave the apartment building, her back legs will start to shake and she goes on immediate alert. She has to keep one of her flanks protected at all times - either up against a building, or against the parked cars on the street. When she does her business, she is constantly looking around her to make sure nothing is coming to attack her.
We are known in the neighborhood, and not in a good way. People judge us. We lose our temper with her some days. We yell at her - screaming as if we are "King of the Jungle" is the only way to snap her out of "fight or flight" and have her hear us. We yell at the people on the street who see the cute dog and, without asking, come towards her and put their hand in her face. Now, of course, none of this ever happens when no people are around so no one ever sees her being calm, or sees us dealing with her well. I can feel the judgement from our neighbors and from people with other dogs. They don't know about her issues. They don't know that we had a Cesar Milan certified dog trainer for her and that, although she learned everything quickly and easily in the apartment, outside the apartment she can't even hear her own name - she's in that much of a terrified and alert state.
This post is to give an example of an extreme dog who could not be trained up to a certain point, and of the owners who are doing everything they can to ensure her safety, and the safety of those around them. You never know what someone else is going through or what another animal has been through. I am constantly reminded, from my own situation, to not judge other dog owners, nor their dogs. I have no idea what they're going through. I hope that, by doing so, I can cultivate some good karma for me and Bailey.