I was at the park with a client this week, working with her anxious dog. This dog's anxiety can often lead her to behave aggressively if she feels scared. Off leash dogs scare her, kids on bikes scare her, and unfamiliar people wanting to pet her really scares her. I wanted my client to feel safe working with her dog out in public, so we muzzle trained her dog. Her dog will now happily wear a muzzle thus allowing us to work with her more safely, without risk of my client (or me!) getting bit if the dog gets frightened and/or we need to scoop her up. This all sounds good, right? Well, we sure thought so until a man walked up to us while we were working and wanted to know why we'd muzzled "that sweet little dog." As he got closer to us, he discovered why the dog was muzzled as she got scared by his approach, and lunged for him, barking aggressively. At this point he wanted to know what we were doing out in public with "such a sketchy dog." My client was horrified and I'd had enough. I explained to this man quite firmly that his opinions on what we were trying to accomplish here were unwanted; my client and her dog had every right to be out in public as she had two leashes on her dog for better control, AND the dog was muzzled. What was really needed was a muzzle for this man! He could tell by my tone of voice and body language that I wasn't going to put up with anymore of his nonsense and he moved along. But for my client, this encounter made her want to throw in the towel and never take her dog out in public again. She is so tired of apologizing for her dog's behavior, even though she knows the dog's behavior is not her fault! It took me 15 minutes to build back up her confidence that she was okay and what we were doing with her dog was perfectly fine.
Another client told me that she'd decided to stop walking her dog altogether because she needed to use a pinch collar on him (he weighs more than she does!) in order to feel like she had control of him if he decided to give chase to a cat or a squirrel when they were on walks. A well-meaning neighbor, however, had told her she was being cruel by using the pinch collar and that she should educate herself on the proper way to walk a big dog. He also told her that, in his opinion, a woman her size shouldn't have a big dog like that. Are you kidding me?
Have you ever had an experience like that? One where some well-meaning bystander just decided that they could step in and judge your parenting skills, your control of your dog, etc.? As a parent of three (now adult) children and a dog owner, I know that I certainly didn't and don't appreciate people stepping in and judging me on how I parent or interact with my dogs. At what point in time did it become okay to judge one another so harshly? What makes these people who offer their unsolicited opinions think that what they are doing is helpful or courteous? Just because someone doesn't agree with your parenting approach or the way you walk your dog doesn't give them the right to judge you or call you out.
I'll admit that I often will see things when I'm out walking my dogs that I'll think, "Gosh. I could help them with that and/or I could fix that problem easily." However, I don't insert myself in the situation, offer my opinion, or make suggestions unless I am asked to do so. If you need help, I'm here for you, but I'm not going to judge you for trying to figure it out on your own.
I've decided to ask my clients who are out there in public, working on making positive changes to their dogs' behavior if they feel comfortable doing so. Because if they don't, I need to figure out a better way for them to do the work that needs to be done. Maybe it means having a friend work with them who can run interference with the well-meaning busy-bodies. Or maybe I just need to be there for a couple of the first public practice sessions, so I can bolster my clients' confidence and support their efforts to change their dogs' behavior. And to shoot stink eye at the passersby who think they know the best way to train a dog.
Okay...climbing down off my soap box now. Be kind to one another. Show compassion. No unsolicited opinions. And if you are having a problem with your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.