Monday, May 30, 2011

Toronto Dog-Owners...What is WRONG with them?

It happened again.
We were assaulted by dogs and their owners in Taylor Creek Park.  Again.

After the first assault earlier this spring, I asked my friend Mike to weigh in with an opinion.  He's a Torontonian.  He has owned a dog.  And his opinion matters to me more than he probably knows.  He responded by saying

If the dog was nowhere near you guys and the threat was perceived rather than real, it might have been better to just leave it alone and go your way, instead of letting it ruin your day. It's like me and the speeders on my street. They may be going too fast, but ultimately, it's me harmed if I let myself be bugged by it.

I remember when Jessica, my old dog, was under the table, sleeping and you guys were coming over. Because of their fear of my dog, you guys wouldn't come into my house until I'd locked her up--and she lived here and helped us raise 2 kids.
I think you should be helping your girls deal with their fear of dogs in a healthy way, rather than giving rein to it. My opinion only, and as I'm not the parent, and advice is free, well, you know--you get what you pay for. My official position, though, is that any right-thinking person should own a dog at least once.
So I took his advice and headed back to The Valley with the kids.  Before we got to the trails we cautioned the children that if a dog approached them they didn't need to panic.  They could just stay close to mommy and daddy and the dogs would pass.  I talked to them about the difference between a perceived threat and a real threat.  And I assured them, that no matter what, we would take care of them.

Before long we were approached by 3 dog-walkers and only one of the dogs was on a leash.  A small-ish dog (about 30lbs) came up to Jazzy and I stood with her and reminded her to be calm.  The dog was wet and muddy and began to rub on Jazzy.  I was grossed out and Jazzy was getting scared so I made eye contact with owner and asked politely "Call your dog, please."  The owner's response:  He's friendly.  Again I asked, "Please call your dog."  No response and no action. 

As I bent to pick up Jazzy and also to move the stroller holding Julian, suddenly Anna and Holly started screaming and Partner-Guy started yelling.  The other off-leash dog, a huge thing, easily 60lbs, was chasing my older daughters.  The owner, a woman in her 20s who lives in my neighbourhood, did nothing.  Partner-Guy whacked/grabbed the dog and Anna and Holly ran to cower behind me and the stroller.

And then the yelling really began.  The dog-owner was beyond furious.  She started screaming obscenities and insults at Partner-Guy and I.  She threatened to hurt our children.  She threatened to sic her dog on Partner-Guy.  AND her and the other dog-owner VEHEMENTLY denied that they are required BY LAW to keep their dogs on a leash.  They are apparently oblivious to the signs posted all over Taylor Creek Park that remind dog owners to keep their dogs on leashes and to stoop-and-scoop and that the fine for non-compliance is $255.

So now my kids refuse to visit the valley.  They are even more terrified of dogs and now they are scared of dog-owners too.  I tried my best and it totally backfired.  I can't even explain how sad I am about this.  The Don Valley River System and Taylor Creek Park are some of the greatest outdoor treasures that Toronto has to offer.  The entrance to the valley is practically in our backyard and now we can't go there because of the Toronto dog-owners whose behaviour is completely incomprehensible to me.

It is really interesting to me that all of our bad experiences with dog-owners have been with women.  They are unbelievably aggressive about defending their choice to unleash their dogs.  I simply don't understand them at all.  It's not that I don't understand that they love their dogs (not that I would ever love a dog.  As if.)  I don't understand their aggression.  Their vile language.  Their unbridled hostility.  I would never act like that.  I DON'T act like that.  Even when I'm defending or standing up for my children, I don't act like that.  Ever.

And just to reiterate:  I'm not scared of dogs.  I'm disgusted by them.  I didn't make my children afraid of dogs.  The obnoxious dog-owners of Toronto who won't use a leash made my children afraid of dogs.


  1. Teach your kids how to behave around dogs. First thing, stay calm, keep moving, ignore the dog even if it approaches. Don't stop and stare at the dog. That's more likely going to invite it over. Teach your children not to scream and run -- that will excite dogs, chase is a fun game for most dogs. Stay calm, keep walking, no touch, no talk (no screaming), no eye contact. You might want to get your kids exposed to nice dogs like the one your friend has so they don't freak out and run and scream. Stay calm.

  2. I agree that off leash dogs can be a menace. And I know what it's like to have small children who are afraid of dogs. It doesn't matter if they are friendly or not. It's hard for dog owners to understand that not everybody loves dogs and that they need to respect the personal space of others.

    With that said, as a parent, try to look at this the same way as teaching your children road safety. Even a leashed dog may react negatively to a child that triggers them. The problem is that dogs view children as little animals, not little people and they don't really understand where they fit into the hierarchy of things. When children stare wide eyed at a dog, it is seen as a challenge to that dog. Making intense eye contact is how dogs challenge each other. It's their way of saying, "Come here and say that." If children scream or run they are saying chase me and knock me down. The more they act like a rabbit, the more they will be treated as one.

    If you teach your children to walk calmly beside you when you pass dogs and COMPLETELY IGNORE the dogs, the dogs will not be threatened or excited. If a dog comes rushing up to your child, calmly block it will your body. It's okay to set boundaries for a strange dog. If you are calm and assertive, it will listen to you. Don't wait for the owner to control their dog. Some owners won't, others aren't really in control. The strange dog will respect you for taking control.

    Remember, 99% of dogs just want to see who you are. And how they greet you is by smelling you. Let them (even if they go for the crotch) while still ignoring them and they will be on their way. Don't let your kids stick a hand out or pet the dog (this isn't where their scent is and the dog may see this as an aggressive move).

    The sooner your kids learn how to safely greet dogs, the sooner you can enjoy nature and avoid these awful altercations! You don't have to wait for the owners to improve. Take control!

  3. Toronto Dog Stuff has great advice! My little one is afraid of dogs, and this is how we try to handle dog encounters -- by ignoring. The off-leash problem is still there, but we take as much control of the situations as we can.

    I do have to take issue with the last sentence of your friend Mike's message:

    "My official position, though, is that any right-thinking person should own a dog at least once."

    This is the attitude of dog owners that drives me a little nuts. Some people just aren't into dogs or pets. It doesn't mean we're "wrong-thinking". It's like when you see a movie that you loved so much that you want your friend to see it and love it, too -- but they see and don't love it. Not all people love the same things, and this applies to pets. I don't hate dogs -- I've had friends who've owned some lovely dogs, and I can see that the dog is sweet. But I would never own a dog, or any pet for that matter. I simply don't have that gene.