Yesterday we had our weekly Dog Hike at Walnut Creek. We take all three dogs, Buddy, Hank and Gracie. It’s an interesting place in that dogs can be off leash, bikes go zipping by on the paths, and, for the most part, everyone is friendly. The days have been really pretty and it seems to keep everyone in good mood for their experience in the woods.
Hank, our Border Collie, is getting old. He doesn’t always respond to us when we call – sometimes I think it’s stubbornness and sometimes I think it’s really his hearing. But when he notices us moving on down the path, he parts with whatever discovery he was sniffing out, and runs on ahead. Always within eyesight of us.
Buddy is much more people focused. He’s much smaller and runs ahead with Hank. Then he gets a little nervous and runs all the way to the back (because, yes, I’m always in the back), does a few circles around me and then races ahead again. He’s pretty cute on hikes.
Buddy and Hank both greet other people and their dogs, but always move along when we’re ready to go.
Gracie, on the other hand, is never off the leash. We’re not 100% sure about what’s caused her discomfort with children or other dogs who approach too quickly, but it’s pretty obvious that’s not her favorite part of the hike. Josh keeps her close to him, because she can pull really hard. We pause in the path, watching her tail and her eyes, deciding whether to press on or to stay a little longer. We speak soothingly to her, and praise her when we can get past other dogs without growling. Real dog people totally understand this. They ask how old she is. We talk a little about her social awkwardness. They let their dogs approach gently. Usually that all goes well.
So yesterday, we had made it down to the creek. Buddy stays near the side while Hank and Gracie plunge into the water. Gracie even had the cutest Leaping Moment off the cliff and into the water! Have I mentioned she loves to leap? Sometimes she resembles a deer, and sometimes she’s a downright Tigger! Straight up in the air! When she jumped into the water, it was with such glee. She sprang from the side and outstretched her legs midair. It was a happy sight!
After a little playing around in the water, the dogs came up near us on the side. A cyclist was there with his dog. A couple was leaving with theirs. There was a good deal of doggie commotion. Suddenly, which isn’t that uncommon, a pit bull comes running up on Gracie. Josh has retracted the leash and she’s close to his body. At first it seems like the approaching dog is just rambunctious and wants to play. But because he approached so quickly, Gracie’s not happy. She bares her teeth a little and lunges at him. Josh pulls her up closer to him. Because she’s pulling so hard, she’s up higher on her back legs. This other dog, who is off leash with no owner in sight, jumps on his back legs too and nips at Gracie’s neck. Josh isn’t able to see what’s happening with this other dog, but Alyssa and I can. It’s clearly the nip before the Big Bite. Gracie is completely exposed and vulnerable; she’s almost upright.
Before the other dog has the opportunity to bite a second time, Alyssa has rushed in between them. Pit bulls have such short hair and tight skin, it’s really hard to grab them by the scruff of the neck. But this one had a bandana and a collar. Alyssa didn’t hesitate and reached down to pull him off by the bandana. We were all three yelling to get the dog to stop, Out of nowhere, the owner runs up and pulls his dog away. The woman with him looked a little horrified, but he said nothing. No apology. Nothing. The cyclist near us turned to say, “That’s messed up. He went straight for the jugular!” Still no response from the owner. He clicked the leash onto the dog and led him away quickly.
We were all pretty shocked about the whole thing. We are constantly apologizing to other people on the trail when our dogs are darting in front of their bikes, or running up to sniff other hikers. If our dogs acted aggressive with others, which they haven’t, we’d be tripping all over ourselves with apologies. AND, our dog would be back on the leash. Not so with this other dog owner.
We saw them a little further down the creek. Their dog was still off his leash. He and Gracie saw each other and he immediately started heading our way. Gracie pulled hard on the leash to go toward him. Josh thought Gracie was going for Round Two, so he started retracting the leash. The other owner came running for his dog. He pulled the dog away by the collar asking the dog if it wanted to be back on the leash. We were all dumbfounded. I really wanted to say, “That dog shouldn’t be OFF the leash!” But no words came out of my mouth.
On the way back to the car, we talked about what happened. We talked about Alyssa’s bravery, which I had seen on the ranch before when the animals were in trouble, but Josh had never witnessed. She gets very “Mother Bear” about her animals! In addition to protecting Gracie, she was aware that Josh was just moments away from HAVING to do something drastic to stop this other dog. She said she kept thinking was how mad she was that Gracie was doing so much better with other dogs approaching. And now this altercation was going to set Gracie back a few steps. We talked about how strangely the other owner had acted and how badly that all could have gone.
We’ll continue to do our Sunday afternoon hikes, because this really was a rare occurrence. And Gracie will get better with other dogs approaching, hopefully. But she’ll still be on her retractable leash. If only we could say the same for all the other dogs out there.