Recently, I’ve gotten into the habit of walking early in the morning before the sun rises. It’s cool, traffic isn’t bad, and there aren’t a lot of people around. Plus, by the time I finish walking, it’s only seven- or eight-o-clock, and I have my exercise in for the day. On several occasions, recently, I’ve encountered stray dogs while out walking, and by “encountered” I mean relatively close proximity, within a few feet, certainly close enough for the dog to reach me quickly if so inclined. I’ve noted, however, in each case, the dog looked me over, but left me alone. In one case, the dog altered its course to avoid me.
In the past, I’ve had a number of problems with unleashed dogs on some of the public walking paths I visit, usually consisting of the dog running up to me, barking or growling, often with the owner running behind assuring me the dog is “friendly”. Friendly is another term for aggressive. Regardless of the dog’s demeanor, not everyone appreciates having a strange, unattended dog rush up, barking or growling, or otherwise making contact like jumping on or sniffing. Some people could actually be traumatized by this interaction. In one instance, I was chased half a block by an extremely aggressive dog which ran in front of a moving car to get at me, while the owner remained in the yard calling the dog’s name to no effect.
When I’ve encountered animals in the wild, be they birds, squirrels, rabbits, or deer, I’ve noted that they sometimes take note of my presence, but once I start moving, they take off. I have sometimes had a robin or mockingbird run alongside me a few feet away when I’m walking, but I’ve never had any animal randomly approach me while I’m in the woods. This leads me to believe an animal’s primary instinct is caution. Animals usually don’t behave aggressively unless they’re hungry, feel threatened or cornered. Also, in nature, there’s a tendency toward energy conservation, expending the least effort for the greatest reward. This is why many species, birds and humans included, are both hunters and scavengers. Chasing down and subduing prey requires a lot of effort, and the larger the prey, the greater the effort. This is why, in nature, the slowest and weakest member of a herd is often the first target of a predator. Why, then, would a stray dog out in the open, that’s not ill, go after a non-threatening person, when it has plenty of room to avoid the encounter? So far, that’s been my experience. If I respect the animal, it usually respects me.
Pit bull terriers are not a violent breed of dog by nature; it’s humans who make them that way, usually by abusing them. Equally so, aggressively “friendly” dogs are that way because that’s how their owners have conditioned them, perhaps through “roughhousing” play, or excessive attention, or simple failure to correct aggressive behavior. Obviously, if someone is buying a dog for protection, alertness and protectiveness are desirable tendencies, but if an owner is encouraging a dog to behave this way, it becomes vitally important for the owner to retain control over the dog in public, to protect others who do not represent a threat. Simply calling out “he’s friendly” as a dog is charging at an unsuspecting stranger is not enough. Also, getting angry with others who take dog owners to task for not keeping their dogs on a leash is a prime example of blaming the wrong person, since in most cases, the incidents occur in a public setting where everyone has an equal right to feel safe and unhindered.
Leash laws don’t just protect the public, but the dogs themselves. If an owner maintains control of a dog, it makes it tougher for someone to blame a dog for bites or other injuries. As with other aspects of society, the person requesting extended privileges is the one who must take on added responsibilities when exercising those privileges, and pet ownership is, perhaps, the second greatest responsibility one can have. Dogs are living creatures and do not have the mental capacity to know their actions are right or wrong. That’s the domain of humans, so it’s incumbent on the human to monitor the dog’s behavior to insure everyone’s experience is positive.