The other day I was at the local farmer’s market, looking for some fresh strawberries. There was a lively, happy crowd of people of all ages buying everything from herbs to artisanal sausage. There was also a group I didn’t expect to see there: dogs. Yes, there were about a half-dozen dogs, mostly golden retrievers, shopping along with their owners. My children were very excited to see the dogs, but I asked them if it would be OK for us to bring our beagle, Cricket, with us the next time we met. They shook their head solemnly. “No. They are cooking sausage and she is a beagle.” Wise children. However, what I didn’t mention to them is that none of those dogs should be at the farmer’s market. It’s clearly stated outside the entrance that dogs are forbidden. It’s also common sense, since health codes are involved.
This isn’t an isolated incident:
- A few days later, I was at my town’s Memorial Day celebration, which was crowded with tens of thousands of people and extremely noisy. Again, posted signs said very clearly that dogs were not allowed. Again, quite a few people chose to ignore that. I left before my husband and kids, but my husband told me that he had seen a Chow Chow there and under the guise of talking to another Chow lover, he let the owner know that the Chow was showing clear signs of distress due to the loud noises, crowds, and children darting up to meet him. The owner seemed to get it, thank goodness. But even if the Chow Chow had nerves of steel, it still wouldn’t be OK to bring him to an event where dogs are not welcome.
- Every day after school at my kids’ school, there are approximately a dozen dogs waiting on school grounds with parents to greet their children and walk home with them. It probably won’t be a surprise to find out that it is clearly posted on school grounds that dogs are NOT allowed on the property. Some parents appear to get that, and remain slightly off the property while waiting for the children. Others, though, don’t.
- Finally, I can’t tell you the number of people I have encountered over the years who let their dogs off-lead (forbidden in our community). When I ask if they have passed the canine good citizen test that allows superbly behaved dogs to be off-lead, they look at me blankly. And frankly, I know the answer to that question already. Most of these dogs are affable, moderately well-behaved dogs, but NONE OF THEM are perfectly obedient — they take a beat to respond, wander slightly, and are overly interested in stimuli such as children and other animals.
Folks, I love your dogs. I love meeting them. I do. But what are you thinking? Your dogs don’t get a pass just because you looooooove them so much, or because they are really nice dogs. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this, but here we go:
- Dogs are often forbidden because other members of the public who will be at a specific location DON’T LIKE OR ARE AFRAID OF DOGS. They don’t own them, and they don’t associate with them, and they have a right to go to public events without encountering one. Your dog is not a Fairy Dogmother or Dog Ambassador whose magic powers convert all who meet them into dog lovers. Nope, in that situation your dog is a stressor, possibly for someone who has had a traumatic experience with dogs in the past. Making them confront your dog is a jerk move on your part, pure and simple.
- Dogs aren’t allowed some places because of health codes. You aren’t allowed to bring dogs into most establishments where food is prepared, served, or sold. There are inherent health risks involved with bringing a dog into these environments. That’s it.
- Dogs aren’t allowed to go off-lead because their behavior cannot always be predicted. Every time your dog is off-lead, you are betting their life. You are betting that they won’t get distracted for a minute, that they won’t dart into the street, and that they won’t step away briefly to investigate something. You’re also betting that they will be able to resist approaching another dog while off-lead. You’d be amazed at how many dogs don’t meet those requirements. If you are willing to risk your dog’s life, if you just KNOW that they are more reliable than a Swiss timepiece, then see if your community has Canine Good Citizen tests that allow dogs to be off-lead in certain (NOT ALL) circumstances. Then take the test. If you don’t pass it, then keep your dog leashed. If you do pass it, I’ll be the first to admire their skills and congratulate the two of you. Likewise, if they change the policy about dogs at the farmer’s market or at school, I’ll be the first to welcome your well-behaved dog.
I know how amazing your dog is. Chances are I’ve admired them before, or asked a ton of questions about them. I know better than anyone that each dog has a story to tell, and a distinct personality complete with quirks aplenty. But when it comes to the circumstances I’ve described above, your dog isn’t special. Not at all. Your dog is like all the other dogs, and needs to follow the rules all other dogs follow.