Koa and I recently went to the St. John's Town Center to shop for one small thing, but I'm always looking for an opportunity to challenge him a little more. So a nice, long walk around the stores and traffic, people and other dogs, is a good idea. Plus, the long walk around doesn't seem that long when you're walking with your pack member. Unless it's with Koa, and then people want to stop and talk or pet him... again, not a chore but also not something you can do on a time frame. Take your time and live in the moment...
Earlier, I had taken Koa into the bank with me, at a branch I haven't taken him to in the past. The manager (whom I know) was taken aback by his size and was genuinely concerned for a fleeting moment to know if he was a good guy or if he was one of the ones I rehabilitate. I told her that even if it was, I would never bring a dog that needed that much direction into a business. At the time, I thought it strange but then I passed it off as unfamiliarity. Until later...
Koa and I walked around "downtown Town Center", over the Koi bridge, and back toward the courtyard outside of Cantina Laredo all the while watching people do one of three things when they passed him: smile, act concerned and avoid him (he always could not care less while we're walking), or flee in terror. Yes, as if he were a character at Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights looming behind them and carrying a chainsaw (heeeey.... no, don't give me any ideas). Which is not only amusing to me but also to the large number of people that see that and think it's hilarious... which it is!
But after we went into several stores and got the things I was looking for, we drove over to PetsMart just to walk around because we were already there. And then it got more interesting. I've learned to read most dog handler's energy from a distance by how they walk or interact with their dog while they're in the pet shops. And a couple of ladies and their behavior caught my eye in there before I even knew what kind or if they had a dog. I call this behavior "short-stepping" because these handlers take really small steps around or with their dogs because they don't want to be caught off-guard and fall WHEN the dog pulls them. They walk around their dog instead of having them give respectful space, and the dog is ALWAYS ahead of them while they short-step to keep up; in other words, the dog is totally in control of EVERYTHING. And while it seemed a little disturbing, it got even worse.
The dog was a very large Doberman Pinscher and was absolutely the pack leader; neither woman was controlling his state of mind. A couple with a Siberian Husky walked in through the door and took ITS handler over toward the Doberman with now both of them dictating the introduction. And it went exactly as it always does with weak leaders. Both got extremely aggressive and the Husky's handler was a little less tense/anxious than the Doberman's handler so the Husky was at least easier to control. The Doberman's handlers both got nervous, fearful, and stayed weak by trying to muscle the dog back while saying, "It's okay, it's okay." Which it most certainly was not. Since Koa and I were a distance away (again, Koa couldn't care less) we decided to walk to the other side of the store all the while listening to the handlers shouting, toenails scraping, and employees telling them they would open another lane just so that these folks could check out.
So when people have an idea that they are unsure of a dog is it misplaced fear and borderline cynophobia? Or do they have a well founded concern? Real pack leaders such as us don't like to admit it, but in reality these folks have a well-founded belief because there ARE that many unbalanced handlers in this world. Not unbalanced as in, "Hey, you can't control your dog," (the possibility ALWAYS exists), but unbalanced as in they thought it would be a grand idea to bring a dog they cannot control at all into a business. And when dogs aren't allowed in some stores this is the reason why.
What's the moral of this story? Continue to challenge your dog and yourself to be the best, most balanced and calm leaders you can be. Yes, your dog can be a leader also; even leaders have to follow someone else. Your dog should be the one people say, "That dog is the reason we want dogs in here," not the reason they put the "service animals only" sign out.
Lisa, Koa and I are going to the Gulf Coast area next week to visit family and work with some aggressive dogs in South Florida. Oh, and go to Dog Beach and walk around the mall and shop. Until the next time, stay calm and be the role model for future dog handlers!