Yes, I really wanted a dog that loved other dogs. I envisioned a life of going to the dog park, and off-leash hiking. I wanted to take her to doggie daycare and drop her off to play with other dog friends while I traveled – but that’s not the dog I ended up with. I couldn’t make her love other dogs any more than my parents could make me love spiders, but I was able to get her to tolerate living around other dogs with very particular parameters. One of those parameters was that she was afforded just a little bit of space that wasn’t infringed upon by other dogs.
Even friendly ones.
Sadie wasn’t, and isn’t, the only dog in the city that has an owner working incredibly hard to give just a little bit of space. It’s really hard for dog owners, dog lovers, to say, “No, please, stay away”. I find that this is one of the more challenging parts to owning a dog that needs space in a city of friendly dogs. People think they did something wrong because their dog is different and their dog needs space, unlike the other dogs in the fields, parks, and hiking trails. People hate to say, “No- stay away,” because as much as the dog needs space, these are dog-loving people who love other dog-loving people.
It’s hard to turn your back on your tribe.
I found the only thing that worked to give Sadie her personal-space-bubble was to stand my ground and firmly state, “Not friendly!” to every oncoming dog owner. I used to feel terrible for saying it – like I was proclaiming on a mountain top that I had a bad dog, which I emphatically did not. Once I realized that Sadie wasn’t alone, and that she was a wonderful dog that happened to need a little space, like thousands of dogs in the Metro-Boston region, I stopped feeling guilty. Wavering, or saying, “She’s sort of friendly, but doesn’t like black dogs,” or “She doesn’t like men with hats,” simply doesn’t work. If there is any wiggle room, well-intentioned dog owners will take it upon themselves to suggest that their dog is the exception to the rule.
To be fair, I live in Boston, and subtlety is not a Boston thing. However, the most important factor to her safety was that she had eight feet of space (the length of her leash plus my arm) and that I remained her advocate, always.