Krueger: Thoughtful trail rules for your dog and you
September 14, 2018
A tired dog is a happy dog. The number of dog owners in our county who commit to getting their dogs and themselves out to exercise on a regular basis is extraordinary. Our dogs have so many more opportunities to enjoy our mountain environment than many of their urban cousins. It is a joy and a privilege I have appreciated in my 40-plus years in Summit County.
Trail etiquette mandates that all dog owners be respectful of other dogs and owners, as well as folks without canine companions who are on the paths and trails. Many people have reactive dogs that need a good deal of distance from other dogs and people in order to remain under threshold, more relaxed and focused on their handlers. When we see leashed dogs, we must respond appropriately by leashing our own. As social as we may know our dogs to be, if they do not always reliably respond to us in the face of distractions we are even more obligated to keep their under control. Many reactive dogs will do just fine passing other controlled dogs and people when not pressured to interact directly.
As a trainer, I have great interest in understanding animal behavior. What dogs feel can be observed in their actions and reactions. And though dogs' behavior is influenced by their internal emotional, hormonal and chemical state, research is proving that their emotional range is achieved by the time they are four to six months of age. The emotions that are available to a dog are similar to that of a two-and-a-half-year-old child. Dogs who are challenged by unfamiliar dogs and people can be reactive and their best defense might be a good offense. Some dogs may show signs of aggressive behavior which can be frightening to their owners and handlers as well as others they may come in contact with. Many dogs experience anxiety, fear, mistrust and discomfort in unfamiliar environments, and can be reactive to certain sights, sounds and odors. These are not bad dogs. These are dogs who have had different genetic coding and/or environmental experiences from our more bullet-proof, highly social dogs. An approaching unleashed dog or person may exert overwhelming pressure on an anxious dog.
Working on behavior modification strategies can help a dog learn the positive benefits of practicing calm, relaxed behavior. Once they are able to settle and self-modulate more successfully, desensitizing and counter-conditioning strategies are employed to make scary things in their environment less scary. This work takes patience, commitment and consistency on the part of the owner. Typically, shifts in the behavior of both the dog and the owner evolve over time, the goal being a more confident, less reactive canine and an owner who has more effective tools and resources. Learning what pressures our dog can comfortably handle is a large part of understanding and responding appropriately. Since dogs are emotionally dynamic like people, their ability to cope can change frequently. Thus the owner must always pay attention, interpret what the dog is "saying," and make choices that set the dog up for success.
The emotions that are available to a dog are similar to that of a two and a half year-old child. Dogs who are challenged by unfamiliar dogs and people can be reactive and their best defense might be a good offense.
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Summit County law states the following: "Failure to Control a Pet Animal: When off the Owner's premises, all pet animals are required to be controlled by the physical presence of a responsible person, within 10 feet of the animal, and under voice control so as to prevent the animal from being a public nuisance or in violation of Summit County Resolution." The intent of the law states "the Pet Animal Owners be responsible for their Pet Animals conduct, that they exercise control with respect to their Pet Animals in a manner which recognizes the rights, health and safety of others in the community, and that they be held strictly liable for conduct of their Pet Animals which violates the provisions of these Regulations."
On our bike paths and in wilderness areas dogs are required to be leashed at all times. As dog owners, we are also responsible for knowing and respecting the individual town rules about controlling our pets. Dogs can be spooked by something scary in the environment and take off running, triggered by a squirrel, bird or wildlife and lock-in to the chase, run and play with other dogs, oblivious to whom or what may be in their path, or run toward another dog or person to anxiously meet and greet with no regard to the body language of the other dog or person. All these behaviors can be potentially harmful or life-threatening to the dog, person or wildlife.
Let's ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from all our mountains have to offer. Bring a leash for each of your dogs and plenty of poop pick-up bags. Unless you are absolutely certain that BOTH your dog and the other dog can respond safely and appropriately when meeting, leash your dog when passing. And always pick-up and dispose of your dog's waste! We all have an obligation, as well as a vested interest in the quiet enjoyment of our county.
Lyn Manton Krueger is a dog trainer based in Dillon.
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