By Lisa Johnson Gates
I watched a woman launch a bag of dog poop towards an elderly man walking his miniature black poodle, who wore a red bow on it’s head.
“You missed your dog’s poop!” She screamed. The elderly man balanced himself on his walking stick and turned around to see what the commotion was about, as his poodle sat next to him.
Now I am not Emily Post or Miss Manners of the trails, but as a professional dog walker for twenty-five years, throwing a poop grenade at someone might not be the best technique. In the days of technology and impatience, an air of tactlessness on the trails is abundant. After two months of being closed, many parks, hiking trails and beaches are re-opening across the country and we could use a good dose of dog and people etiquette to combat rudeness.
Before Covid19 shut down everything, at least once a month I witnessed impolite behavior from dog owners, professional dog walkers as well as people without dogs. The sad truth is these situations could be preventable. From a dog owner letting her dog poop in the middle of a trail, while she gabs on her Apple iPhone 11 about the latest contestant to be kicked off Survivor, to the dog poop brigade of individuals who follow dog owners around, telling them in a deep exaggerated voice, “YOU MISSED A HUGE, GIGANTIC, ENORMOUS DOG POOP RIGHT HERE!” They stand and point at the tiny pile, perhaps to humiliate you in front of everyone at the park. You cower your head in shame, apologize for missing it, and scramble to pick it up.
One of my cousin Mary’s pet peeves is when a neighbor discards dog poop in her garbage, after the morning trash truck has come and gone. Have you ever opened up a garbage can with dog poop in it? It smells like a dead body. Not that I have inhaled fumes from a dead body but it’s what I imagine one to smell like. In Curb Your Enthusiasm’s season eight, episode two, Larry David catches his neighbor allowing her dog to poop on his front lawn and she isn’t carrying a bag. She claims forgetfulness, stating that people make mistakes. In an inquisitive tone, Larry replies, “Everyday?” He explains to her, “A dog without a bag is incomplete. It’s the bag and the dog, they go together.”
Bad behavior isn’t just around dog poop. San Francisco dog trainer and professional dog walker, Karen Aaronson, had a recent incident with another dog owner. “I was working with a dog who had behavioral problems. An off-leash Labrador Retriever came bounding towards me. I yelled, my dog isn’t friendly. The woman hollered back, It’s ok mine is!”
It’s important to remember we share the parks and beaches with many people. In Marin county, the local humane society states in their Good Trail Manners class (yes there is a class to teach people how to be considerate), “It is a privilege to use the public lands for dog walking. Dog walkers should be customer service oriented and professional when encountering others on the trails.” Class is geared towards professional dog walkers but this fundamental idea applies to individual dog owners as well. A simple concept of being courteous, respectful of other’s space, and friendliness, when out on the trails.
You don’t have a canine? It’s still important to exercise favorable behavior. The withering looks I have received from walking six well behaved dogs would make Emily Post roll over in her grave. Dog owners might miss seeing a poop. Dogs might steal cookies, sandwiches and stuffed animals but I can assure you no dog owner, in their right mind, is telling their dog, “Ok see that kid over there holding the Oreo? Go snatch it out of his hand.” Or, “Listen Baxter, I want you to poop behind me. Then I can pretend not to see it and avoid picking it up.”
Being considerate also applies to individuals with children. You spot a group of dogs approaching, immediately leash your child. I am joking, of course, but reframe from allowing them to rush the dogs.
To help alleviate conflict on the trails, local parks and beaches, listed below are ten good dog manners and general etiquette to abide by.
1.CARRY A LEASH:
Always carry a leash, even if you are headed to an off-leash park or trail. You might come across someone with a leashed dog. You should immediately put your pup on-leash. The dog might be aggressive, sick or injured. Be respectful of the other owner. Most likely, they have a reason.
- 2. RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT:
Don’t allow your dog to roam through environmentally sensitive habitat or restricted areas. Accidental escapes into the forbidden zones happen. Do everything you can to get your dog out immediately. If that fails, pretend you don’t know the dog (kidding!).
- 3. HONOR OTHER INDIVIDUAL’S SPACE:
Don’t let your dog dash up and give someone a gynecological examination. Look after your dog to avoid disturbing others near you. Yield to hikers, tourists, camps, horses, and others using the trails, parks or beaches. Stand to the side with your leashed dog and allow them pass.
- BEWARE OF PICNICS:
You spot a picnic assume your dog will destroy it. No matter how impeccable you may think his recall is, a turkey and cheese sandwich with bacon on it, trumps recall for most dogs.
- PACK OUT THE DOG POOP:
Pick-up your dog poop and bring extra bags. Dispose your dog poop in a public garbage dispenser or your bin at home. My cousin Mary tosses dog poop in a diaper genie, leaving her home garbage can odor free. Remember what Larry David says, “A dog without a bag is incomplete.”
- FOR PROFESSIONAL DOG WALKERS:
Avoid walking with other dog walkers. It’s intimidating for hikers, other park users or beach goers to maneuver through twelve to sixteen dogs. In addition, you see a dog owner approaching with their canine on leash, please leash up your charges when passing them.
- PROTECT WILD LIFE:
Don’t let your dog chase wildlife. Most wild life areas are restricted and signs are posted with warnings, but the occasional bird or deer, who can’t read, end up on the trails, in local parks and beaches. I can assure you that even the pigeons aren’t amused by a dog chasing them.
- 8. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AT ALL TIMES:
Dog owners and professional dog walkers must be cognizant of others who are hiking near them, the environment, bikers, wild animals, kids, and other unusual entities roaming in the bushes and lurking in the water. It’s essential you honor their space by keeping a close eye on your pet at all times. In addition, I can assure you, you don’t want George swimming out to a Sea Lion to play chase or Tinkerbell chasing a coyote down the hill. Stay on the look-out and remain aware.
- DON’T LET YOUR DOG LUNGE OR BARK AT OTHERS:
If you know your dog lunges or barks put your dog on-leash when you spot someone approaching. Redirect their attention towards yourself with his favorite cookie or squeaky toy until the person has passed. Sometimes a barking dog or a dog who lunges can scare not only other dogs but also individuals who are not familiar with dogs, afraid of dogs or don’t like them.
- BE COURTEOUS AND KIND:
Make Emily Post proud. Be courteous, kind and bring a sense of humor. Nothing is worth arguing when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors with your dogs, kids, family and friends.
In the end, keep in mind accidents happen. People make mistakes and there is no perfect dog. As my grandmother used to say to me, “Have a sense of humor, stay calm, carry on and know this too shall pass.” Of course, she was usually referring to some guy who dumped me and not stepping in a missed dog poop.