A Vet Offers His Take on the "My Dog Is Friendly!" Shout
As someone who walks his dog daily -- always on leash -- I took great interest in Dogster trainer Casey Lomonaco's recent article, "How to Navigate On-Leash Greetings with Poorly Managed Dogs." That, and the recent public service announcement "My Dog Is Friendly!" by the blogger Jess Dolce, led to two revelations.
First, I am not alone as a dog owner who does not want every rambunctious dog on the street to tackle my pal when we're minding our own business on innocent strolls.
Second, the world seems to be coalescing around a term to describe distracted people with poorly socialized dogs who lose control of (or make no effort to control) their pets. These people, who often have a cup of coffee in one hand and a cellphone in the other (and a leash in none), chase haplessly after their dogs who run to greet, tackle, or pick a fight with an on-leash dog -- or a frightened child, professional workers in their best suits, or frail older people with a broken hip waiting to happen. As the chase occurs, the people yell their dog's name and, in turn, the words "My dog is friendly!"
Until I read the articles, I had thought the proper term to identify the above-mentioned people was idiots. However, there appears to be a consensus arising that they should be referred to more gently by their ubiquitous credo: "My dog is friendly." Ms. Dolce coined the acronym MDIF to describe these dog owners, and she has issued a plea for them to respect people and dogs who do not wish to be greeted, tackled, and attacked by random dogs, friendly or not.
My pal Buster and I have never had a serious incident at the hands of an MDIF. But my line of work is to treat sick and injured animals, and I can tell you from miserable, bloody experience that plenty of people who shout "My dog is friendly" are just plain wrong.
A few years back I treated the loser of a Chihuahua vs. Greyhound altercation. If it's not immediately obvious who lost the fight, be aware of this: Chihuahuas never win. The Chihuahua had been off-leash, and the Greyhound was leashed. The Chihuahua's owners maintained that their dog was friendly and had merely wanted to say hi. The Greyhound's owners were very decent people -- perhaps too decent. They offered to pay for the Chihuahua's vet bills.
During the appointment I met both sets of owners and dogs, and I can tell you something with certainty: The Chihuahua was not friendly. He was either suicidal, or he was a delusional punk who thought he could kick any dog's ass. But either way, it was clear that he did not approach the Greyhound to say hi. He wanted a piece of that Greyhound, and the Greyhound actually showed quite a bit of restraint -- the Chihuahua's injuries were minor.
The Chihuahua also wanted a piece of every person who got near him. He gladly would have bitten down on and hung from my hand if he had half a chance. His owners had no control over him and could not muzzle him for treatment. I had to anesthetize him to explore and treat his minor wounds. After the incident, his owners asked me to file a police report claiming that the Greyhound was vicious. I refused, and they were furious. (The Greyhound, by the way, was sweet and affable.)
An unfriendly Chihuahua is one thing. An unfriendly Rottweiler is something else altogether.
Rottweilers are magnificent creatures, but they are not "starter dogs," and inexperienced or stupid people have no business owning one. Sadly, plenty of Rottweilers live under the ownership of people who have no business caring for such a massive, spirited dog.
Many years ago I treated a 15-year-old yellow Lab. She and her equally elderly owner had been toddling on the sidewalk when a neighbor's young Rottweiler slipped its leash, ran across the street, and attacked the Lab. The woman was knocked to the ground and suffered a broken hip. The Lab, one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met, was brought to my office several hours later by the owner's nephew (his aunt's medical needs had been tended to first). Two hours of anesthesia were required to treat, clean, and repair puncture wounds and lacerations to the dog's face, ears, chest, arms, abdomen, and rear legs.
Although the Rottweiler's owner had not been lame enough to shout "My dog is friendly" in the moments leading up to the attack, he did tell the nephew that he had always believed his dog was friendly. Let's hope he now knows better.
I realize that these examples are extreme, and that plenty of poorly controlled dogs are actually friendly. But poorly controlled dogs by definition have irresponsible owners. When you see an attentive person walking a well-controlled and well-mannered dog on a leash, you can be relatively certain that the owner is responsible. I urge the MDIFs of the world to change their ways and to join the ranks of responsible dog owners. I am tired of avoiding MDIFs on the streets, and I'm even more tired of cleaning up the bloody messes that their behavior can cause.