A few weeks ago, Maybelle and I were enjoying a walk at our favorite local park. Most of the time, it’s just the two of us walking around the 250 acres of gardens, wetlands, playgrounds, and picnic areas. On this particular day, though, we were accompanying a group of friends as they played disc golf. We found ourselves waiting by the restrooms for them to emerge, when three young children came running out of the nearby aviary yelling “DOG!” and heading straight for us.
I held up my hand and told them to stop running, and they practically skidded to a halt. I told them they could pet the dog but could not run up to her. One little boy — who initially seemed like he was leading the charge — shied away after a brief pat of Maybelle’s head. The oldest child, a girl of maybe eight or nine years, informed me that the boy was afraid of dogs. Then she asked me, “Why can’t we run?”
I was a little dumbfounded. I distinctly remember people coming into my elementary school classrooms to tell us how to interact with strange dogs. Similar people also stopped by to teach us how to brush our teeth and how to save energy and water.
“You should never run up to a dog you don’t know,” I told the little girl. “That can be very dangerous.”
I don’t think she heard me.
The truth is that, more often than not, I find myself amazed by how polite most children are when it comes to asking to pet Maybelle. She’s generally pretty happy to receive attention from anyone with the motor skills to offer a halfway decent massage, so I’m happy to let polite kids stop and, inevitably, get licked in the face. But every once in a while you run into a kid who just makes you think, “WTF?”
Last summer, I was walking Maybelle down a sidewalk in our extended neighborhood. Up ahead, I saw two men chatting in a driveway while a little boy milled about. As we drew closer, the little boy stepped out into the sidewalk, looked right at us, and started throwing those little caps that make a popping noise when they hit the ground. When he just continued to do this, while laughing, and the men ignored him, I stopped and asked him to quit it.
The boy seemed utterly shocked but immediately complied. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the road to go around him because, well, who knows what a kid who thinks that is appropriate behavior might do next. Meanwhile, the adults who should have corrected him just kept on chatting. Maybelle seemed unphased.
More recently I read a story about a little girl who ran up behind an airport security dog and threw herself on his back — and when the dog’s handler lectured the girl’s mother about proper dog safety, the woman all but rolled her eyes. Luckily that dog was well-trained enough not to react, but it could have ended much differently.
When did so many parents stop teaching their children how to properly interact with dogs? I suspect it was around the same time that people decided every dog who dares to growl at a child is vicious. This is not OK. It’s doing your child, and the dogs they will encounter throughout their life, a disservice.
Have you ever found yourself wishing your dog wasn’t the only one required to be on a leash? Share your experiences in the comments!
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About the author: Theresa Cramer is a journalist and editor by trade, an NPR addict, and an avid gardener. She blogs at Writer on the Prowl, where you will find pictures of her garden, her pets, and musings about whatever is on her mind. She is working on a book about content marketing and how to make the transition from journalist to brand journalist.