You’re strolling through the park with your dog. The birds are singing, the day is sunny, and the world seems quite perfect. At least for the moment.
Then before you know what happened, your best friend does a leg lift.
On someone’s picnic blanket.
Or on the shoes someone has left on the grass while they enjoy running barefoot.
I’ll tell you about “worse” in a minute. But you get the picture. Boy dogs will be boy dogs, and leg lifts are part of the territory. And as it turns out, they’re not always terribly discriminating about what they mark. I know this for a fact. I speak from the experience of life at the other end of the leash from two boy dogs over the past 22 years.
I learned from my old Airedale, Joe, that some dogs just need to be watched, and so Jake has had fewer humilitating mishaps. But if Jake had the opportunity, I don’t even want to think about the territory he’d have marked. I’ve caught my yellow Lab gearing up for a good watering of a child’s red wagon, some clothing surfers left on shore when they were hanging 10, and the suitcase of a tourist waiting to cross the street near us.
Fortunately, I was able to pull the plug on those attempts before the waterworks started. I owe my quick reflexes to Joe, the first dog I had as an adult. When he was about 2, he decided that the legs of certain people standing around a big off-leash park were handy stand-ins for trees.
The first time it happened, the victim was a woman wearing khakis. She was shooting the breeze at San Francisco’s Alta Plaza Park when Joe ran up to her with great purpose. He gave a sniff, and before I realized what was about to ensue, hoisted his leg and gave her his own brand of salute.
If I could have dug a hole and pulled the hole in after me, trust me, it would have happened. All I could do was sputter out things like “Oh my god, I am so sorry! Oh my god!” as I tried to rein in the beast and tell him NO while pointing to her dripping leg. (Yeah, I know. Not the most effective training technique ever…)
To my amazement, the woman — bless her heart — laughed. At first I thought it was a maniacal “I’m going to get you, and your little dog, too!” laugh, but she genuinely found humor in it. Still, I was profoundly apologetic, and of course mortified. I offered to get her pants cleaned professionally. It turns out that her dog had done this to someone long ago. “It’s just karma,” she said as she sloshed over to the dog watering area, where I insisted on helping her undo some of the damage.
After that, I watched Joe much more carefully. It happened again, but I caught it after just two drops had landed on the victim’s leg. Again, the victim was a woman wearing khakis. She was also incredibly understanding. He started going to the park on leash any time there were lots of people. I couldn’t take the chance. But the leash didn’t stop his interest. I was able to prevent two more near-disasters (yes, both were women in khaki pants), and then just as suddenly as this habit started, it stopped. Joe never again tried to lift his leg on anyone’s leg.
Notice I wrote the word “leg.” Unfortunately, that sentence did not end with the word “anyone.”
His very worst leg lift came later that year at the beach. At the time, the entire beach was a leash-free zone, and since Joe was under good control apart from his short career as a urine criminal, I gave him off-leash privileges.
We were enjoying a walk on a crisp fall afternoon when a busload of tourists from Japan arrived. They scattered around the beach, taking pictures and clearly enjoying the scene. One man in a neatly pressed khaki (!!!) sports jacket crouched close to the sand, aiming his camera at the shoreline. Joe cantered merrily up to him, lifted his leg, and proceeded to water the man’s jacket. By the time my brain kicked in, Joe had run off again.
I wanted to run away, to pretend the dog wasn’t mine. I could have gotten away with it. The man hadn’t even realized anything was amiss. Maybe by the time he noticed, he’d have thought a stray ocean wave had sneaked up behind him. But I had to face the music. I quickly leashed the perpetrator and ran up to the man, more horrified by Joe’s “habit” than ever, apologizing profoundly, insisting on giving him money to pay to clean his coat. I felt so bad for the guy. He was on vacation, in another country, and instead of a little splash of ocean anointing him to this side of the Pacific, he had a warm, wet welcome from a sandy, unrepentent terrier.
But after all my talking, the man remained silent, smiling. He said a few words in Japanese, and I realized that he didn’t speak English. He was confused about why I kept pointing to his back. It took me flagging over someone from his crowd who spoke some English. They were slightly shocked, but incredibly polite and understanding. A friend of the victim came by and started laughing. The man took off the coat, and I offered to take it to my cleaner’s and deliver it to wherever they’d be staying the next day. I’d even loan him one of my husband’s, or buy him a new one. The English-speaker said not to worry, that they had a cleaner downstairs from the hotel. I pressed a $10 bill into his friend’s hand, and he finally accepted it.
That’s the last time Joe ever did anything like this. I was more vigilant than ever, and I think he realized this wasn’t something to do when the scent of human is so near. Actually, I think he just outgrew this stage. It all happened within about a year. By the time he turned 3, his khaki fetish had passed.
Well that’s my story. Anyone else care to join me in sharing your tales of leg-lift humiliation? Or is everyone else’s dog a lot more well-mannered?