Opinion: Domestic dogs and their owners

It was while staying with friends on holidays that I took the opportunity to occasionally take their dog for its evening walk. The dog is a very friendly and well-behaved golden retriever. While walking this happy animal I was reminded of the feelings I have sometimes when approaching a person walking a dog. It happened a couple of times that I could see people move out-of-the-way as I approached with the dog.

I know that feeling very well. I am often walking and am wary of people’s dogs. Several bad experiences are back there in my past, including my partner having been attacked while going for a peaceful exercise walk one evening.

Last week as we went for an evening walk to the local wetlands, I observed something similar. A woman, who was busy on the phone, and was accompanied by three aggressive looking small pit bull dogs, was about to cross our path ahead of us. The three dogs were not large but were off leash. Another couple were approaching from the other direction with their baby in a stroller. As the two groups neared each other, the latter couple became very unsettled. They stopped and took their baby out of the stroller and held the child high and close until the dogs had passed by. The owner of the dogs did not react, as she stayed on the phone and just kept on walking. The other couple remained very distressed and after putting the child back down, spent a moment or two watching the dogs depart the scene.

I know what it is like to question dog owners about their dogs. I have had the unfortunate experience of having lived in numerous locations and have been a neighbour to lots of dog owners. I can only think of one who was in any way understanding that their dog could be an annoyance to others. With the others, there has been anger and surprise that anyone, not just myself,  would raise the subject of their dogs barking. In a couple of cases there has been open aggression.

No, I am not anti domestic dogs. But I do not understand why about every other household has a dog (and/or maybe a cat – but that’s another story). I do not understand a society with so much poverty, that I can go to my local supermarket and I can a see a whole aisle devoted to pet food. Away from my immediate neighbours, several friends and colleagues have dogs and there is usually no problem at all when visiting these people. The occasional bark, but it then stops.

At home, we have a smallish dog to one side. When the neighbours are out, it goes wandering the neighbourhood. On occasions they leave the dog in the house when they go out. The dog then barks and howls for many hours from inside.

On the other side we have had several dogs. One recently was very friendly but got bored over time and would occasionally do a session of howling. It also had a secret exit and would be on the street as soon as the owners left. I informed them of the dog’s wanderings and each time they were surprised and said they were going to fix that (again). I gave up telling them how much their dog would wander and how I suspect it knew to be back home just in time for the owners to come home from work.

The same house has a new owner. He has become very aggressive following several requests about the constant barking during the last winter. Unfortunately for me, I was ordered to bed to rest several times during last winter by the doctor. This was difficult with a dog that barked most of the day. The last contact was with the owner whereby we were accused of being mad and being bullying in that we raised the subject several times. He was convinced that we were making it up as the dog never barked whenever he was home so we must be wrong, and mad. He really said that!. We have given up with him and luckily for whatever reason the dog now barks far less.

The dog must have also found the secret exit. I have seen it out wandering during the day. Will I tell the owner?  Why would I put myself out there for more harassment?

But the best story is a dog across the street. The owner is very close to the animal. They do everything together. The dog is an inside dog when the owner is home. No problems so far.

The dog comes to the front fly wire door and barks at people passing by or at us if we go out the front. This is annoying but in most cases it stops fairly quickly. But it is disturbing when all we want to do is sit on the front verandah in the evening. We have taken some remedial actions to avoid trouble as we grown bushes to block the connecting view.

The strange thing is that when the dog is out the front with the owner, and the dog barks at any passers-by, the dog is given a friendly hug and pat and told in a gentle voice that it should not do that. It does not take much to see how the dog wags its tail when being patted etc, that it must think it is being rewarded for barking at people on the street.

I have seen one couple freeze and cringe when the dog ran out and started barking, and then snarled. The dog received its usual pat on the head from the owner. The couple left quickly looking very distressed. The dog wagged its tail and carried on.

I am not one to share a cafe with a dog. Too many times we have been quietly sitting when a dog and owner arrives and sits nearly. The dog usually does what dogs do, comes up and brushes up or something similar. The owner will usually laugh it off and say something patronising such as, ‘hope you do not mind, it is likes being friendly’. We either say we do object, and have been known to shift seats to keep the peace or in one case, gave up and left the cafe.

I will resist talking about the many times we walk in the evening to have a range of dogs start barking as we quietly walk past.

There is no doubt, unless sanity is to return to the many inconsiderate dog owners, that annoying dogs are probably here to stay as part of the urban neighbourhoods.  Why is such bad behaviour somehow not recognised when it comes to the owners of some pet dogs?

I do not blame the dogs, as they do what they are allowed to do. It is the dog owners that cause the problems. It must be very annoying for the many dog owners who actually love their animals, respect their neighbours, and have done the right things by training their pets to be part of a peaceful neighbour.

I say again, that this is not an anti dog thing. To be more accurate it is about the behaviour and lack of responsibility of so many domestic dog owners.


Update for early January 2014

I referred above to a neighbour with a barking dog. I had optimistically said that things had improved and that the dog now barks occasionally instead on constantly. Seems it had a good holiday with the owner, and now that it has returned home, it is bored again. The dog now barks consistently all day. Usually in brackets of a several minutes every ten minutes or so. What is about some people and their dogs?


Paul Costigan, 5 January 2014



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