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Stop Hitting Your Dog


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My wife Robin hollered “Stop it! Stop hitting your dog. Stop!” She even tried to get between the woman and the dog who was being hit.

It all began innocently enough, on a brisk and typically windy day walking north along Lake Shore Drive in Lakeview. On this walk – one of our dog’s, Ethel (our 15 1/2 year old Lucy no longer goes on long walks), my wife Robin and me. Ethel is walking in pretty much a perfect heel, but begins to pull on the leash. I look up and see why. The rear end of a Labrador Retriever is sticking out. The other end is sniffing in the bushes. As we approach the dog, there is no owner in sight, or leash on the dog.

Letting this dog off leash is like allowing Marley in Marley & Me off-leash

I didn’t think the dog was lost or a stray, but rather was playing nearby. There’s a great place in front of one of the high rise buildings where dogs who live in that building or nearby can romp and chase balls off leash on building property. Still, for those not familiar with Chicago Lake Shore Drive has cars buzzing by at least 40 miles per hour (except in rush hour). Every now and again – though it is a very rare – dogs somehow end up on Lake Shore Drive, and if when this happens, they are mostly doomed, there’s no where to go.

This play area in front of the building is not fenced off.

I admit – we take our dogs to this place (we live very close by). I don’t see any danger for Ethel because she has a great recall, and if for some reason she doesn’t listen us, she will always follow the ball. The street sidewalk, and Lake Shore Drive are over a hill. And this is an expansive area (larger than most of the city’s Dog Friendly Areas). Still, when we take Lucy here she is on-leash. While her recall was once perfect, with declining hearing and eyesight, and an old lady “I don’t care” attitude, I’m not sure she wouldn’t wander off.

I heard the owner before I saw her running in our direction, called out the dog’s name (which I won’t repeat here), and screaming “Bad dog!” Easily seeing that dog was paying no attention, I reached into the bushes and grabbed the dog’s collar.  Luckily, this was a nice dog (I was paying attention to the dog’s response to me), and pulled the dog out of the bushes. I didn’t let go of the collar (luckily) and loosened my grip to discern if this dog was going to now come back to the owner, who was by now very near. Nope. Had I let go, the dog would have run the other way and toward Lake Shore Drive. I didn’t let go – and handed the dog back to the woman, and made sure the leash was on before I let go.

She did say, “thank you,” and Robin, Ethel and I began to walk off toward where the other dogs were playing.

This dog is better off in a fenced in dog friendly area

That’s when Robin began to run toward the woman. And instantly, I saw why, this woman was hitting her dog, and hollering “Bad dog!!” I was worried that Robin was going to actually hit this woman.

By the way, the physical damage to this large and strong dog was likely nonexistent as she hit the dog’s rear end. I interceded, and said – “NOW! STOP! What are you doing? What do you think your dog is learning? Please do not hit your dog.”

“‘I’m teaching my dog not to run off,” she said. “This is a bad dog.”

“No, you are a bad owner,” I said. “The dog is learning that if I run off I can sniff or eat something really good. And also that you are a crazy person. The dog is not making the connection between running off and now many minutes later, you hitting the dog. Besides, do you really want to hit your beautiful dog?”

She looked like she was going to cry, “I’m so tired,” she said. “My dog just won’t listen. My husband travels. I’m pregnant. I just want to give our dog exercise.”

I told her I understand her frustration, but she needs to consider using a City sanctioned fenced in place. At least until she can teach her dog to respond. I suggested her dog might have ended up on Lake Shore Drive. I also attempted to explain that her dog likely loves her, and has no clue why she is so angry. But if the temper loss, and hitting happens several times, her dog will no longer trust her. And I wouldn’t blame the dog.

She patiently listened, and actually thanked me again. I congratulated her on her pregnancy, and we both walked off.

I hugged our dog….Took out a tennis ball, and began to play. Robin said under her breath a few choice words that I will not repeat here.  

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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