I like to, as one of the very first things I do in my day, before I shower or have breakfast, take my puppers for a nice long walk. It can range in length from half an hour to an hour, depending on the weather and Fort's disposition on any given day. It's good for both of us.
I work from home, and have even started working out at home also, so I don't actually have much cause to leave my house on any given day, and as a person who has social anxiety, it's a little bit too easy to fall into negative patterns of seclusion. So walking with Fort not only provides him with a good bit of exercise but also keeps me sane.
So- The other day, Fort and I were on our morning walk. It was towards the half way point, when a young man listening to headphones whilst walking his Boxer puppy came around the corner headed in the opposite direction to Fort and I.
Since living in San Diego- Fort has developed some trouble issues that he's never had before. It's difficult and weird for me because he's never had these issues before, and I've always focused a lot of training time with him. But anyway- one of his biggest new triggers is other dogs. He's never cared about them before, but he's started getting defensive when around other dogs. One of the ways I am combating this currently is by trying not to change my body language at all when we see other dogs, but trying to walk at a distance where he never feels threatened. Just to show him that other dogs aren't a big deal.**
Back to the Man and his Puppy... I immediately notice that this puppy is not on a leash. I glance down at Fort and notice that the hair on the back of his neck is standing up a little bit. At this point I'd NORMALLY try to casually walk towards the tree line so he could sniff and just remember that everything's okay... But this little boxer pup spotted Fort, and let's just say that it was the best thing he could think of ever happening. Because he decided that where Fort was, was precisely where he needed to be.
At the absolute full speed of a dog who's just reached full size but not yet out of that puppy mindset, he ran into Fort. Fort's reaction to seeing this dog running at him was to immediately roll onto his back. His eyes went super wide and terrified as this 60lb puppy plowed full speed into Fort's prone and scared body. He let out a high pitched growl, but mostly he just sort of laid there with his eyes wide and his teeth slightly barred. I felt like the shittiest dog owner ever in that moment. I couldn't keep my dog safe from an over enthusiastic puppy. How does one deal with that situation? I have to pretend nothing's wrong so that he doesn't get more scared and defensive, but I also just want to get him away from the cause of his distress. Fortunately I didn't have to think long because the man caught up and snapped a leash on his dog and apologized. He was still listening to his headphones, so he barely looked at me, and just sort of walked off dragging his puppy along behind him. This dog had zero interest in leaving Fort however, so he barked and pulled back the whole distance, really just making sure Fort knew that this was a traumatic experience for everyone involved... I reached over and gave Fort a little scruff on the chin, he wasn't as wide eyed any more but he was still obviously pretty shaken, so I decided to take the shortcut home.
Fort was doing okay for the most part, he's not physically injured from his experience, but he's obviously still a little frazzled because every time there's a sudden noise I notice he jumps a bit. Anyway, we round a corner to cut through a parking lot, and standing in the entrance is a man and his son. The man's back is to us, but the child notices Fort and immediately stops dead in his tracks to stare at Fort. I'm terrible with age guessing, but I'd say the kid was around four years old. He makes some very loud noise and crouches down to be on eye level with Fort. He then screams "PUPPY PUPPY PUPPY PUPPY"... His dad's reaction to this is to keep walking. He gestures to his kid to keep following, but keeps walking at a relatively fast pace, facing away from the whole situation. My immediate reaction is to look at the child and say "He's in training right now, please leave him alone." The kid looks at me with a look of vague incomprehension on his face. He returns to looking at Fort and screaming Puppy.
I look down at Fort, and he's not super happy about any of this. He still looks scared, but also a little confused. I crouch down to give him a reassuring pat and say to the kid "Please stop yelling, you're scaring him" and I try to wave at the father to get him to come back, shouting "Sir, excuse me sir!"... But his glance back doesn't give him sufficient reason to respond any differently to how he's already responded... So he shouts at his child to come along but keeps walking away. I figure he's doing that parenting thing where they pretend to leave their kid behind.... But he was actually just being very rude to me. Fort was far too entertaining to this child for him to be worried about abandonment.
I have no idea how to deal with children. I do not know any. I have never socialized with them outside of when I was age appropriate to call them peers... I would have had to physically push past this child to cut through the parking lot, and I didn't want to walk Fort past him, but he didn't seem old enough to actually understand the things I was trying to convey to him... So I couldn't just ask him to move... Maybe I could? I don't know. I asked him to stop yelling again but he didn't listen, and actually decided to escalate to also clapping and jumping on the spot to try to get Fort's attention. Fort's reaction to all this was actually just to ignore the child. Normally Fort loves kids, he honestly isn't usually the best at restraining his joy around children. My normal response is to get him to lay down so that kids can come pat him if they are excited. But his reaction this time wasn't the usual joy. It was a casual indifference. So I just decided to walk the long way home to avoid having to deal with this child.
Anyway, we got home eventually and I gave him his breakfast and we both snuggled on the couch for a while before I started my day properly.
I don't know how to deal with this sort of situation. Naturally I want to do the best by my dog. I want him to be comfortable and relaxed when around other dogs and people, but I feel like every step I take to improve his well being, gets thwarted by the rudeness of strangers.
Upon consideration, I feel that I should have just told the child to move. It's silly to me now that I was unable to do so at the time. I have no idea how to deal with children, and even the parent's reaction wasn't inexcusable or anything. He wasn't speaking English when he shouted to his child, and I know that in some cultures shaking your head actually means "yes" so he honestly could have not known at all that I was upset. I was trying not to show distress on my face so as to not upset Fort. Also the man and his dog... Honestly I think if that puppy and Fort had played it would have been all fine. But the way he was dragged away barking and Fort's general fear being met with physical distress was just so unpleasant.
Sorry this was such a downer. Fort is a lovely dog for anyone who this is the first they've heard of him. He's a six year old Corgi. Incredibly sweet and cuddly. I am nervous that people will read this and only read the fear and aggression bits. But he's really an incredibly good dog. He's just developed a few little things since living in the states that I want to help him move on from for his own sanity.
Thank you for reading. I don't know how you got through all that, but I hope it was interesting to read at least!
**It occurs to me that I should explain a bit more of the backstory to Fort's recent behavioral issues at some point. I feel like that post in and of itself will be quite large, so I didn't want to include it in this post. But if people are curious I will consider writing a post about that too in the future. It'll just be me explaining Fort's history.