Stella the 5-year-old pointer mix—aka “my 60-pound pace car”—and I did a five-mile run last night in preparation for this weekend’s Spring Lake Five. We were on a section of New Jersey’s Columbia Trail, a railroad line from the 1800s that has since been repurposed into a beautiful recreational path for bikers, joggers, walkers, and people on horseback.
Now, this is a straight out-and-back trail. It’s not a park or a loop where you can assume any level of privacy. If there are a dozen cars in the lot at the trail head, as there were last night, then you’re going to run into at least a dozen people once you head down the path. This is one reason why dogs are required to be leashed, and why I always keep Stella well-heeled at this particular trail. I am trying not only to respect the rules, but also to respect my fellow bikers, joggers, and walkers.
I’m sorry to say that not everyone adopts that attitude. Last night, while drenched with sweat from the 85-degree heat, we had to dodge into the woods alongside the trail no fewer than three times to escape dogs whose owners were letting them run off leash. Two of the times (out and back), it was the same owner letting her black poodles meander about a quarter-mile away from her, where she couldn’t even see them. You would think she might have learned the first time I had to dive into the trees to escape their uncontrolled approach, especially after Stella snarled to back them off and I told the woman point-blank that Stella is not always friendly towards dogs that run straight at us. (Good girl, Stella.)
Trainers at dog schools say positive reinforcement is the best way to teach an animal a lesson. I’m wondering if that is true for dogs, but not necessarily for their owners. I have half a mind, if I ever see this woman again, to smack her across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper—before we end up in a situation where the headline reads “Dog Fight Kills Pet on Local Trail.”