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I'd like to be able to walk...

Laura J

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I love to walk in nature, away from traffic. I am lucky enough to live in a place close to several large wooded areas, and I try to walk outside every day. I don't have a dog, but obviously lots of dog-walkers and dogs walk the same routes as me.

In the summer I was sexually assaulted by a dog. The dog was muzzled, but off the lead. The walker had another dog on the lead, and she just wasn't quick enough. Nor did she particularly care about me, she actually told me off for kicking her dog. I don't believe I did actually kick the dog, but I certainly did try to. I did report it to the police, but they weren't interested.

Since then I've been wary of every dog I don't already know, particularly of dogs off the lead. Of which there are many. If the dog walks ahead of the owner, I might shout and ask them to please put the dog on the lead while I go past. This might be with considerable tears and panic on my part. Sometimes I'll go off the path to let them past. I am often told that I shouldn't walk here if I'm afraid of dogs.

The best solution I found is to always walk with a stick. It's a real dog-stick, the type a dog would love to have. When dogs see me walking with the stick, they understand I might hit them, which is true, and they leave me alone. But, it kind of bothers me that I should have to, and recently I just forgot it in the car boot.

Yesterday I was walking in the woods. The path was narrow and a young black lab was walking toward me. The owner was nowhere to be seen. I didn't make eye contact with it, and walked straight past it. It walked past me too. Then, it doubled back and approached me. By now, the owner was in sight. I told it 'go away' in no uncertain terms, and when it continued to approach me, I told it to 'sit'. It was barking at me and touching my knees. Please understand, I can't bear to be touched by a dog.

By this point I was standing still, eyes closed, pleading with the owner, control your dog, control your dog. And he's telling me that she's just really friendly, and he gets it away from me, but then it comes back at me AGAIN. And again I'm standing rigid, control your dog, control your dog, for god's sake control your dog. And he doesn't get it. I needed him to take the dog by the collar and get it away from me. Physically control it.

Which, he eventually he did. And then I'm trying to breath, and trying to calm myself, and of course, I get 'you really shouldn't come here if you're that afraid of dogs'. Well, I told him I have just as much right to walk in the woods as he does, which is true. Then I told him that I walked past his dog, which is true. And for me, I did really well to walk past his dog. And he didn't see that. I walked past his dog, and the dog came back at me.

In fairness, the owner then did say I was right, and apologized to me. I get that dogs need exercise, I completely get that. But I don't like being told that I have no right to walk in the woods. I'm going to walk now, and I'm going to take my stick with me.
This must be so hard for you - I have a friend with a dog phobia who also runs and it's a really bad experience for her if a dog comes up and tries to be friendly. 'It's OK, he's friendly,' is the bane of owners of reactive dogs too. Sadly, a lot of dog owners are quite ignorant.

But I can see the other side of the argument too. With all the will in the world, people with friendly labs really struggle to stop their dogs going up to strangers and jumping up on them (and then there's those who don't even bother trying). Training is an ongoing project. And though one could argue that these dogs should be kept on lead, that is tantamount to taking a child out to play and never letting go of his hand. So if you want to walk in a place frequented by dog walkers, unfortunately, these incidents will happen.

I think carrying a stick is a good idea. It can look like a walking aid so no one should suspect that you want to use it to fend off dogs, and it will give you confidence. When it does stop dogs, it's unlikely that they all think you're going to hit them with it, as well-cared-for dogs would never have been hit by their owners, but they probably do understand that you are blocking them and they are unsure about you. Please, though, try to use it only to block, while asking the owner to call the dog back. Don't be afraid to say you have a fear of dogs, though people won't always understand this. It shouldn't be hard - if someone dropped a huge spider on my lap, telling me it was friendly would really not help... If you do hit a dog, or even scare it, you can easily make it scared of strangers which, rather than teaching it to stay away from them, could result in it being aggressive with them. You could also get into trouble if it's not clearly in self-defence.

Body language can also help. One behaviourist I know, if a dog runs up to her and her dogs, faces the dog, holds her arms wide, then points back towards the owner and says 'GIT!!'

Just to add, a dog who tries to hump you isn't sexually assaulting you. Humping is often not sexual at all, it's just something a dog does when really overexcited. But it is very bad manners to do it to a stranger, and even worse manners for the owner not to stop it straight away and be mortified and full of apologies!
Yes you do have the right to walk unaccosted in the woods but so do the dogs and thats the problem.
I understand that you are scared but the fact is if you hit out at a dog you could find yourself in all kinds of trouble. Firstly if you make contact its a police matter but its also likely that you will find yourself confronted by a very angry distressed dog owner.
There are other aids used by joggers and postmen to deter dogs and I once used a rape alarm to scare away a very aggressive great dane and owner. But only as a last resort.
What youre doing in asking people to put their dog on the lead while you pass is good.
Most responsible owners would automatically do that anyway.

But maybe its time for you to speak to someone professional about this new fear you have and maybe walking with a friend who isnt scared of dogs would be a step to easing your fear as they could interact with the dog while you are safe. You could possibly then learn to interact safely with a dog and help to ease your fear. The thing is that you need to tackle it before it becomes overwhelming or before your reactions get you into trouble.
Another thing you could try is to fold your arms, turn and face a tree, close up to it so the dog can't come in front of you, and go completely silent. This could convince the dog that you're no fun whatsoever, and should send a clear message to the owner that you really don't want to interact with their dog in any way at all.
I agree with the suggestion you need to get some help with your problems. Some of your statements give me concerns: that you were 'sexually assaulted' by the dog. That's quite a dramatic, almost melodramatic interpretation. Also 'I don't believe I kicked it.' Also your strange belief that the dog that sees you with a stick knows you will hit it. (My dogs would think you intended to throw it). And for your own good be very careful. The law would not take your part if it turned out you'd beaten someone's dog with a weapon for coming close or brushing past you.

Whichever side of the fence one sits on, one thing is absolutely true: as Maya Angelou said, if you can't change something you have to change your attitude...otherwise only you will be the loser here- because the world won't change. You'll be a prisoner of your fears.
The dog didn't hump me. It pressed it's muzzle into my pubic bone, and pressed, HARD. It was incredibly strong. I understand dogs want to sniff. I don't like it, but I understand. But this was harder and longer, more insistent than should be expected of any stranger to accept. No one, man, woman or dog, no one touches me there without consent. And no one can tell me that's not sexual assault.

A short while later it was in the news that a man was castrated by a dog.
OK well this is my last response: a sexual assault involves another human being and intent. A three yo child may throw a stone and put someone's eye out. This is not assault. Dogs have even less conscious responsibility. But it seems to me that working yourself up continually, casting yourself in the role of victim is harming no one but you. You need help.
I guess we have to assume this is a serious post, and a real problem for Laura.

I have seen a couple of folks (no dogs) walking in the nature park with golf clubs. Perhaps just like Laura they’d had some unpleasant encounters with dogs. Why else would anyone need a golf club in the woods?

My 2 cents for non-dog folks who are uneasy with dogs - avoid hitting dogs, please. Not only this is a wrong thing to do, it puts you in danger, both from the dog and from the owners.

I saw a car sticker recently somewhere - “if you hit my dog, you won’t need a lawyer” :)

More importantly - for the dog-folks. Right or wrong, there are others who don’t like being approached by dogs. And sometimes they can’t be easily identified. People would ask me often why I mostly kept Ari on long leash when walking in nature parks. The real reason - I never trusted random humans he would encounter. It’s easier to avoid a situation than to do damage control afterwords.

So as far as training - it’s important to be able to recall the dog from approaching other dogs, and I think even more important from approaching humans.

So, bottom line IMHO - I don’t agree with Laura’s assessment of her encounters with dogs, but if I were there - I would do what I need to do to keep my dog away from her.
Dogs are renowned for their interest in crotches - for them, it's as valid a way of getting to know someone as looking in their eyes. It's no more sexual assault than eye contact and a handshake. Not liking dogs is fair enough, but this behaviour is not in the slightest bit sexual, and not in the slightest bit assault.
Sorry can't believe I am reading this. If you kicked, hit with a stick or in any way hurt my dog I guarantee you would come off worse. I would not let anyone attack my dog. The dog would not hurt you but believe me I would.
Years ago a man hit my lurcher with his walking stick just because she walked past him an open Designated Dog walking field ...i had severe words with him and took his photo and as i left the car park i put a lovely deep key scratch down his lovely new car ;)
This incident has obviously left you feeling very scared of dogs and I do understand that you are free to walk where you wish also. However, unfortunately sometimes even if you call your dog (especially young ones!) they don't always listen straight away and they will also be able to sense how nervous and tense you are with the situation which makes them even more curious!

I would personally say that for now whilst you're so afraid, that you find other area's to walk that aren't so busy with dogs. Your behaviour at the moment and walking with a stick is probably asking for more trouble than avoiding it. If you want to stick with the attitude that 'it's your right' then you will be fighting a loosing battle because there are hundreds of dog walkers and only one of you. Only you can help change your situation.

Have you got friends with dogs that you can walk with to gain your confidence again?
Well I have to admit I feel rather overwhelmed, and unsure how to respond.

Everyone who feels they have an opinion as to what happened or didn't happen to me in the summer, all these people weren't there. You didn't feel what I felt. Whatever happened, it's affecting me now.

I really have been trying hard not to over-think it, and not to 'hold on' to it as a memory. But the fact it I don't want a dog sniffing my ankles, sniffing my knees, and I certainly don't want them any higher.

I have absolutely no problem with a dog 'brushing past' me, though I don't think it's ever happened. In my experience, dogs are pretty spatially aware. If they want to walk past, they'll walk past. The only scenario would be, a dog larking about with another dog, might to so focused on the other dog, they may well brush past me. Fine, if they are focused on the other dog, then they're not focused on me, so I'm happy.

The point of the stick, really, is that when I carry it, dogs take no interest in me. Why, I admit, I don't know.

As an aside, I noticed, some time ago when I used to actually talk to and pet dogs on my walks (yes, that did happen), that any dog with a stick, did not want to talk to me. I always assumed it was because the dog would think perhaps I would take the stick from them. Perhaps not, I don't know.

In any case, this is what I did today, walked with a stick. It's about a foot long and an inch diameter. Fits snugly in my hand.

When I used to talk to dogs, here's what I did. Make eye-contact. Say 'hello' in a nice voice. Put my hand out. Notice the dog's reaction. Some are friendly today, some are not. That's fine. If the dog growls at me, take my hand away, and walk away. Really, it's not rocket-science. I never assumed the dog wanted to interact. And really I want the same respect now. No dog, and no owner, should assume I want to interact.

When I walk with my husband, there's no problem. He loves dogs. So it's never a problem to put myself on the other side, hubby in the middle. But I do also like to go out myself sometimes, and I do like to walk in places where dogs go, precisely for the reasons that dogs love these places.
And yet, that's what dogs do - they sniff things that seem of interest to them... That's what they do.

Isn't "no dogs should sniff me because I don't like being sniffed" a bit like "no rain drops should fall on me when it rains because I don't like getting wet"? Would be nice, perhaps, but just not what happens...

I really wish you peaceful walks.
I think if you just walk past without paying attention to the dogs, most of them won't pay attention to you either.
Im sorry you are feeling overwhelmed but the simple fact is the dog was NOT sexually aroused by or attracted to you.

The dog was interested. Our old beagle would become very protective of my daughter and I during our menstruation, and growl if the others came near but that was not sexual at all.. Just a dog responding to a different smell.

You need counselling and you need it before you get into a big row or worse with a dog and/or its owner. I wish you luck but really professional help is needed because as you see from some replies most of us regard our dogs as precious family members and any hint of a threat toward them brings out the beast in us.
MM wrote:

"Im sorry you are feeling overwhelmed but the simple fact is the dog was NOT sexually aroused by or attracted to you."

I really don't care. It hurt me. I've been sniffed, in the crotch, many times by dogs. I didn't like it, but I coped with it. And I understood it on the level of, dogs like to sniff, it's what they do. This one hurt me. It was wearing a muzzle. No way would it have hurt its nose like it hurt my pubic bone. But it was wearing a plastic muzzle, it wanted to get in close, and what happened happened.

And since then I just don't want dogs to touch me. I don't especially want 'help' either, I think likely I just need time.

I don't especially want to talk about it with friends who are dog owners. When I've just had a panic attack, and I'm shouting at a dog owner from a long distance, that's a really bad way to talk. Because of that, it actually has been helpful to talk, here, with dog owners. I can hear it from their point of view, and there have been some practical suggestions of how to deal with inquisitive dogs. I think I may well try out the 'stand facing a tree' one.
Dogs dont get sexual with humans usually over excited, 2 off my whippets sniff crotches its just what they do (they do get told no ) but its just nature no harm meant, being honest I don't like people approaching my dog's as some can be worse than a dog. If I was you try going somewhere quiet were there isn't a lot off dogs about so you don't feel so stressed as it can't be fun for you. I definitely wouldn't ever hit someone's dog with a stick because you would end up worse, i dont think anyone would walk away from me if they touched my dog's.
You maybe need to talk to someone about this.

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