Granville’s Saturday farmer’s market is in full swing and will continue through October. It is a great place to get anything from peaches to perennials, wax beans to beeswax soap, and bacon to bread. It’s also common to see people strolling with their favorite canine down the middle of the market, paying no attention to what is happening at knee level or below.
First of all, it’s hot. The pavement radiates the summer heat and the temperature 18-24 inches above the ground is going to be the hottest. Test the pavement by placing the back of your hand on it for 5 seconds. If you can’t keep your hand there, it’s too hot for canine paws as well. But, moreover, think about how you feel when you’re hot. Are you always tolerant, kind, desiring of another chance to sit on the hot ground and wait for someone while they stop, yet again, to talk? Thinking about it in this way, our dogs are remarkably tolerant of our dithering about.
Distractions also abound, visually, orally, audibly, and especially aromatically. Walking down the center of the market is like running a gauntlet. Simmering beef entices us to the right; a beautiful bouquet strikes our fancy so we veer left; then back again for salsa, soap, or cinnamon buns. Meanwhile, Rover has just gotten a whiff of dog bones (at the front of a booth, RIGHT AT NOSE LEVEL!!!), seen a cute spaniel 15 feet away, or snarfed up a dropped piece of cheese, and would really like to further investigate any/all of these enticing diversions. And what do we do when he balks? We scold him for not listening, and pull him along to our next encounter where he will continue to be challenged and we will continue to demand that he be perfectly behaved.
Another significant challenge for Fifi is space.* Dogs, like people, have clear personal space. Think about the person you have just met who is a “space invader” and gets so close to you that you can smell the coffee on his breath. Are you comfortable? Do you try to put some distance between you and Mr. Mocha? What do you do if there is no room to move away, do you get a bit forward? Tell the person to back off? Try to get around him somehow?
Now, imagine if you are an affable Golden retriever who, in general, likes people and other dogs. You are at the market with your favorite person, and have been there for a half hour or so. It has been very exciting: lots of smells, a bit loud, it’s starting to get hot, you really would like to get a bone and go home, people have been petting and touching you from all sides, (without properly introducing themselves), and now there is a child in a stroller RIGHT next to you with icing all over his hands and face. Your beloved person is busy choosing beans, and holding your leash tight so that you don’t clean-up the sugar-frosted toddler. So you are in a bit of an excited or aroused state. Nothing bad per se, but you’re definitely more sensitive to the surroundings. Now, into this mix comes a dog who is socially awkward and comes right up to your face, head on, and immediately tries to put his head or paws over your shoulders. You have never met this pup, he’s kinda rude, and he’s starting to get awfully familiar! You try to back away, to give yourself a bit of distance from this space invader, but there is no place for you to go. What’s a dog to do?
If the Golden, who really wants to resolve this peacefully, has no other option, he may snarl or snap at the offending dog. This will cause his owner to scold him, jerk him away, and/or swat his behind, and say, “Bad Rover! I’m so sorry! He generally really likes other dogs!” And, I would bet $1000 that the owner of the dog who was inappropriate in his greeting will say (in a hurt or put out tone of voice), “He was just trying to say ‘Hi!'” Yes, perhaps he was. But, unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding his awkward greeting did not lend themselves to a bonhomie outcome.
All this seems to me to be incredibly unfair to Fido, primarily because we are not telling him clearly what is expected of him, only that what he is currently doing, once we actually pay attention to him, is wrong. So, what do I expect an owner to do? Here are some simple rules to make the farmer’s market a happy experience for all involved:
1) Check the temperature, especially if you are headed out later in the morning. If you find it sweltering, so does your pup. Leave Fido home with a tasty Kong to keep him occupied while you wander around the market. Or, if you need to bring him, pack some water for him, and keep him in the shade as much as possible.
2) Be aware of what is going on around the dog at his level. For example, if someone (or some dog) is lurching towards your pooch and he backs up to give himself some more room, step in-between the approaching person/beast and your dog so that he is protected from being overwhelmed. Body blocking is a great way to protect your dog’s personal space.
3) Know your dog’s body language** so that you can intervene before something happens. Remember that your dog is probably in an excited state and therefore, will be more likely to overreact. If you can recognize when your dog is on edge, you can make sure that he has plenty of space, especially around his head, and room to move away from any agitation.
4) If your dog is nervous or uncertain about crowds of people or other dogs, walk him around the market rather than through the gauntlet. I have made this suggestion to a variety of my clients whose dogs have social or spacial issues. The goal here is to get your dog use to being in public, around other dogs, and/or an abundance of distractions without overwhelming him and setting him up for an unsociable encounter, aggressive display, or full-blown panic attack.
5) Keep it short and reward often. Reduce your dog’s stress by keeping your visit to the market short and sweet, and include a lot of rewards for being a good dog. Take some biscuits in your pocket and distribute them liberally as you walk through the market. This will keep Fido focused on you and much happier about the constant busyness around him.
I want both you and your dog to have fun outings together. By paying attention to what’s going on at knee level or below you are setting both of you up for a happy and successful morning at one of Granville’s summer institutions*Further information on canine personal space:
Dog Bit Prevention 2013 by Patricia McConnell
Helping an Anxious Dog by Jessica Miller
**I have written several blogs on canine body language here are a few: