I haven’t taken my dog Linda to the neighborhood dog park since the day I realized that the extremely long-legged, splay-pawed, skulking animal loping abashedly away from a bunch of dogs that kept harassing it with “You’re weird!” barks was actually a wolf. Or at least, a very wolfish example of a wolf-dog hybrid.
What sort of idiot, you might ask, keeps a pet wolf, let alone takes it to a leash-free park? The sort of idiot, as it happens, who wears his hair in long Nature Boy locks and goes to the park sans shoes and shirt. Apparently, the man-and-his-wolf tableau is incomplete unless the man’s bare chest and grubby feet are on view.
Despite that memorable display of foolish machismo, however, most idiotic pet lovers I encounter are women. And boy, do they ever have a strange take on the world. On a previous visit to my local patch of urine-soaked grass, a woman minding two bug-eyed, sweater-wearing little dogs began a conversation, “I promised them a treat after vacuuming,” she said, settling herself into the bench next to me. “I wanted to bring my little girl, but she didn’t want to come…”
I was about to say, “My daughter loves the dog park,” when she finished her sentence:
“…so I left her on the couch and just brought the boys!”
Oh, God, her little girl is a dog! Now I love my own dog Linda, a whippety Terrier X (as they labeled her at the pound), but there’s just something so sad about people who equate dogs with children, like the poor old couple in “Ship of Fools” whose bulldog got thrown overboard.
Here in Silver Lake, an artsy Los Angeles neighborhood on the eastern edge of the Hollywood Hills, we have what I think of as the Silver Lake Dog Ladies: hysterical, often dowdy women who shriek orders to go in the other direction when they see me and Linda (for the record: 28 pounds, quite easy to handle) coming towards them.
Most unruly dogs aren’t dangerous, so I’m not about to change my route to accomodate their owners. But sometimes I do get nervous. One day I was out walking Linda when one of the Dog Ladies momentarily lost control of her three pit bulls; two were snarling at each other, while the third briefly escaped from its leash.
For some reason, she found this adorable, began laughing, and was upset when I didn’t join in.
“Oh, what a stone cold face you have!” the woman exclaimed.
“I just don’t want your dogs attacking mine,” I said.
“Pardon me?” she asked, apparently offended that such a notion had even entered my head.
I really have no patience for the arugment that these big aggressive dogs are needed for protection. “Oh, just get a gun already,” snapped my actress friend Leah, who grew up in Texas and learned to shoot when she was seven. “It’s easier to control.” I’m not exactly a gun nut, but I have to say she’s got a point.
Fortunately, usually the worst thing that happens is the Dog Ladies get knocked over by their bouncing, barking dogs. And then, so help me, they sometimes try to discuss the situation. Not with passers-by like me, but with their pets.
“Emma!” yelled one woman at her rambunctious mutt, as she lay flat on her back like a turtle as her dog stood over her – not exactly the best position for establishing dominance over a dog. “How many times have we talked about this?”
Emma, I hope you will not be surprised to learn, had no answer to this question. You know, in old dog training books, written long before today’s enlightened times, trainers used to describe these problem dogs as “women’s dogs.” I can see what they meant.
“Lady,” I said to Emma’s owner, as Linda and I stepped around her. “That dog needs a man.”
Preferably a man like Cesar Milan, whose National Geographic Channel series “Dog Whisperer” begins its new season Jan. 6. His trademark signoff is, “Until next time, stay calm and assertive,” qualities noticably lacking in his human clients. From the episodes I’ve seen, they seem to be mostly female.
Although “Dog Whisperer” is sort of a “Supernanny” for dogs, and I suspect that Milan is also very effective with children, he makes it clear that child-training techniques don’t always translate to the canine world. Timeouts, he for some reason has to explain to a mother and daughter living with a dachshund they’ve allowed to take over their home, don’t work with dogs.
Neither do apologies and guilt. You don’t gain points with dogs, he explains, for saying that you love them so much and you’re so sorry you didn’t (yet again) take them for a walk.
But the dog owners Milan meets could certainly use more than dog-training advice, and he doesn’t hesitate to offer it. “Do you always stand like that – shoulders’ forward?” he asks one of the droopy women bossed around by her dachshund. “Stand up straight! Shoulders back!”
And after he’s amazed another woman (who lives alone) by changing her pug’s horrible behavior, he remarks optimistically, “Now you can handle a man.” I doubt that remark will go over well with the feminists. But I kind of like the idea of a “Dog Whisperer” spinoff, with Milan changing the behavior of hapless women in general, dog-owners or not.
Catherine Seipp is a writer and visiting fellow with IWF. She also maintains a blog, “Cathy’s World.”