Do People Shame You for Walking a Big Dog?


I love walking my Lab mix Ghostbuster. We’ve done a lot of leash work since we adopted him back in July, and it’s really paid off. His pulling has significantly reduced while his leash manners have improved, and the leash is usually loose now. I love walking with him as he trots along beside me. It’s pleasant for both of us — until some stranger makes a comment about what a giant he is.

“Oh my, is that a dog or a horse?” one lady asked about my 60-pound pup.

“Who’s taking who for a walk here?” one older guy inquired as I walked by his garage. The comment would have made more sense if GhostBuster had been pulling at the time, but since he was just trotting along with the leash loose, it was pretty evident that I was walking him.

At least once a week some stranger feels like they need to make a comment about the size of my dog, and only once was it justified.

I had just fallen off the sidewalk curb, scraping up my knee pretty badly as I went down. Poor GhostBuster had kind of wrapped the leash around me in all the commotion, and was now trying to say hello to an elderly lady’s Poodle, as the pair approached us. I had initially stepped off the curb to give them room, and I misstepped, falling and ripping both my jeans and the skin of my knee in the process.

The whole thing was completely my fault — not GhostBuster’s. I’d been talking on the phone without a hands-free device, and that probably contributed to my lack of attention to the curb.

As I stood up and untangled GhostBuster’s leash from around my body, the woman with the Poodle noticed how I was wearing the leash, umbilical-style. “You’ve got that big dog tied around you? That dog is too big for you!”

I thanked the lady for her concern and hobbled away with GhostBuster. Although I did stop using the umbilical method a couple weeks after that, it wasn’t because my dog was too big (it was because my husband kept pointing out how GhostBuster responds better to having that extra few feet of slack that were previously tied around my waist).

I can totally forgive that lady for her concern in thinking that GhostBuster is too big for me (after all, she’d just witnessed me fall and scrape myself bloody), but plenty of people remark on GhostBuster’s size even when I’m not being a klutz in public.

My own family members love GhostBuster and respect how well-behaved he is, but, since they all have small-breed dogs, GhostBuster’s size is a bit of a shock to the system.

“It depends on what the other person owns, that’s how they judge whether you have a large breed dog,” says Adam Kidd of 780 Kennels in Edmonton, Alberta. Kidd specializes in large breed dogs, and since he is surrounded by 130-pound Bullmastiffs and other big breeds on a daily basis, 60-pound GhostBuster wouldn’t seem very big to him at all.

“Whether a dog is a big dog — well, it’s open to interpretation,” says Kidd, who became an advocate for larger breeds after adopting his first rescue dog, Mickey the Rottweiler cross.

Mickey was a senior dog in poor health. She had spent many months in an animal shelter before Kidd wrote an impassioned plea to his condo strata board, asking for them to make an exception to the rule that dogs had to be less than 50 pounds.

With the exception granted, Mickey lived out the few remaining months of her life in the comforts of home instead of a shelter kennel. Despite her ailing health, Mickey’s size still intimidated some strangers. “I was just walking down the street with her one day, and a man I had never met before said to me, ‘Oh you’re trying to say something with that big dog,’” explains Kidd.

“I told him that this dog is 10 years old, and has arthritis and cancer, and what I’m saying is that I love this dog and I’m taking her for a walk.”

While I am truly sorry to hear that this happened to Kidd and Mickey, part of me was relieved to hear this story because I was starting to think that people only make those “big dog” comments to me because I am a woman. My husband says strangers never accuse him of having a dog that’s too big for him.

According to Jade Graham, president and cofounder of Underdogs Rescue in Edmonton, Alberta, women may be on the receiving end of these comments more often simply because there is a higher proportion of female to male dog walkers in my home province of Alberta. She says the idea that women can’t handle large dogs is ridiculous, as most power breeds and large dogs in Alberta come from rescues where they are managed by women. “A large majority of the thousands of people involved in rescue in Alberta are women,” explains Graham. “Realistically, it’s women who are handling these dogs.”

At five feet two, Graham has received her own share of comments from people surprised to see her holding the leash of a power breed. “They say, ‘You’re so short and small and you have this big Rottie with you, how do you do it?’” explains Graham.

In all her years of rescue Graham says she has never met a dog that she couldn’t control, and has never fallen over or been dragged while walking a dog. “You don’t have to be super strong or be a bodybuilder,” she says. “A lot of times with power breeds it’s not a physical thing, it’s a relationship thing. It’s just about knowledge.”

Both Graham and Kidd told me that the bond and respect between a human and dog is the key to success when it comes to bigger breeds, so GhostBuster and I will keep working on our relationship and training.

Do people make comments about your big dog? Are you sick of it? Tell us your stories in the comments!

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About the author:  Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +

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