It Takes a Village to Raise a Well-Mannered Dog


Years ago, I was hiking Runyon Canyon (an off-leash dog hike in Los Angeles), and Riggins, my pup, ran ahead of me as he often does. Up ahead I could see ER‘s Eriq La Salle — Runyon Canyon is also a great place for star watching — lean down and scold Riggins. “What the?” I thought. “Oh NO he does not. I don’t care if he was a great TV doctor, you DO NOT wag your finger and yell at my dog.”

Riggins looking innocent on a Runyon hike.
Riggins looking innocent on a Runyon hike.

Hands on hips and all ready for a fight, I stomped toward Riggins and his new human enemy. As I got closer I realized Eriq (we are on a first-name basis now) was trying to stop Riggins from eating poo.

Eriq was the good guy in this scenario. He was just trying to teach my crazy pup some manners and keep him from some horrible poo-eating disease. I calmed my stance and strolled by Eriq, thanking him for his help. He isn’t just a hero on TV!

Riggins with his young apprentice, Hanna.
Riggins with his young apprentice, Hanna.

Don’t tell me how to train my dog!

Why was my initial reaction to this situation to start a war with a TV star? Well, Riggins is my baby, and I know what is best for my baby. Like other dog owners, I’ve had to live through being told what kind of halter to purchase, what food is best, pluses to crate training, negatives to a dog sleeping in the human bed, and lots of other words of advice I mostly ignored.

Then there were the people who knew better than me. I once made a guy turn around and abort his hike in tears because he told me I shouldn’t have a retriever bell on Riggins. (When Riggins was young he would catch and eat ground squirrels. The bell gave the critters a heads up he was coming.) That poor helpless hiker didn’t get the nice treatment I gave Eriq. There was lots of “Who do you think you are?” being thrown around at high volume.

I was like a lot of moms out there with human kids. I was the one that knew best for my baby, and I was the one that would punish him if he did something wrong. It was no one’s job but mine.

My niece and part of Riggins' village.
My niece and part of Riggins’ village.

I was wrong. It takes a village to raise a child. We seem to have gotten away from this in today’s world, but we need to bring it back. At least for the dogs.

I reach out — and hand out breath-spray bottles

Riggins is now nine years old, but for the first six or so of his life, he was CRAZY — all energy, all the time. If someone he liked got near him he had a nervous breakdown and wanted to be up in his face as soon as possible.

I finally got him trained to not jump on me, but that didn’t help anyone else who came into my house. I started arming people with breath spray bottles and instructed them to command “off” while spritzing fresh breath scent all over my house (aimed at dog nose or lower — this was professional-trainer approved). This still works to this day. You just have to pull out the breath spray and Riggins won’t dare jump on you. Sadly, I got lazy and stopped prepping every person who came in my house, and even now as a senior Riggins can take down a person small in stature if that tiny person seems like someone he should get to know better. I forgot it takes a village all the time.

Shadow looking innocent on a Runyon hike.
Shadow looking innocent on a Runyon hike.

Unfortunately, you can’t make other people train your dog

Shadow, a Whippet/Doberman mix, is a super sweet dog I babysit a lot. She is all cuddles and love. Unfortunately, one of Shadow’s bad habits when she is excited is to jump up into a person’s face. She is tall and lanky, so she can easily make it to your cheek! Sometimes she will include a “love bite,” which can be shocking for the recipient even though it doesn’t break skin.

This is not acceptable behavior. The problem is she doesn’t do it to me (anymore) or her folks. It’s just to strangers and those who allow it. When off-leash, if I see her getting excited I’ll tell her not to dare even think about jumping. Ninety percent of the time that works, but there are times that I don’t catch her or she is too excited to listen. For these times I need the victim in this victimless crime, the unknowing human, to help me out. My fellow human needs to let Shadow know that her actions are unacceptable not just for her folks and me but for ANY two legged humanoid she comes into contact with.

Shadow running free!
Shadow running free!

A few months ago, we were hiking Runyon when I saw Shadow’s butt start to wiggle faster than normal, and she started sprinting toward a couple who had stopped to take a break. The woman seemed out of breath and trying to get herself together. It was NOT a good time for Shadow to pull a Shadow on them.

I screamed, “DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HER,” just as Shadow started to think about leaping, and the gentleman put his hand down to pet her. The couple and Shadow all jumped back and looked at me. I immediately realized that the poor couple had thought I was yelling at them. I was horrified. I stopped to explain that I was yelling at the dog to not touch the woman and that I was so sorry for the misunderstanding, but the damage was done. Nothing I could say could fully convince that couple that I wasn’t yelling at them! They were too scared of me to be part of my village.

Riggins and Shadow leading the pack.
Riggins and Shadow leading the pack.

“Train your dog better yourself!” I hear you yelling at me. “You’re a horrible dog mother who lets her dog and others run wild,” you are typing in the comment section. “Who uses breath spray to train a dog?” you are pondering.

I understand, but let’s get real for a second. We all aren’t professional dog trainers who can dedicate 24/7 to our furry loves. We do the best we can and hope others understand and can help support. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a well-known saying for a reason.

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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A dog sitter. After years of stress she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures through the Los Angeles area ,where they live together in a cozy happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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