Curmudgeon at Large: Hiking Trails

I saw the trouble as soon as I'd parked the car:


It was a Tuesday morning, and I could see another person also walking their dog on this trail, right now, at this moment.


I realize in other towns and cities, the presence of only one other car or dog-walker/hiker would be a cause for celebration, but Alaska spoils a curmudgeon, and it's fairly easy -- especially mid-week -- to find a trail with zero other humans on it. This particular trail was usually a safe bet. Not today.


As I watched the woman heading down the hill, a quick calculation suggested we would alight on the common shared path at the bottom of both hills (hers & mine -- yes, proprietary, I am) at about the same time. So, feeling the coward in this particular showdown, I tucked off into a side trail to take the roundabout way through the woods and down. The park was a network of trails spanning about a square mile so I figured our paths were unlikely to cross.


Ha.

I say it again: Ha.


Sometimes I think there's an impish spirit in this world, a sort of otherworldly Mister Rogers, doing its best to teach me to like other humans. Good luck with that, I say.  But it seems every time I try to get a bit of privacy when out in the woods, the fates conspire to throw other humans in my path, usually with dogs of their own. Spread over acres & acres of trails, I can somehow manage to be traveling the same path at the same speed as the only other person in the entire park. Today was no exception.


So I'm minding my own business, on what I think is the human-avoidant path, taking a photo of particularly photogenic little mushroom, when I hear another human voice (Damn.) and then the dreaded, "Are your dogs friendly?"


I hate this question.


I know what the asker means -- "Are your dogs going to bite my dog?" -- but that's not really what she asked me. Webster includes such synonyms as "congenial," "warm" and "affectionate" under the definition of "friendly." My dogs are none of those things. But, having said that, they will not bite your dog.


So my conversational choices are either to lie and say Yes [they are friendly]. Or say No and risk startling the person into fearing for their own dogs' safety (and possibly also a sotto voce "Then why are they off-leash, then?")


Or I could say something like, "It's complicated," and then have to stand there and actually have at least a brief conversation explaining what I mean by complicated. Because this is the answer I would give, were I being thorough and accurate: "Friendly? No. They're fine, they aren't mean, but they aren't particularly sociable. So they might grumble and growl but they have never, in nearly ten years, done anything more than grumble and growl."


I'll interrupt my little diatribe on the complexities of trying to communicate in a Twitterverse of twenty-five words or less, to say that by the time the woman asked me this question, her dogs and mine were already milling around sniffing each other. So what I actually said, which I realize was a bit snarky, but I'll give myself a pass because I'm just off five consecutive clinic workdays full of sometimes innocent and sometimes aggressively challenging stupid client interactions, including a guy who was especially fixated on us having taken his cat's temperature rectally (as is the norm) and proceeded to mention it at least three times (And what is it about men and their anuses, anyway? I never get that reaction from women, probably because we women are accustomed to complete strangers sticking stuff in our bodily orifices at least once annually (and anally) as part of our Ob/Gyn exam from teenager-hood on through the decades....)


... Where was I? Right:


What I actually said (when she'd asked me if my dogs were friendly after they were already interacting with each other) was, "Well, it's a little late now, isn't it?"


(I told you I'm grumpy.)


And then she said some other things about how she just needed to know in case she needed to rush past me with her dog, or something along those lines, clearly not having ever seen how fast a dog fight usually happens (nearly immediately upon meeting, is my experience) as well as not having recognized one of my dogs (the shittier of the two, see below for details) as a greyhound mix, so "rushing past" would not have spared her dog, were my dogs assholes. Which they are. Sort of.


I currently have two dogs. Neither one, as I said above, qualifies as "friendly." The black dog is best qualified as "avoidant." Like me. She will tolerate strange dogs rushing up to her and sniffing her body parts while she nearly immediately tries to inoffensively extricate herself to go sniff some very important plants... over there ... away. Under similar social circumstances, I myself have been known to take a sudden urgent and consuming interest in the olives on aisle four of the supermarket in an effort to excuse myself from a conversation with an acquaintance on aisle three.  The closest the little black dog gets to "aggressive" is a little lip-switch/growl if that same dog tries to follow her to the olives on aisle four & show her photos of its grandchildren. Ditto. She & I are the very model of civility and restraint, but only up to a point.


My other dog, the greyhound mix, is less ... subtle. She loves to rush up to dogs, sometimes plowing into them physically (she only has one eye -- due to glaucoma, not a dog fight, though I could see why you might think otherwise -- so her depth perception is a bit clumsy), then take a growly offense should they want to respond in kind. She nearly immediately sports hackles from neck to tail (so does the black dog who then resembles nothing so much as a javelina) as she bounces around on stiff legs trying to sort out the rules of the new interaction, a little bit like a bristly guy in a bar who starts angrily spouting off when he bumps into another patron and spills his beer. Unfortunately (like the bar patron), the white dog is a bit thick, so this is the best behavior I've managed to cultivate with her in spite of several rounds of etiquette training. Of the two of them, she is the more asshole-ish, mostly because she's a bit more vocal and present, and nearly always vents that energy and bitches out her sister (the black dog) once the strange dog has gone past, leaving the strange dog's owner to hear a big growly (but nonphysical) kerfuffle erupt behind her.


My dog-walking life wasn't always this way. About twenty years ago, I used to have a "friendly" dog -- a dopey old Labrador who was relaxed as a limp noodle, low waggy tail, happily sniffing other dogs then wandering by. -- Neither of my current dogs is that dog. Not in any way. But they aren't mean or aggressive. They just aren't friendly. Just like me.

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