Thursday, 30 August 2012

How to lose friends and alienate people

It’s all my fault. This morning I was walking along centre path admiring five Whinchats and a Wheatear when I spied an enormous animal lumbering along. That Essex lion perhaps, or had cattle been reintroduced to the Flats overnight?  I raised my bins to check it out and was amazed to see that it was a huge dog, and I mean massive. My dog-ID is fairly rudimentary, I tend to split them out into three groups: “bitey yappy”, ”big”, and “fuckwit”. This dog needed a new category, henceforce known as “bloody enormous”. It was probably a Great Dane or something, they’re pretty big aren’t they? It most closely resembled a horse in both size and structure. I looked around for a lost jockey, and was instead amazed to see a birder. My mood of late has been on the antagonistic side of grumpy, so I’m going to cut right to the chase. If you’re going to come birding on MY patch, don’t even think about bringing a dog with you. I don’t care what kind of dog it is, how well-behaved it is/you think it is, just don’t bring it. Go somewhere else, find your own patch. This patch is overrun with dogs, they make birding here very difficult. They run amok through the breeding habitat of endangered ground-nesting birds, they crap all over the place, and they flush almost everything, including most waders that we are lucky enough to get. There are signs requesting that dog-owners keep their animals on leads; barely one in a hundred does so. Every single owner without exception thinks that their dog is perfect and no trouble at all. I’ve done a fair amount over the last few years to put Wanstead on the birding map. Gradually the word has spread, and I’m very happy that the number of dedicated patch-workers is now into double figures. The rewards are there for all to see; the increased coverage is turning up absolutely loads. But if you’ve got a dog, and you want to bring it with you........

Anyone who has read this blog for more than about two minutes will know my feelings on dogs, and how they directly impact my birding and my photography. In addition to their detrimental impact to birds and to the bottom of my shoes, I’ve been chased by dogs, and bitten by dogs. I’ve also been threatened with their urine (no, really). It does not matter how nicely you ask, how politely you conduct yourself. Every single dog owner I have spoken to about either the poor behaviour of their pet, or about the importance of Skylark habitat, has been instantly bristly, instantly aggressive, sometimes to the point of completely unwarranted verbal abuse. Young or old, man or woman, it makes no odds. You just get told where to go. I’ve had it. I’ve been polite, I’ve been reasonable, and it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. So I don’t care if you’re a birder, if you think you can bring a dog out with you you can piss right off as far as I’m concerned. Not that I can do anything about it when the thing makes Shergar look like My Little Pony....

I had another memorable encounter this morning near Long Wood. I rounded a hedge and a medium-sized "bitey yappy" dog saw me and immediately started going ballistic. The owner, whilst trying to restrain his other “big” dog that he was close enough to to grab, shouted over to me that he wouldn’t bite and that he was only playing. Uh-huh. Great. Bared teeth - fangs - retracted lips – bristling fur and mad barking. Did the owner make any effort to put it on a lead? I’ll leave you in suspense on that one. "Stand still! Don’t move, you’ll only make it worse!" So this isn't unusual then? The best was yet to come though. After he had eventually shepherded the animal away and I had retreated a safe distance, I asked him if he thought that having it on a lead might be more appropriate. Why, he countered? “I said he wouldn’t bite, all he is doing is playing”. If I had a pound, etc. Nonetheless, I carried on, some people might find it pretty scary. “Well you’re the first person that’s ever said that”, he said. Right....You should really put it on a lead, I said, as I did not find it a pleasant experience. “Well you came from round that corner and surprised him, what do you expect?” Unbelieveable. Oh I see, so it’s all my fault, I said. “No, I’m not saying tha....” I cut him off. You just did, that’s exactly what you just implied. He walked off – “You have a nice day mate”, he said. You know, I’m not sure he meant it.

This is today’s example. I have many, many more, and they all go to explaining why my threshold for tolerating dogs is so terribly low. The day I meet a dog owner who apologises, puts their animal on a lead, then berates it and offers to have the pawprints on my trousers dry-cleaned will be the day I go and buy my own dog. It’s never their fault. It’s never the dog’s fault. He’s just being friendly. He only wants to play. He needs to be exercised. I didn’t see any signs. He can run where he likes. It’s a free country. He’s scared of your camera. You surprised him. It's your fault. Yeah? Well fuck off.


  1. Brilliant. I've lost count the amount of times a dog has cost me a photo.

  2. Brilliant summary of dogwalkers and their dogs. Captures the mood perfectly. Particularly the last paragraph. No, make that the last sentence.

  3. woof! Thought there'd be loads of dogwalkers on here with bones to pick with you! Good that there isn't! Now, about that nuthatch...

  4. You sum up the attitude brilliantly ,add to the list increasingly in my neck of the woods,packs of mountain bikers and horse riders,none of them can read signs and if they ruin your day its tough shit !

  5. "It’s never their fault. It’s never the dog’s fault. He’s just being friendly. He only wants to play. He needs to be exercised. I didn’t see any signs. He can run where he likes. It’s a free country. He’s scared of your camera. You surprised him. It's your fault. Yeah? Well fuck off"

    So true, 100% agree! However I can have only limited sympathy for someone whose patch turns up Wryneck all the time and Smew, Goosander, Osprey etc on slower days.

  6. Not much of a birder these days but I have had exactly the same experience. At a city park where ordinance and signage clearly state that dogs must be leashed. My daughter's on a pack on my back and my son (5) is walking. A college-aged girl comes upon us and her large retriever bounces all over my son, who is understandably terrified (the dog is at least his height) and falls all over himself scrambling up the hill away from it. She says blithely that he only wants to play. I say to her, fairly mildly, "Maybe you should have a leash for him." She immediately turns angry and storms off, saying "Whatever, lady." Entitlement, thy name is dog owner!

    (A friend of mine on the country road where I used to live had a neighbor, whose free-ranging, extremely large German Shepherds are known by the owners to be unreliable and possibly likely to attack, essentally shrug and suggest that maybe she should carry a gun when walking around the woods along their road with her baby and 5-year-old.)

    I had a dog once, but leashed it in areas where I'd meet others. It felt threatened when it was leashed and other dogs weren't, so naturally every time I tried to take it out on a walk I had other dog owners blithely assuring me "my dog's friendly!"... fine, dumbass, well mine's not! Their dogs bound up to mine, snarl, snap, whimper...

    Grr--that last one was me.