Like all sports however it has rules with an implicit social structure and etiquette something akin to those risky Midsomer villages where failure to observe the social niceties can so easily result in one losing ones head.
Put simply, if you understand the village mentality of amateur operatic societies you will have a chance of surviving the nuances of the dog walking world without too many faux pas or finding yourself completely ostracised
For a start I can tell you that there is a dress code.
When you see an immaculately turned out yummy mummy in hacking jacket and glossy ‘hunters’ there is no doubt you must ask permission before you approach her undoubtedly pedigree pooch with your indiscriminate mutt.
Generally, permission to sniff is graciously given unless the pampered pooch is ‘sensitive ‘ i.e. neurotic, and used to prancing round the park unchallenged as to its superiority.
By and large old men in flat caps with grey muzzled Labradors can be trusted for a natter and a bit of watching the world go by whilst your canine companion sniffs all the right places to their hearts content.
Middle aged men in proper weatherproof jackets and footwear can usually be expected to be good walking companions chatting amiably about the dog, the world and more often than not an attempt at a discourse on football. Meanwhile the pooches play happily unhindered by neuroses or too close observation of any rules. Alternatively they (man and dog) politely ignore you which is equally fine, if less sociable.
Then we have the ladies in their middle years who are generally a bit of a tribe. Sensible footwear and waterproof coats are the norm usually with a hood to protect the hair. Lots of pockets for treats and scented poo bags and a penchant for standing around nattering in a group whilst the dogs run as a pack having a jolly old amiable romp-it’s the modern equivalent of the coffee morning or chatting over the garden fence. Occasionally the middle aged men will wander briefly in and out of the group to pass the time of day but never stand for long not wishing to be seen to be part of this pseudo W.I.
To a newcomer like me these rules have to be carefully observed and navigated.
Is it ok for example to approach the chattering ladies who are clearly well acquainted, with a puppy who doesn’t understand and cares less about the social hierarchy and expected niceties? There are only so many times you can with credibility say ‘she’s just a baby ‘, as your own little angel runs in and out of the tangle of leads until unpicking the resultant spaghetti junction becomes too embarrassing for words.
Similarly, can one comfortably as a woman in her middle years, walk amiably alongside the better half of some other lady simply because you are following the same route within ten feet of each other and given that the dogs have inspected each other’s nether regions in the greatest of detail, it would be churlish to not at least say hello?
The elderly gent is always a safe bet but given that everyone thinks that, I do wonder if he sometimes wishes we would all get lost and leave him in peace to ponder on life, love and philosophy whilst sitting watching the world go by uninterrupted.
That leaves the yummy mummy and frankly unless properly introduced and acquainted, that’s simply a no go area beyond polite small talk as you discretely try to stop your princess doing THAT right next to those shiny hunters.
It goes of course much further than the dress code.
The issue of ‘on or off lead’ is always a dominant factor. There are many for whom ‘off lead’ and disciplined control is second nature. Others do, whilst ‘on lead’ , find discipline to be a mystery and worse advise you to keep your dog away else be savaged by Wolverine the Slayer.
It’s not the on/off lead situation as such that is the issue, but what to say and do as the slavering beast threatens to eat your puppy whilst it’s owner stands glibly looking the other way with a practised disinterest that only be described as suspicious.
Then of course we have to muzzle or not to muzzle that is the question? Further, are the muzzled in fact armed and extremely dangerous or just too daft to know the difference between a poisonous mushroom in the woods and a truffle ?
What is de rigeur when walking a vicious dog differs from owner to owner which makes the dangerous ‘dance off’ rather precarious. Of note is the owner who waits until your harmless puppy is within distance of losing it’s head before snarling brusquely that his dog isn’t friendly and eats small dogs for breakfast. Adopting a technique of meekly and quickly salvaging the situation for the sake of the puppy, when in fact you want to explain in words of one syllable what fate you would wish to befall said owner is probably wise, if difficult to endure.
Thankfully, this is the exception and without doubt most dogs on walkies are happy friendly creatures who just want to play and have no idea why their humans get in such a tizz about the rules. Left up to dogs it would almost certainly be simpler and far less problematic if a tad risky in terms of the survival of the fittest. It’s the owners I refer to of course.
That said, this sociable sport has much to offer. New friendships or at the very least pleasant acquaintances, new doggy playmates for endless variety and lots of stimulating fun and a heathy boost of endorphins from a brisk walk in whatever the weather to boost the psyche of man and beast.
It takes a lot to beat, so once the rules are clear the path is easier to navigate and the faux pas less frequent.
But don’t get me started on the sticky dilemma of how to tackle the culprits who fail to pick up the poo ……🐶💩🙈🙉🙊