My shy 4 year old rescue pit bull/shepherd mix and I live in a large apartment building. A couple recently moved in next door to me, and they are terrified
Since my new neighbours have moved in, I've seen them duck into their apartment when they see me coming out of mine with the dog, or avoid getting on the elevator with me. That's fine. I understand that people are afraid of dogs, and I go out of my way to make these people comfortable by not crossing their paths if I don't have to.
My dog is a submissive rescue who is occasionally shy at first with new people, but very friendly. The only time she's ever wary of people is when they give off strange body language. For instance, she's suspicious of and sometimes growls at sketchy people outside at night, drunk homeless guys yelling profanities on the street, creepy pervy guys who try to talk to me while we're on a walk... basically anyone who would make me uncomfortable if I were walking somewhere alone. I'm happy she does this, as I'm a female who lives downtown in a bit of a sketchy area. However, whenever we cross paths with a non-sketchy person who's giving off unusual body language because they're afraid of dogs, she reacts the same way. She's never been violent. Not once. Ever.
My apartment is at the end of a VERY long, straight hallway. Yesterday, when we were coming back from our morning walk, I turned into the hallway from the elevators and saw one of my new neighbours leaving his apartment and walking towards the elevators. I was already halfway down the hallway, and I knew that if he just ignored the dog as he walked past, she would ignore him, too... the way she ignores most every one we cross when we're out (unless they stop to pet her, or they have a dog too). So I kept walking. Then as we were about 10 feet from each other, he stopped in his tracks and was started intense eye contact with my dog, I suppose to try to get a feel for whether or not she was going to "attack". He was talking heatedly on his cell phone, so I couldn't really say anything like "it's okay, she's friendly" or "just ignore her" or "don't worry, I've got her", Then he started slowly walking backwards, out of fear. I started to feel a little tense at this point because it was kind of awkward. Maybe the dog sensed my trepidation, I don't know. He glued himself up against the wall, and I held her on a short leash as we walked past, but then he kind of jumped and she reacted by growling suddenly, at which point he literally screamed at the top of his lungs and took off running down the rest of the hallway. Of course, when he started running, she kind of set off after him, but couldn't chase after him because of course, she was on-leash.
I know that my dog’s reacting to their body language, and that even though not all dogs respond this way, that it's a normal dog thing and likely breed related. Yesterday morning, she growled, but that was absolutely not an “attack” (and I’m actually kind of afraid that in his fearful state, the guy might have perceived that it was).
I'm afraid that constantly avoiding people who exhibit the kind of body language that a person does when they're afraid of dogs makes my dog's wariness of them worse. This is a vicious cycle of person scaring dog, dog reacting, dog scaring person...heightening the fear for both of them during the next encounter.
I’m sensitive to other people’s phobias, and I’m a reasonable person, so I really wish I could fix this situation. The trouble is that unlike most encounters we have with people who are afraid of dogs, which normally happen outside where it’s easy for us to avoid each other, this always seems to happen in the hallway where unless they duck back into their apartment, or I run back to the end of the hall by the elevators to let them pass, we will inevitably have to cross paths. We also seem to be, unfortunately, on the same schedule. So I encounter them a LOT. If these people were friends of mine, it would be easier to try to overcome the fear together by slowly introducing them to my dog and giving them time to relax and feel more comfortable in her presence. These people, however, are not my friends, and they make that quite clear by glaring at me, or avoiding me even when I’m without dog. They’re frequently on their cell phones and avoiding eye contact, effectively putting up a wall on any form of communication whatsoever. I tried to speak with them once but they ignored me as if I hadn’t said anything at all and I’m not sure if it’s because they can’t bear to speak with the disgusting person with the scary looking dog, or if it’s because they don’t speak English. Or both.
Sigh, anyway. I’m sensitive and I feel really rattled about what happened yesterday morning. I’ve never seen such an extreme reaction before. I’m not the type of person who expects to be pals with my neighbours, but the icy relationship as it is now makes me uncomfortable. I’ve never had any dog related issue with anyone else in my building. I’m thinking that it would be a good thing if I could somehow do something to minimize the way my dog reacts to people who are afraid, but I’m not sure how to do that because people who are afraid of dogs aren’t exactly going to volunteer to be part of this teaching moment.
I'm also confused about what the right balance of compromise is here in this situation. I try to avoid them as much as possible because I know they're afraid. But is the onus on me to always be the one avoiding? I mean, I know being a dog owner comes with a huge set of responsibilities and being accountable for your dog is one of them... but I'm also allowed to have a dog, especially one that doesn't have serious behavioural issues and that gets along with everyone else in our huge apartment complex. For example, if we meet halfway down the hallway and they haven't gone back into their apartment, is it because I am supposed to turn around and walk back to the elevators/lobby area where they can easily avoid us? Is that my responsibility as a dog owner? I would like to do what society expects me to do, but I don't know what that is.