How could I have handled this situation better?
November 14, 2011 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me how I could have handled this situation better. I unintentionally got into an argument with a dog-walker at the park where I was conducting a running training session. I thought I handled the situation to the best of my ability, but my trainee told me that she thought I hadn't. So I wanted to ask your advice on how to deal with the same situation if it arose again.

Starting a few weeks ago, I began conducting one-to-one training sessions for running at a local park. The park is pretty big for a small town, and consists of large open grassed areas interspersed with rugby pitches and paths. It is used for sports, walking, and dog-walking.

The area I use is by a rugby pitch within a larger area of land between two parallel paths about 300m from each other. I keep my sessions to within the boundary of one half of the rugby pitch.
People often walk along each path, and will occasionally cross the 300m across the grass from path to another.

This incident happened when a woman walking her medium-to-large dog took it off its lead (which I think is allowed in the park), and started walking across the open area between the paths. As I was running, the dog bounded up to us in a friendly manner, obviously wanting to play.

Knowing my trainee isn't great with dogs, I stopped the session, and went over to the woman and quickly explained I was running a training session and would she mind skirting the outside of the pitch with her dog.

She rebutted by saying that the park was for everyone, and then continued to walk across to the other path. When she got about halfway, I restarted the session. However, as we began running again, the dog came bounding back playfully, but straight at my trainee, who froze as the dog leaped around her.

The woman came back over, and as she did so I asked her whether she minded putting her dog on its lead until they got to the other path. She immediately said "I just knew you were going to say that. I'm in a bad mood this morning, and if you speak to me again I'll snap", in quite an angry tone. But she got the dog under control, put on its lead and walked away, not taking the lead off until they were by the other path.

I thought that that was vindication that I'd handled the situation correctly, but at the end of the session my trainee told me that she thought I'd been very rude, and could have been a lot more polite.

Obviously I'm writing this with a biased approach, but if you were a/the dog-walker, how would you have liked me to deal with that situation?

This is in the UK, about lunchtime yesterday, and we were the only people in view fwiw.
posted by Petrot to Human Relations (34 answers total)
I'm guessing that your tone or choice of words might not have sounded how you intended it to sound.

I've seen this in friends, ie people who I know well enough to know what they mean and their good intentions when they say something which, to a stranger without my knowledge of their personality, comes across as rude or condescending. With three people's perceptions relevant to this interaction, there are even more ways for that to happen.

Perhaps ask the trainee if her concern was your request, or the manner in which you requested it?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:42 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my view, if the dog is off lead, it should be under voice control. The dog should not be interfering with other users of the park, either way.

Given your trainee's comment, however, I would bet that "I asked her whether she minded putting her dog on its lead until they got to the other path" is a little off accurate.
posted by megatherium at 4:42 AM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

This really depends on both the formal and informal rules of your local park.

If it is common for dogs to be off lead in that area of the park, then you were in the wrong.

Find out what the rules are before speaking up.
posted by k8t at 4:50 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it is allowed for dogs to be off-lead in this park, then maybe you should expect dogs to be off-lead and take someone with a fear of dogs elsewhere to train. That said, the dog walker sounds like a bit of a wackadoo from your description, although, to be fair, I also wonder if your description of your tone and wording is 100% accurate. If someone is using the park as it is allowed to be used, I don't know that you get to tell them they're doing it wrong. I don't go to off-lead dog parks for precisely this reason (and I am as crazy a dog lady as they come).
posted by biscotti at 4:55 AM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unless you're paying to use the park, which you're clearly not, then I don't see what grounds you had to complain. If you share a space with dogs then dogs are going to running around and unless they're actually attacking you - which this one wasn't - then there's not much you can do.
posted by joannemullen at 4:56 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

If the park's rules are that off-leash dogs are allowed, then leashing the dog and keeping it away from you and your trainer would've been a favor, not a requirement. Accordingly, you should've asked only once, very nicely, and accepted the answer you got. The fact that your trainer is uncomfortable with even harmless, playful dogs is not the dog-owner's problem.
posted by jon1270 at 4:58 AM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

As a personal trainer you aren't responsible for preventing your dog-adverse trainee from contact with dogs, and you shouldn't try and mark off or protect any part of a public space while you are using it for a private training session.

The dog owner was doing nothing wrong, the dog was doing nothing wrong, and you should have stayed out of it. If you felt you had to mediate between the dog and your trainee, maybe you should just have gently led the dog away each time it appeared, and explained to the owner that your trainee is fearful of dogs.
posted by roofus at 4:59 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Replying from the perspective that I live in a large city, and lots of people immediately think in many situations,"What are my rights? How can I tell (the other group) what to do?" Other people are often told what to do, so his or her response is how to tell the other person "leave me alone! I want to do what I want to do." I've observed a lot of interactions between a lot of groups and it turns into an emotional, gut response of person A telling person B what to do and then there is a hostile exchange (each wants to do whatever it is he or she was doing unimpeded). No one really thinks "what is right" but how to get my thing. Then people are prepared to give hostile responses to keep what they want. No one thinks of the rights of a community at that particular moment and I really think if you interact with most people at that moment, you are dealing with the lizard brain (amygdalya, etc.)

A few things about how I would have changed your approach:
• I would actually say the person that you were working with is afraid of dogs (whatever uncomfortable means)-I think that is the only thing that may pull the other person out of the "me me me" world. They person would see how her action influences the event and would likely be a bit more motivated and realize that another person is involved.The goal is not to stop her from doing action A but alter it slightly to help another human being feel comfortable.
• Ask the trainee before any training at all how they feel about you possibly needing to talk to other people (about dogs, space, whatever). Other people don't want confrontation, and that may be preferable over a bouncing playful dog. I fall in that category--I'm not afraid of dogs, but if I were, I would prefer to not be happy for a few seconds vs watch that interaction and be peripherally involved in it. From watching hostile interactions (voice, etc), I have often wondered if a party would use violence if possible and how do you know it won't happen? From either party or one person. I don't want to be involved with either person if possible, I would be bothered from the scenario you described if I were the trainee. But if I were a passive observer,you did nothing wrong if your description is accurate.
• I would read up on the laws and dogs in your area (I'm sure it is online) --I know there are places in my city where dogs are allowed/not allowed off lead and there are also behaviors that are not acceptable if it is off lead. I would read up on this to 1) possibly pick a non dog area to train similar people, and 2) you could give a friendly reminder to someone if the they are not following the law, but be very careful with this (back to the first paragraph).
posted by Wolfster at 5:01 AM on November 14, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you have a client who you know, as you apparently did, is afraid of dogs, do not take the client to one of the handful of parks where dogs are allowed off lead. The fact the dog walker made any concession to your request at all was a courtesy and nothing more.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:03 AM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

It's not rude to ask someone else for a favor if you are polite about it. Unless you are in a specifically designated dog run, it's a perfectly normal request to ask that someone's dog not run up to you. The simple act of asking would be rude if the lady and her dog weren't interacting with you, but since the dog was actively seeking you out and jumping on you/your trainee, I don't see anything wrong with the question itself. I mean, if you saw someone playing football in the park, you wouldn't jog through the middle of their game just because you had as much a right to that grass as they did. Communal spaces require people to share and be observant of one another.

That suggests one of two things: either your tone was not as nice as you thought it was, or the lady wanted to take offense and your trainee was feeling passive about these types of interactions. I suspect a bit of both. Perhaps, instead of suggesting a particular behavior, just explain the problem: "I'm sorry, my running partner is afraid of dogs. Is there any way you could try to keep your dog from jumping around on her?" Then the dog-owner can try to solve the problem however she feels is best suited to her and her dog.
posted by Schismatic at 5:10 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Properly trained and controlled dogs should not bother strangers in a park, and if they do the owner owes you at least a small apology.

Many dog owners of course consider that widdle snookums is just so great that any feeling human being will naturally relish an offhand slobbering from him, or even being repeatedly baulked and tripped up by him. There's not much we can do about this, but I would say that pointing out the problem in such cases in an unambiguous manner is more of a public duty than a faux pas.
posted by Segundus at 5:14 AM on November 14, 2011 [14 favorites]

I'd guess your trainee is responding to the rude response of the other woman. Sometimes people think they're responsible for others' reactions, and assume they've done wrong if they get an angry or rude response. I'd bet that your trainee would have blamed herself for a rude response and so is blaming you, if that makes sense. Another factor is that knows she has trouble with dogs and may be self-conscious about that. She may have interpreted your assertive request as rocking the boat on her behalf, and been embarrassed.

Unless your account is wildly inaccurate, you behaved appropriately and politely. You were assertive but not aggressive and were sensitive to your trainee's needs. You had every right to intervene when the dog was not just off leash near you but actively trying to jump on your client. You might ask her, "I'm sorry about yesterday's confrontation. How can I better handle future situations with off leash dogs?"--but only because she's a client you want to keep happy, not because you did wrong.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:15 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers. It must have been my tone of voice, as my words are as close as I can remember.

To be clear, my trainee, although wary of dogs (I said she wasn't great with them, not that she had a fear of them), doesn't usually mind being in the vicinity of them as long as they are under control. There are only a few parks in my town, and all of them are dog friendly. At other times dogs close by have been under voice control.

Again, thanks for the suggestions, and I will remember to be more polite if I come across the situation again.
posted by Petrot at 5:21 AM on November 14, 2011

Knowing my trainee isn't great with dogs, I stopped the session, and went over to the woman and quickly explained I was running a training session and would she mind skirting the outside of the pitch with her dog.

Did you do this after consulting with your client? I'd be mortified if someone proactively tried to change someone else's behavior due to a phobia of mine. Even if you didn't tell the dog walker that it was because of your client's phobia, that, mixed with the adrenaline of the fight or flight response the dog jump may have induced, might explain why your client reacted in a way that seems inexplicable or irrational to you.
posted by inturnaround at 5:25 AM on November 14, 2011

One other thing:

But she got the dog under control, put on its lead and walked away, not taking the lead off until they were by the other path.

Had she not asked you to refrain from talking to her again, this would've been a good time to call out, "Thank you, I really appreciate it!" As it was, with her being in a bad mood and all, I'm not sure you had a lot of great options. You're not responsible for other people's moods.
posted by jon1270 at 5:26 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Properly trained and controlled dogs should not bother strangers in a park, and if they do the owner owes you at least a small apology.

Yes, this is spot-on.

She immediately said "I just knew you were going to say that. I'm in a bad mood this morning, and if you speak to me again I'll snap", in quite an angry tone.

I would have said something like "Come at me bro" and put on my best overbearing grin. You aren't responsible for managing strangers' reactions to their own or their dogs' bad behavior. A little common courtesy goes a long way and people who fall short often need a reminder because 90% of the people they meet are too cowed to say anything. You did fine.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:32 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

My view of this situation is the following:

If the trainee, who is afraid of dogs, was bothered enough by the incident to tell you that you were rude, but not the dog walker, then there's a good chance that you were actually rude. She could have felt that not only were you were being rude, you were being rude on her behalf, which made her extra testy. In general, people who have a problem telling others (like the dog walker) that they're being rude also have a problem, maybe more of a problem, telling their teacher that they're being rude, so I believe that thinking her passive is not the correct approach.

Your tone of voice was probably much harsher than you intended. If this is a dog park where dogs are free to be off leash then you were on shaky ground to begin with and your tone may have made you come off as entitled and authoritative.
posted by lydhre at 5:34 AM on November 14, 2011

Is your trainee a child? If not, then why are you taking it upon yourself to protect her? You're training her in running, not dealing with non-phobic dog-wariness.
posted by headnsouth at 5:38 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think the problem was how you framed it. You implied that your use of the park was more important than hers, because you were running a training session and she's just walking her dog.

I think in her shoes I'd have bridled too. Are you paying for some kind of exclusive right to the park? What does it matter that you're getting paid for your time right now and I'm not? Aren't you actually looking to gain personal financial profit off the fact that it's a public park open to you while then looking to restrict my use of it for my personal non-financial benefit?

If you had said something along the lines of, "Your dog seems really sweet but my running companion is really nervous around dogs, even though the dog just wants to be friendly, if we stay to this side of the pitch, do you think you could try to keep your dog to the other side?" I think you would have got a different reaction. Possibly still annoyed, if she was having a bad day, but less negative.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:53 AM on November 14, 2011 [20 favorites]

If a dog owner has so little control over their dog that it can go running up to strangers uninvited, then that dog owner has lost all entitlement to anything more than a thin veneer of civility.
posted by normy at 6:06 AM on November 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

Even just waiting longer until they were on the other path and the dog's attention was off you could have diffused the situation. Running or playful movements in dog language often means "chase me!". The dog-walker was moving forward, but the situation was reignited when you resumed your actions. That's frustrating, because it drew her back into it.

If you've only been doing this a few weeks, and haven't been aware of what's on the periphery and hadn't observed the use of the area prior to choosing it, you may also have inadvertently been interrupting park habits or patterns with your sessions and resentment was already in place. You can't know that for sure, but you can ask around or just come and observe. When you're training, you're not focused outward, I'd hazard a guess. We've had this contentious issue in Toronto, which culminated in a "People, Dogs and Parks Strategy", and it's led to fences and meetings and dog owner's associations and much involvement of "the man".

I may be out in left field with the suggestion that you've interrupted something, but a similar thing happened at the park across the street from our house - a new resident began to use the park for personal training sessions during our neighbourhood's dinner hour, when it seemed quiet, not realizing that soon after it became the meeting place for the street's dog owners. She used the centre of the field and the bench, not just one small area. The first time, everyone just shrugged and shifted, thinking it was a one-off and gave her space. The second time, everyone stood and silently indicated that they were waiting for use of the park. It was not so tense, but polite (it is Canada, after all), though she didn't seem to get the nudge. The third time, it was pointed out to her that it was against by-laws to use a public park as a place for business, and that she shouldn't continue. There was no fourth time, because someone called the by-law officer who was waiting for her. It's not an off-leash park either, and soon dog owners were busted more often too. It spoiled the community that had been built up, which depended on civility and sharing, and once a bond was broken, it never resumed in quite the same way. Now we have other problems, like garbage-dumping and drugs again. So, though you didn't ask for that, others before me have offered it as a part of the issue, and I'd also suggest, as k8t said, to check the formal and informal rules of the park.
posted by peagood at 6:41 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is your trainee a child? If not, then why are you taking it upon yourself to protect her?

I don't think you have a duty to "protect" your trainees exactly, but I do think it's your responsibility to select an appropriate environment for a training session and to do your best to ensure it stays appropriate.

As everyone else has mentioned, since it's a shared space, that needs to take place through negotiation and compromise rather than through demands on other people sharing the space.
posted by emilyw at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sure, maybe you could have phrased it differently---like you're asking for a huge favor, and that you would really appreciate it if she could leash her dog---but some people are just in bad moods and there's not much that can be done about it. I recall an incident from my childhood when I was walking to a cub scout meeting, in full cub scout regalia, and a fifty-something woman was walking on the sidewalk in the opposite direction. I wasn't being especially annoying; just walking. When we passed each other, she shouted at me "Get the fuck out of my way! Fucking kids!" There's no reasoning with angry, angry people.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:52 AM on November 14, 2011

From the perspective of a dog park user who has seen a rather large increase in personal trainers bringing their clients to our dog park and complaining about the goddammed dogs. I'm inclined to think that you should be aware of the few places where dogs are allowed off leash when you take up your paid employment in a public dog park. At the dog park it is frequently the case that owners run around playing with their dogs, the dogs fetch frisbees and whatever. They play, they run around with their owners and with other dogs, and other owners. She's not encouraging it to run up to others - drama like this is the last thing a dog-parker wants - but it's a park where dogs are allowed to run around playing. We have personal trainers coming in with 'toys' [fitness props] and run around clapping with gloves etc wondering why the dogs they've plopped themselves in the midst of, want to play! What did you do to acknowledge the shared nature of the space?

A number of people at my dog park are thinking of making complaints to our council about personal trainers who want to use the space with this kind of attitude. Bringing a client who is afraid of dogs into such an environment is additional affront to dog-owners. It's not 'diddums, darling puppy' blah blah precious-ness to want to use a dog park. And if the dog is not threatening, aggressive and comes when called by its owner, you are rude to ask a dog to be leashed in that space and not come up with a solution that might involve you making some changes to your use of the space.

A dangerous dog running around people is something I would feel strongly about, but the fact that the woman leashed her dog when requested seems like she made way for you. And I probably would have 'snapped' as I am fed up with personal trainers acting like they can set up their business in the middle of a known shared space that has multiple user needs.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:52 AM on November 14, 2011 [13 favorites]

In all the cities I have lived in there are very select areas where dogs are allowed off leash. I only take my dog to these places to be off leash because he is young and over enthusiastic with people. Please check up on the laws in your city and don't train in the areas where off leash is allowed if you can't deal with it. I also think you were quite a bit more rude than your description. If you had said exactly that to me in a kind manner my response would be "oh, no problem I'll just go this other way" and put my dog on the lead if necessary and walk in another direction.
posted by boobjob at 7:20 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with your trainee, this sounds like a very presumptuous and rude attitude to have with a stranger. The dog park is a space for dogs to be off leash and run around. It is not your private back yard created to help you conduct your profitable business. You should not assume that going to a public space where dogs are explicitly allowed to run free will allow you to have a private undisturbed space to work.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:50 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if the woman can't control her dog with voice commands, and it's consistently bugging people who don't want to be bugged, she's in the wrong. Full stop. She's the one being rude, not you.

FWIW, I own two rather rambunctious canines, and realize that not everyone loves dogs.
posted by brand-gnu at 7:52 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It would be one thing if this was a dedicated dog park, but you make it sound as if it's a multi-use space. Dog owners need to be respectful of that.
posted by brand-gnu at 7:53 AM on November 14, 2011

I don't know why I'm answering this, you've got several good answers, but here's my view as a dog owner.

You fully have the right to ask me if I can keep my dog away from your client, because they're not fan of dogs. I'm totally okay with that, and if my dog it off leash it should be under voice control to a point where this is easy. In a public park however, I think you are overstepping if you carve out an area which is for "your use" (the bit about walking around the pitch). Please note I'd probably do this anyway but thats not "required".

In your first encounter, you didn't tell the dog owner that the dog was a problem for your client, instead you focused on "claiming space" which A. you don't "own" and B. didn't inform them that the dog was a problem (Which led to the second confrontation). So in this way you could have handled it a bit better.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:56 AM on November 14, 2011

Unless this was an enclosed leash-free zone (and it doesn't sound like it) the woman was responsible for controlling her dog. Which she failed to do, twice; hence she was mad at herself for putting herself in a situation where her poor public behaviour was mildly chastised. I think you did nothing wrong and there would be no way to improve the situation since the woman was being unreasonable. Does your trainee perhaps have a heightened fear of what others think of her or other anxiety disorders? That is all I can think of that would excuse her comments to you
posted by saucysault at 8:01 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your trainee has a right to personal space. The dog (as loveable as it may be) was violating her personal space in a way that she was not comfortable with.

The temptation is to say "Why would you go to a dog park if you don't like dogs?" However, whether it is a dog park, regular park, or town square does not mean that a person's right to personal space should be forfeit. It is a right that transcends location.

I bring this up because though the woman has every right in the world to let her dog free in a park designated for that purpose, it is extremely inappropriate for her to let her dog get that close to another person without their permission. She needs to respect the social politeness required to operate in a public area and control her dog so that it doesn't impede others.

Unless specified otherwise ( as honey-barbara suggested, getting regulations set in place to prevent such issues) you have just as much right to run there are she does to walk her dog.


Her "I am allow to unlead my dog here" mentality does not trump:

-The social requirement that you control your pet in a public space.
-Your right to use the space for any other activity not banned by the rules of the park (including throwing frisbees, ruining, etc).
-You human right to personal space.
posted by Shouraku at 8:32 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't mind read, but if I was a client in that situation, I probably would have been a little bristled at the idea that we couldn't just pause the session for a few minutes while the dog crossed. I also would think that the idea that you advocated on my behalf was weird.

The dog owner was being self-centered by letting her dog bother other people, but sometimes mentioning that to someone is even ruder.
posted by gjc at 8:55 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I (mostly) like dogs and live in the UK. Nearly all UK parks have by-laws that say that dogs should be under control and not cause a nuisance to others. If the dog is jumping at someone else that's a nuisance and it's not under control. She was in the wrong, you were right. I'd have told her train her bloody dog properly or put it on a lead.
posted by rhymer at 9:22 AM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes, I agree that she was in the wrong with the dog. Dogs can be unpredictable and sometimes dangerous.

Her response probably made your trainee think you were ruder than you actually were - many people dislike confrontation in any way and seeing someone upset makes them think that what they did was wrong (even if it was right).

If the dog was running around off-leash completely separate to you and you did that, then the owner's response would be justified, but given that the dog twice came into your space, the problem lies with the owner's management of the dog.
posted by mleigh at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2011

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