It's Etiquette Week at SFist, in which SFist's editors dole out some prescriptive advice for how to behave in this city we all share in order not to overly annoy, offend, or otherwise piss off your fellow citizens. Please read carefully.
It was back in 2007 when the San Francisco Chronicle announced that there were more dogs than kids living in the city. According to San Francisco Animal Care & Control spokesperson Deb Campbell, their dog count has only grown (in line with the city's population), with an estimated 150,000 on SF's streets today.
All those dogs need to be walked, both for fun/exercise and so they can relieve themselves somewhere other than on your new flokati. I really do believe that most people who choose to care for an animal are well-intentioned, kind folks — after all, pets can be a pain in the ass! But there are a lot of things people do as they walk their dogs that are poor etiquette, rude, or just plain dangerous. And, hey, many of the things I'm about to talk about are mistakes I have made myself! Though I was raised caring for a dog, my SF dog experience didn't begin until 2004 (behold: the late, great SFist Franny), and I frequently did the wrong thing because I didn't know any better. So, please, learn from my mistakes! I am certain that we can all work together to make SF's parks and sidewalks pleasanter for humans, animals, and everything in between.
Pick Up Your Dog's Shit
Hey, fun fact, did you know that the fine for failing to pick up dog shit is hundreds of dollars higher than the fine for failing to pick up your own, human shit? Part of your responsibility as a dog's guardian is to pick up their feces. Yes, sometimes you will find yourself without a bag, and with no handy free weeklies or whatever to use as a makeshift scoop. But that should not be the norm! If you're able-bodied, yet you don't have the fortitude to pick up your animal's crap, then you don't have what it takes to care for a dog.
I'm not just talking about the sidewalk, either. Just because you're in the wild (dog park or otherwise) or at the beach doesn't mean you're off the hook. There are other people walking around in the world, and they don't deserve your dog's digested dinner all over their shoes.
Choose Urination Areas Judiciously
In a perfect world, all dogs would pee on grassy knolls in the backyards of mansions we just bought with our Powerball winnings. But we do not live in a perfect world, we live in a dense(ish) urban area. And your dog still needs to pee. So, this becomes a situation where we all just need to do the best we can. If you don't have access to a park they can use, please do your best to seek out the occasional greenways or trees between the sidewalk and street and steer your full-bladdered dog in that direction and away from (obviously) yards or against buildings (seriously, do you want piss on your building? I don't!) or utility poles. But this is not always possible, I know, I know, and you just need Spot to take a quick piss! So, sometimes, you will have to let him drain the lizard on the sidewalk or against a building. But for every time you do that, make an effort to make your dog's other two pee breaks somewhere "better." And, seriously, keep them off the utility poles, because causing them to fall onto cars or people is as poor as etiquette gets.
Walk Your Dog On A Leash Any Time You're Outside An Off-Leash Area
This is a true story: I once asked someone who was strolling down my street holding their dog's leash folded in their hand as their pup walked unfettered why they didn't just leash the dog, and was told "he wants to be free, man." Reader, that dog darted onto Noriega Street a few months later as his owner called for him in vain, and was killed by a passing car.
Campbell hears stories like this one again and again. "I know people think they have perfect voice control over their pets, but no one does. They say they want their dog to be free, they want it to enjoy life...then let it have a life they can enjoy." There's a reason there are laws mandating dogs be leashed as they walk along the sidewalk, and they aren't just to protect passers-by from vicious animals (which, of course, yours aren't), it's to keep your dogs, which are less intelligent, have poorer judgement, and can't see what's coming as well as we, from getting smeared all over the road.
In addition to the politeness you accord your dog by keeping it safe, there are your fellow humans. Many people fear or dislike dogs, and THAT IS OK. Those people deserve to share the trails, (non-dog) parks, and sidewalks with us secure in the knowledge that your pet is firmly in your grasp. "But my dog would never hurt anyone..." doesn't matter, those people don't know that! All they see is an unleashed dog coming towards them.
A Note On Leashes
Campbell, and most people who are experienced in the ways of dog care, are not huge fans of retractable leashes (here's an example of what a retractable leash is). When you use a retractable leash as you walk your dog, you are stretching an almost-invisible tripwire between you and your dog and endangering anyone who might not see that narrow cord as they attempt to pass. In addition, your dog isn't under great control, as the retraction alone isn't enough to tug your dog to you in a time of crisis — you'll have to retract as you dart back toward your dog and hope it all works. Keep everyone else who might have to walk by you and your dog safe by using a regular webbed leash, or splurge on a near-indestructible Rope For Rescues leash made from climbing ropes and help fund dog rescued from SF to Ecuador. ( I don't know those guys, I just love the leashes.)
Read The Room
As I just mentioned, not everyone loves dogs, and that's their right. If you have a dog that loves to run up to people as they go on their leashed walk down the street, don't assume that those people want to be run up to. Scan them for signs of fear or efforts to avoid your dog, and say something like "is it OK if he/she says hi?" if they don't look scared but aren't cooing a welcome. And if they say "I'd rather not" or whatever, respect that.
The same goes if you're with your pup at a parklet, dining al fresco, or anywhere else where people are seated. There are plenty of people who would love to say hello to your dog, but don't allow your pup to force themselves on others.
On Leaving Your Dog Tied Up Outside
We could talk about the safety, humanity, or legality (it's not) of leaving your dog tied up outside as you go grab a carton of milk, but this is a discussion of etiquette, not those things. So, again, I'll just say that when you leave your dog tied up outside, he or she is not in your presumably peerless and polite control, so rudeness will often ensue.
Here's an example: I was sitting on the bench outside my favorite coffee place eating a muffin when a guy tied his super-sweet Lab up and went inside. As soon as the guy was out of sight, the dog murphed my muffin, then took a piss on my leg. (I hear you laughing! Stop it, the pee was stinky and I really wanted that muffin!) The dog's guardian was so mortified, I felt pretty bad for him! But dogs, man, they do dumb stuff when you aren't there to control them. Yes, even yours. Why set yourself up for that?
I will let Campbell have the last word on this one, though. At the ACC, she says, "we hear about so many dogs that get hurt, killed or stolen while they're tied up while someone just goes in for a second. Leave them at home."
If Your Dog Harms Someone, Remain At The Scene
If you are out and about and your dog bites a person or another dog seriously enough to cause injury, Campbell says, the first thing you need to do is call 911. Don't you DARE take off, even if it was totally the other dog's/person's fault. Stick around, and calmly explain things to the police.
One thing that will make your life a lot easier if this happens is to go to the trouble of licensing your dog, as that is easily verifiable, visible proof that your dog has been vaccinated for rabies. (You can learn how to get a dog license here — I just got one for my new dog the other day and it took less than 10 minutes, start to finish.) If your dog isn't licensed, officers might seize your pup, Campbell says. You don't want that!
I am sure you have other etiquette advice for dog walkers, and I am eager to hear all about it in the comments! But I think we can all agree that much of being a polite dog guardian comes down to doing everything you can to reduce or eliminate the damage or harm your wonderful, adorable dog might cause the rest of the world. None of us are perfect, dog or human! But we are all in this thing together, and as long as we all continue to try our best to respect each other and get along, everything's going to be OK.