In the self defense community, there is the concept of being the “grey man”. What is a grey man and how might that apply to you and your dog? Being a grey man is acting and looking in a manner that tends to make you unnoticed. It means to go about in public such that you don’t draw attention to yourself or your dog. How might that be of benefit to you and your dog?
Reconnaissance And Planning Can Prevent Trouble
Before taking a trip with a dog, you can prepare for potential problems. You can go online and scope out where you might be walking with your dog. You can check out rest areas, parks, hotels, parking garages, streets, bridges, tunnels, trails, and event locations. You can use online maps to zoom in from above, or “drive” the streets to look around. Or let’s say you want to visit a weekly local farmer’s market with your dog. You could go there the week before and walk around to see if it is safe for you and your dog. Are there loose animals, and if so, what kind and where? Where would you park your car? Where would you take your dog, and where might you avoid taking your dog? What does the landscaping look like, where is the parking lot, where are the structures and fences and gates? Or if you are going to a national park, you can learn about the rules, setting, terrain and the wild animals so to ensure you and your dog are prepared and able to have a fun and safe trip. It might seem strange to most of you, but I do this kind of research, because of my own years of real world experience traveling with my dogs.
Avoiding Some People
There are a number of types of people you will want to avoid when with your dog. You can probably guess a number of situations that wouldn’t be good for a dog, or maybe not good for your dog.
For example, there’s no reason why an intoxicated stranger should meet your dog. Because I’ve been in public a lot with many dogs, if I spot someone who is high, I get the dog away from them. I’ve had intoxicated people try to feed, play with, touch, grab, growl at or tease, yell at, and/or hold onto dogs I’ve been with. One of the best defenses for trouble is to not be there in the first place. Another defense is to not be noticed or to gain enough distance so that you are beyond their attraction. Thus, I try to be aware, but blend in. I train so I don’t need to give my dog loud commands or create a scene trying to get my dog under control. I don’t engage with people if at all possible, and I already have things I can say to de-escalate any confrontations so we can get out of there. I plan for these encounters in advance, as best as possible, and I train my students to do the same. Years ago, I heard of an animal rescue volunteer who was the victim of an attempted sexual assault while out looking for a stray dog at night in a bad part of town. What if your dog got loose from you, would you be an attractive target to a thief or weirdo? Or would you be able to remain inconspicuous by your attire, gait, gestures and attitude?
Another aspect of this is not allowing your dog to become a nuisance and target for dog haters in your neighborhood. If you leave your dog outside to bark all night, you are making you and your dog a target for someone to retaliate against you. Similarly, don’t let your dog lunge and snarl at strangers behind or fence or on leash on walks. Don’t be someone who gets a reputation for having a goofy dog. Be a good dog owner and neighbor and avoid standing out as having a problem dog. Properly supervise, train, and contain your dog and avoid problems from other people.
Avoiding Other Animals
You are taking your dog for a walk and you spot an off leash dog across the street. You don’t know that dog, you don’t know what would happen if that dog came face-to-face with your dog. What if that dog isn’t friendly with strangers, meaning you? Or let’s say it is a larger wild animal, such as a deer, elk, bear, moose, coyote, or javelina? Or you are walking through a farm or rural property and see a loose cow, bull or horse? What should you do? While there is no correct answer every time, there are some options to consider.
If I don’t trust the safety of being around that other dog or animal, I will generally recommend using concealment to avoid alerting that other dog to you or your dog’s presence. I will start positioning behind any available barriers. For example, I have moved to the other side of a car, behind a lawn hedge, over a raised berm, into a ditch, around a corner, behind a gate, if close to home I will go inside my fence or going inside my home, or inside a building.
I will also not move fast enough to get the other animal’s attention. Animals notice movement, especially fast movement. So, I prefer to glide along and out of sight. I also minimize any noise I might create.
Years ago, I was on vacation and staying the night in Gardiner, Montana. I took my dog for her evening walk after dinner. I don’t remember the time, but it was dark and I could see the stars up above. About a half mile from the motel, we encountered a bull elk about 50 yards ahead. Fortunately, my dog was well socialized and trained, and we slipped away, by turning a corner, without being seen. I was the grey man, we left that situation whole and well. But, that could have been a bad situation. I hadn’t even considered that I could run across a wild animal at night because back home we didn’t see those kinds of situations. It was a lesson learned. If I had been better prepared, if I had considered that I was staying adjacent to a national park, that bull elk or some other large animal could not have been in proximity to have charged me or my dog, I could have had some pre-planned options to get away or do something different.
I remember the account of a Rottweiler at a veterinarian’s office in Seattle. They had rescued this dog off the streets and wanted to find it a home. It had done well at the vets office, even around all the other animals and people in the facility. One night, one of the vet techs took the dog for its end of day walk after hours. Across the street, another person was walking a little fluffy dog. When the fluffy dog saw the Rottweiler, it freaked out and started barking aggressively. The Rottweiler broke away from the vet tech, attacked and killed the little fluffy dog. The vet practice apologized to the owner of the little fluffy dog and paid them an undisclosed sum of money. They then decided the Rottweiler was a liability and not adoptable, and so they killed him. If the owner of the little fluffy dog had worked to be the grey man, had seen this big dog and/or knew their little fluffy dog would react that way, they could have hidden behind a barrier, or they could have seen if those reactions could have been solved through behavior modification before taking their dog on walks in public. The little dog would have never been killed and the Rottweiler would have found a new home.
Don’t Be Paranoid, Instead Be Prepared
What I don’t want is for you to be so concerned that you never take your dog anywhere. That’s the wrong way to approach this grey man concept. What I do want you to do is to consider how to not be targeted by animals or people who might cause you or your dog trouble. With a little careful consideration and a bit of effort, you can have a peaceable dog ownership experience. I recommend part of the way to get there is to take on the role of the grey man with your dog.