There are many things I love about being a woman. The perils of walking and traveling alone and the safety concerns that accompany it are not among them. As an avid hiker and a stubbornly independent person, this has always irritated me. I hate that constant, nagging feeling of unease. I hate having to double check for my pepper spray mid-hike or carry my keys between my fingers as I walk across a parking lot. I particularly hate getting catcalled, followed and leered at.
Then I got a German shepherd.
The catcalls were the first thing I noticed vanish as my little bundle of love grew into an 85-pound dog with a serious set of teeth. Then I realized that the leerers and catcallers crossed to the far side of the street to avoid passing me and my best friend. In fact, the majority of the people who approached me were suddenly small children and their mothers, or other young women, all of whom wanted to meet my fluffy sidekick. The change was amazing. Not only did I feel safer, but I started to think about what my dog was doing to make this possible and how I could use those tricks when she was not around.
I know, this probably seems like a no-brainer, but German shepherds, even polite ones like mine, are standoffish with strangers. All strangers. No exceptions. German shepherds don't cut anybody slack — except maybe small children with ice cream on their faces. I'm not saying you need to be rude to strangers you meet on the street, but my dog has definitely taught me to stop trusting people I don't know. Like my German shepherd, it is always best to stay guarded, even in seemingly safe situations.
When the sun goes down, the guard dog comes out. My dog is a firm believer that the night is full of dangerous possibilities. Our evening walks are done in a state of high alert, and she does not appreciate late-night knocks on the door. When I leave the house at night, I take some of this mentality with me. I constantly check my surroundings for anything suspicious and try to have a mental plan prepared just in case something does happen.
My dog does not like strangers in her space or in my space. She will back away and bark at people she deems suspicious (unless I instruct her not to), and will place herself between those same people and me if necessary. As it turns out, moving away from danger and making noise is pretty much what various self-defense teachers have told me to do over the years. If people can't reach you, they can't grab you.
Playing in the woods is the best thing ever, according to my dog, but even the best of times are not an excuse for letting down her guard. German shepherds can go from chasing tennis balls to full-blown guard dog mode (GSD lovers know exactly what I am talking about) in 0.0001 seconds. Unfortunately, this is also a necessary mentality for women who like to spend time alone. Is it fair that we need to be alert at all times? No. We can, however, stay alert and still enjoy ourselves, as my dog reminds me every day.
Guard dog breeds are dangerous. They know it. Other people know it. Respect is built on this understanding. My dog does not have to do anything. Her confidence and presence is a deterrent. I wish I could give off the same air of confidence as my dog. I haven't quite managed it yet, but by staying alert, aware and confident, I am working on overcoming my fears and avoiding uncomfortable situations.
The biggest thing my dog has taught me is that the buddy system works. I am not saying that women should not hike, travel or adventure alone. Given the option, however, I prefer to travel with my dog. There are lots of hotels that allow dogs these days, and plenty of dog-friendly hiking trails. I know I am safer with my buddy, and she couldn't agree more.
Protective dog breeds are not the solution to the problems women face. They can even be dangerous if not properly trained and socialized. For me, though, owning a "scary" dog has taught me that I should not only expect respect, but that I deserve it.
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