A few minutes ago, while I was idly looking out my living room window, I saw a youngish guy attempt to teach two terriers to heel on leash. We're not talking simply polite walking here; those two little dogs clearly were supposed to walk on each side of the guy, right at his heel.
One of the dogs clearly didn't get it. He was certainly walking politely, but if he ventured more than a foot in front of Nazi Trainer Dude, NTD would stop, back up several steps and wield the leash to yank the errant terrier back to him. He yanked hard, too; more than once, at least two of the dog's feet left the sidewalk. I winced at each yank.
I was too far away from NTD to do anything about this--but even if I'd been closer, I don't know that I would have. Certainly I would have wanted to. But NTD looked young and fit, and I don't know whether he'd have appreciated my attempts to help him or his dogs. A lack of appreciation could easily have turned ugly. And at 5'3" and only about 100 pounds, I'd have been no match for him.
One time, I did try to help in a similar situation. Allie and I were out walking when a leashed Great Pyrenees who was standing across the street with his owner began to bark at us. The Pyr's barking was understandable: We were across the street from his owner's property. But the owner, an elderly man, didn't appreciate the Pyr's attempts to sound the alarm. Instead, he began swatting the dog with the leash, yelling at him to be quiet. Allie, not to be outdone, barked back at the Pyr, at which point the man started swatting the dog even more. I yelled across the street, asking him to please not hit his dog, to which he responded that I should mind my own business. I got out of the area pronto (in tears as I vamoosed), but called Animal Control when I got home. Much to my surprise, Animal Control visited the man that evening and told him that he needed to find another way to discipline his dog. But for a solid year, I avoided walking by that man's house.
It's awful to see a dog being mistreated, and you want to do what you can to help. But figuring out when to interfere--and when not to--is a perpetually shifting target. I wish I had a better idea of how to score bulls-eyes.