I hate to write this because it was mildly traumatic, but if I could ever figure out how to get this blog to come up in search engines more than my handful of friends may come across it, which I would like because 1.) I’d love for people dealing with similar situations – i.e. a suddenly disabled dog – to read Alec’s story (from the beginning when things were so scary, to know things can get a lot better) and know there is hope, and 2.) I hope people who walk around with their dog off-leash may see this and possibly reconsider that choice!
First of all, Ali is fine (however, because I need to protect his back for the rest of his life, “fine” may not always be something I can see, if you know what I mean. Any damage done internally after a scuffle will not be immediately obvious). Here’s what happened: I took Ali outside for his morning pee in his Walkabout Harness. I had just woken up and had not even had coffee yet. We were in my front yard and had just descended the little hill onto the sidewalk in front of my apartment and got ready to turn the corner (where there is more grass) when I saw a woman walking with a black lab mix who was off-leash. Now, in the past I admit I have had a tendency to almost panic in these situations (but who could fault me for being a little overprotective of Ali after his multiple surgeries? Still, I know it’s time to stop “babying” him and let go of some of that fear) but recently I have been practicing projecting a calm, assertive energy while on walks and in public, which has actually been very effective, thank you Cesar Milan, aka Dog Whisperer. The thing is, this all happened REALLY fast. So the dog sees us, he was only a few car lengths away, pretty close, and immediately bolts toward us. I tried to be calm “Call your dog.” …but the dog keeps coming… “Call your dog!” …and not looking friendly at all…”CALL YOUR DOG!” and then the dog was upon us growling and snarling and trying to get at Ali (who at this point in growling and trying to lunge as well – who can blame him?!) and that’s when my calm assertive energy went out the window.
I tried really hard to put myself between Ali and the lunging dog, but if you can picture the Walkabout harness (it is like a pair of pants over his hind legs with handles on top so I can support his back end), I am holding Ali’s hindquarters up by the handles of the harness so am in a very bad position to defend him. My hands are basically tied – one on his leash, the other on his rear harness, all the while trying to keep the other dog away while making sure Ali stays on his feet. God, it was awful! And the dog was not friendly at all; as soon as he reached us he bared his teeth and started snarling and snapping, trying to bite Ali from different angles, lunging like a snake, as I pivoted to keep myself between them. It all happened so fast but it seemed like an eternity before the owner finally got there and pulled the dog off. What was she doing this whole time? Yelling, “Bear! Bear!” to absolutely no avail. The dog did not even glance toward her one time after he saw us and bolted. I have gone over it in my mind and am still not sure how I should have reacted. This type of thing has happened before (although this was one of the top scariest “incidents” because he was in his harness and way more vulnerable than when he is in the cart…and even in his cart he is pretty dang vulnerable considering how easily it can tip over), so I now carry pepper spray when we walk. However, there was no time for the pepper spray, if I even had it on me (I think I actually had left it inside because we were just going out in the yard). Again, we were right in front of my apartment, not even on a walk. So I used my voice to try to scare the dog off, but he did not even hear me. Once they get into that frenzied state, it is pretty much too late. If this were a normal situation, i.e. one where my hands were free and Ali was not wearing a harness, I would have made sure to get between the dogs and I really think this would have been possible because Ali has actually gotten a lot better about this since I have been working with him on our walks to ignore other dogs. The complicating factor was the harness. I feared if I dropped it, Ali would fall over. He is doing great but in a situation like a dog fight, his body is going to contort in ways in should not. So I was not letting go! But that left me with no hands and no leverage. So, the whole thing was basically scary and sucked and then I had to worry that my position as pack leader in Ali’s eyes would be compromised, meaning he will want to take similar situations into his own paws again, and I would not blame him, because dog psychology says your pack leader should defend you and if not, well then you need to step up and take the job. The dog psychology stuff is another discussion, and Ali was not actually bitten by this dog (thank goodness!!), and as Cesar says (I have become quite the Dog Whisperer devotee of late; I think he is awesome), you can’t live in the past but must keep moving forward so I was very conscious not to take that fear with me on out next walk and future outings in our front yard…because Ali will feel my nervous energy, which will only feed his defensiveness around other dogs. So it goes.
The denouement: the woman finally got “Bear” back on his leash and apologized saying “he has never done anything like that before.” – and P.S. this is exactly why you should never have your dog off-leash unless you are in a designated off-leash area (most cities have plenty of these off-leash parks, and that is the place for your experiment, not my street!), because the truth is you simply don’t know how your dog is going to react in all situations – I have seen it over and over and over – unless your dog is under your complete control in public. I have noticed most people erroneously think their dog is under control, until their dog sees something more attractive than staying by their side and bolts away from them, sometimes into the street. It only takes one “mistake” for a dog to get hit by a car and killed. I have seen that happen too. Regarding people misjudging their dog’s temperament, I saw this time and again when I took Ali in his cart to the park in Petaluma. People said their dogs were friendly (which they probably were in most situations) so I let them approach, then they saw Ali’s wheels and tried to attack him because they had a reaction (which of course their owners could not predict) to the strange object – his wheels. Enough times of this and I bought pepper spray and began avoiding other dogs in earnest.
So here is my plea to people who like to stroll around town with their dog off-leash:
Please, please, please obey the laws of common sense and keep your dog on a leash when walking in a public space. There are too many factors at play. Here are four:
1.) Your dog may not be as friendly as you think. Ali and I have gotten run up on by clearly aggressive dogs so many times while their lackadaisical owner yells inconsequentially in the background, “He’s friendly! He’s friendly!” Newsflash: No, he’s not!
2.) Even if s/he is friendly, charging up to another dog (especially one who is on leash) is considered extremely rude in the dog world and will be taken as a challenge by all but the most submissive dogs. In other words, your “friendly” dog can easily trigger a fight with his/her incorrectly socialized behavior. I would be highly alarmed if a stranger of the human kind– no matter how “friendly” they may be – started running toward me while I was walking down the street and then proceeded to grossly invade my personal space. Your strange dog running up to us is no less alarming.
3.) Okay, let’s assume your dog is the friendliest, most mellow fellow in all situations, no exceptions. It actually doesn’t matter because my dog may not be! And that’s okay. Most modern domesticated dogs have one or several behavioral issues, either from irresponsible breeding, an unbalanced upbringing, ongoing unintentional reinforcement of unwanted behaviors by well-meaning but imperfect owners, a history of abuse and/or neglect…and the list goes on and on. There are many reasons why dogs living in human society are often unbalanced. This goes especially for those of us who adopt and rescue dogs with unknown histories, or known troubled histories. But those dogs deserve a chance too, and they have every right to be out enjoying a walk IF – and this is a big, important “if” – their guardian has them under control. Everyone has the right to be out in public without being accosted by a loose dog.
4.) Finally – and to me most importantly – my dog may be recovering from a back injury. Let’s forget for the moment the fact that our dogs may get into a scuffle. Ali is not even allowed to play with other dogs now; it is one of the most risky activities for his back especially since he tends to play rambunctiously. There is no way I can explain this to you in the three seconds it takes your dog to run up to us so please, please please… keep your dog on a leash? Thank you!