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Sunday, September 25, 2011

My dog is a better person than I

I don't know what's in the air today but Abbey and I were under attack twice during our Sunday morning stroll.
Abbey is a "recovering" reactive dog. In the months that she has been a part of our family she has come a long way, in part because we confront our demons every day and go towards our problems, so that we may work on them. I try to encounter dog-full situations at least once a day. During our walks in and around parks and neighborhoods, we not only pass politely when faced with other leashed dogs, but we have to have a plan when unleashed dogs are before us.
Most dog owners take note when they see me working to focus Abbey's attention on me. On narrow paths I move off to one side, turn her to face me and put her into a sit until the loose dog has passed. Sometimes I announce pleasantly, "We need a little space, if that's O.K. with you?" What I really mean is, "Can't you see I need you to reel in your effing dog?" The ones who are the most oblivious actually answer, "Oh, my dog is very sociable" Then I am obliged to be more specific 'My dog is not, and I am trying to avoid a problem". (Moron, not said out loud).
This has occurred often enough that I have pre-calculated certain situations in my head. Based on the fact that there are city ordinances, backed up by clear signage stating that all dogs must be leashed, if Abbey were to bite another un-leashed dog, (that got into her face) she would be in the clear. I certainly don't want that to happen but some of those "I'm on the phone and clueless" dog-walkers really get on my nerves and you just know that any children they have are equally spoiled and ill-mannered.
This morning, as we were peacefully walking along in a residential area near our home, I heard frantic calling, barking and the scrabble of dog nails on cement, that was accelerating towards us from a long driveway that we had just passed. Two Chihuahua mixes of the "teeth on a leash" variety had seen us go by and escaped the control of a woman and her young son to hurl themselves at us with the worst of intentions.
We've had moments in the past when another dog rushes up barking and provoking. We maintain our forward momentum and I keep Abbey on a tight leash, telling her to watch me, not the other dog, which is usually enough to diffuse the situation.
Today was a bit different. Our six-pound adversary was snarling and hurling himself at Abbey, with the encouragement of his ten-pound, "Show me where you want me. I've got your back", pack-mate. Ferocious Piraña-Teeth gnashed my shoe laces undone and grazed my shins on his way to latch onto Abbey's furry rear end. We were spinning, to keep them from being engaged face to face and the centrifugal force whirled our protagonist on an orbit, a couple of feet off the ground until he landed and spat out the bushy tail hair that he had detached from my poor girl.
Several clear thoughts went through my mind as I decided what I was going to do. "Protect my dog" was one. Even though Abbey outweighed her attacker by seventy-five pounds, she was leashed, expected to live up to be the dog we aspire her to be and there were two of them, so pack mentality rules were against her. I started kicking out anytime I could target one of the other dogs. I connected a few times but, after each short flight through the air, El Jefe kept on diving back in.
There was a moment when Abbey had the Chihuahua in her jaws and pinned on his back. Thought number one "He deserves to die". Thought number two "My dog doesn't need that on her resume" and we were up and spinning some more. By then the dogs were tiring, and/or getting tired of being kicked and they were a few feet away looking for an unguarded opening. The owner and her son had caught up and were each able to grab a dog.
Profuse apologies followed and, thankfully, no physical damage was done in the melee. As soon as the other dogs were corralled by the owners, I was amazed at how docile and relaxed Abbey was. She was obviously a bit perturbed by what had happened, looking for reassurance that she'd done the right thing but, as obviously, willing to accept that I was her guardian and she didn't have to take charge.
Our second scary moment was a mile or so later when we came upon a couple of dogs playing together on a front lawn. I know both dogs and owners by sight. They are novice dog owners with sturdy young untrained doggie hooligans. One is a Rottweiler mix and the other a German Shepherd mix. I could see them before they saw us and I called to the man who was with them to ask if he could get them under control so that I could pass. As soon as the dogs noticed Abbey and I they ran over aggressively barking and threatening. The one owner who was present had no apparent influence over either dog and yet he had unleashed his dog so that it could play with the other one on a public street.
If Abbey had responded with any aggression we would have had a serious battle on our hands. Those dogs were both bigger than her, although they were not as dastardly as the Chihuahuas. They were more bullying to see what trouble they could start. My technique, in a tight spot, is to keep Abbey moving and distract her with commands. I can't use treats in a close quarters situation in case the presence of food makes the conflict worse. We walk a few steps and turn to heel and repeat, staying in one spot so that the other human can catch up and get his wits about him. Canine protagonists often lose interest if the dog they are after does nothing to engage them. It worked in our favor this time and they went back to wrestling each other on the grass.
This encounter made me really mad. This was not an accident, it was negligence and could have ended badly. I told the man he had no business having any dog off leash in public if he didn't have it under voice control, which he so obviously never would.
So much for a peaceful Sunday stroll. I wasn't out looking for an adrenaline rush, but that's what I ended up with. The more I think about it, the more pleased I am with Abbey. She had ample opportunity and excuse to take a bite out of someone today. She actually had that darn Chihuahua in her mouth, and yet there was not a mark on him. I'm a proud Mama. Abbey is a good dog.


  1. It's frustrating how quickly "But he's fine! He just wants to play!" can progress to "Wow, he's never done that before."

    Some people shouldn't own pet rocks. Glad you and Abbey got through it okay.

  2. Makes you want to wear steel toed boots when out walking in your neighborhood. You have every right to at least some anger. Dog owners have a responsibility. You understand and accept that; lots of pet owners do not. It sounds like all the work with Abbey is paying off.
    Congrats to you and to Abbey.

  3. Merry, I've heard that a few too many times, for sure.

    TechnoBabe, the steel toed boots suggestion made me smile. If it gets that bad, I think I'll quit. It was a testing day for Abbey and she sure passed the test. Good to know.

  4. I think you both deserve a treat... maybe some Chihuahua flavored dog biscuits for Abbey ?

    People who let their dogs run loose should be arrested, fined, and have their dogs confiscated. They are a scourge.

    Maybe you should think about carrying a can of pepper spray or something similar ? (your choice to use on either the aggressive dog or on the aggressive dog's owner...)

    Hope all is well with you and your other half. With a little luck I may just be seeing someone you know tomorrow, in a city known for its lights...

  5. Some people really should not keep pets. You, being a dedicated dog owner, have trained your dog and gotten to know her so you can try and avoid troublesome situations. It is no accident Abbey passed this test. You both deserve a pat on the back. I hope all is well for you and your husband.

  6. My heart is racing, blood pressure up, after reading this. I am not sure if you read my post long time ago about the attack on Bonbon and Abby when I was walking them by two unleashed running dogs (a blue heeler and a pit bull mix). It happened only one month after we rescued our Abby and she had a gash on her neck that required 13 stitches. Bonbon actually pulled out of her collar and ran for home, at which point the dog that had bit her (26 deep puncture wounds) doubled up on Abby. The owners finally came upon the scene about the same time a neighbor had called the police on her cell. It was a second offense for those dogs and they were put down the next day. The owners had to pay our (not-too-low) emergency vet bill. This was in 2007 and to this day I have not walked the dogs without my husband. Bonbon never has been the same and Abby is arthritic now and could never withstand another attack. And me? I don't think I ever got over the shock of it either. And the owners of those dogs? Oh, yes, they have two more now--both real sweeties, thankfully, because (you guessed it) they are exercised sans leashes in the school yard that our dog walks encircle and cross through. Unbelievable.

    I think your Abbey is a fine and good girl. And, once again, I applaud your patience, expertise, care, and love for these dogs who need you very much. Thank you.

  7. Owen, this was an aberration, the first (two) such incident(s) in 8 months. I forgive the Chihuahuas, I suspect the young boy made a mistake with letting them out. It was not intentional. The other guy was an idiot and who knows what the solution is there? I just wish we could neuter him so that he doesn't reproduce. Enjoy your encounter with my buddies, just remember I saw them first. Tell them I miss them.

    e, thank you. Funnily enough the people I joined up with afterwards so that our walk would end on a positive note, are two women who have to work hard on the manners of their dogs. Dogs can always tell when other dogs have good leadership, (or none, as the case may be).

  8. OMG. This is the kind of nightmare that I envision happening with Reub some day on a walk;unfortunately we've come close to these kinds of situations too often. I've actually had people call out to me after I pull off the path, put him in a sit, and then ask them to leash their dog; "It's OK!! My dog needs to learn a lesson anyway!"

    After all our work with him, I don't want anything else on his resume either. Abby did great, and you are rightfully proud of her. I want that for Reub, too.

  9. A very good dog indeed. Those other dog owners need a whupping. Or at the very least some dog control lessons. For a suitable fee I think you should offer.

  10. You have an excellent dog there. That's how I like them and train mine to be too.
    I find small dogs are the worst offenders, Jack Russells in particular, can get very aggressive. Large dogs amble over and plainly say "play with me" and when Benno, who was never trained to play, refuses by turning his back, they usually leave him be.

    I know you are still training Abbey, bur would she have welcomed a tumble with the larger dogs, or were they definitely on the warpath?

    I am often sorry that Benno doesn't understand 'play', I'd love him to play with other dogs known to both of us.

  11. Oh Lord, ER, my heart was racing. Such descriptive prose - I swear it was me holding Abbey's leash!!!

    I learn a lot from you, about dogs and otherwise. My instinct with Noa, the extra-large Malamute, is to do more or less the same thing when encountering other dogs, although he is nothing but friendly. Still, at 115lbs with a pull mechanism that could overwhelm the strongest owner, he mustn't be allowed to give free rein to his social excitement. But I am pleased to have more information about the correct way to react in such situations, which we are bound to encounter once in a while.
    I'm very- as in a lot- impressed with your work with Abbey. And I do love your stories.

  12. Lydia, I had not read your story but it sounds much worse than mine. I was most concerned that it would have negated all of our training. Apparently not.

    Kerry, I imagine your Reub has similar issues. These things take on a life of their own once begun.

    Steve, even though you're not a dog owner you must encounter the same mentality with parents who do not take responsibility for their kids. It's selfish to be that ignorant.

  13. Friko,Abbey's first reaction when meeting another dog used to be one of attacking and biting. We are now able to walk in public without creating a noisy barking, lunging scene and without endangering other dogs, in normal situations. Abbey can be introduced and accept other dogs based on gradually building trust. She'll never romp with strangers. It's too great a risk. However, she is being gradually integrated into a home with another dog.

  14. Deborah, the prong collar makes all the difference. We don't fight one another. If I need control, I have it, otherwise a loose leash and voice commands are enough.

  15. arrrggghhh, don't get me started on responsible dog handling, that's an alien concept over here :( hope it hasn't messed up all your hard work.

  16. A good dog indeed! What a good girl.

  17. I'm learning loads from these posts of yours and must admit, my heart was in my mouth reading this. It must be rewarding when the hard work pays off and frustrating when other don't put any thought or effort in.

    Kudos to you both.

  18. trudi,another thing that I don't miss about France. Thanks for reminding me.

    Birdie, It all could have been so much worse.

  19. Argent, I'm learning as I go along too. Animals can teach us so much. Thanks.

  20. I really, really need your dog whispering self to come to the prairie and teach me how to get my dog to stop seeing his role as my protector. When we go for walks, he regards other dogs like I am Katie Holmes and he is Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp is hitting on me.

    I have tried every trick in the dog books I have. Nothing works. Somehow I have a feeling that you'd have this worked out in minutes, perhaps seconds.

  21. Maria,
    It sounds much like where I started out with Abbey. The foundation is to walk him on a leash all the time for an indoctrination period. It sounds as though you live in the country, so this might not be what you usually do.
    Lots of walking to heel, turning, rewarding with treats and praise. Some more relaxed moments but often, when he is four-six feet away (end of leash) say "COME!". If he turns immediately, run a few steps backwards to make it more exciting, lots of high praise and end with him in a SIT in front of you and treat. If he doesn't come right away, BAM! a short sharp leash correction, followed by what I just described above. It won't take him long to get with the program. The goal is that, he is tuning in to you, because you might just be planning something exciting at any moment. This will also reinforce recall when you really need it. High value treats get high value results.
    You are his leader. He doesn't ever get to decide who to look at or who to interact with without checking with you first. "Leave-it!" is your command if you see another dog in the distance. Initially accompanied by the leash correction. If he looks right at you (What the hell, Mom?) praise and say "Watch me" at the same time your treat hand sweeps in front of his nose and up to your face. You can combine with turning so that he follows you or sitting, either of which face him away from his target and focus in on you. It doesn't matter if you have to wait and have him sit until other dogs go by. Use large treats that he can nibble at but stay connected to your hand. He will not only learn that he must listen to you but you are reinforcing an association between strange dogs and good experiences.
    Abbey has taken 8 months to date and is now dieting to remove the 10 pounds she put on in positive-reinforcement finishing school. The prong collar is a must. I couldn't have handled her otherwise. Now it's just a safety valve she rarely needs a correction. I have an email link in my profile. If you want more examples or to tell me about specific issues come on by.

  22. I just found your blog and I enjoy the way you write. I look forward to more, especially stories about Abbey.

  23. Stephen, thanks for your kind comment. Abbey had another big day yesterday. If I can summon the energy, I'll write about it.