I actually had a completely different blog post prepared for this week. Instead, I am going to post about something that happened to me last weekend. This occurrence was bad and a bit traumatic, but it could have been a lot worse.
I live in somewhat of a rural area. It's one of those towns where they say “don't blink or you'll miss it.” On Sunday I took my dogs for a walk and turned left, which meant that I was out of town within the equivalent of about two city blocks. The dogs and I walked about ¾ of a mile and returned to head home. That was plenty of walking as it was starting to get pretty warm out.
I was almost home, and across the street from a farmhouse, and not really thinking too much more than just getting home and cooling off, when suddenly I felt Quinn's leash pull towards the road. My first thought was that he saw a rabbit or a squirrel, I turned to look at him and saw that there was a very large American Bulldog that had come from the farm across the street and now had his jaws attached to Quinn's shoulder.
In that same second, I also realized that I didn't see any people anywhere within sight. My brain triggered a real mix of panic, and calmly thinking “oh s*** now what do I do?” I had 60lb Quinn with a bulldog attached to his shoulder, and I also had Whimsey who only weighs 25lbs. All different scenarios flashed through my head, including the dog going for Whimsy and possibly injuring or even killing both dogs.
As I started screaming “get your dog, get your dog”, I was thinking at the same time about how I was going to handle this all by myself without getting injured myself. As the owner of the bulldog finally showed up, the bulldog released its grip on Quinn. Quinn immediately grabbed on to the dog's neck. If you think about it, it’s a good defensive strategy. The other dog couldn’t get to Quinn if he was being restrained by the neck.
The owner grabbed a hold of his dog’s collar, I grabbed Quinn's collar, and I made the comment that the other owner should not pull his dog away or his dog would become even more injured. The other owner advised me to twist Quinn's collar and cut off his air supply so Quinn would gasp and let go. But I've had enough training to know that that isn't always the most effective thing to do.
As a matter of fact, I can highly recommend that anyone with a dog watch Michael Shikashio and Trish McMillan’s defensive dog handling webinar. From watching them both in a seminar, and reviewing the webinar several times I knew that the best thing to do was to “feed the bite.” In other words, push Quinn's head in towards the other dog so that he needed to open his mouth to get a better grip and then pull him off. That's what I did, and it did work.
As angry and upset as I was, I did not yell at the other owner or make any negative comments. I think I was in shock. To the credit of the owner, he did offer to give me his name and phone number in case Quinn was in need of veterinary care. However, the fact of the matter is that this incident was the other owner's fault. My dogs were on leash, and his dog left his property and crossed the road to get to my dogs.
When I got home I looked Quinn over, and he had some minor scrapes, but miraculously wasn't seriously injured and didn’t need veterinary care. But thinking about it, the situation could have been so much worse. Quinn could have been seriously injured, or even killed. That dog probably outweighed him by about a good 10 or 15 lbs. Had the dog chosen to go for Whimsy instead, she could easily have been killed, as she's only a 25lb dog.
So that's the story from the other day, but that's actually not Quinn's entire story.
Raising a dog with dog aggression issues
Quinn is actually dog reactive/aggressive. I think part of it is genetic, part of it may be from developmental impairment from before I got him, and certainly much of it is from his experiences throughout his life.
I adopted Quinn when he was about 12 weeks old from a rescue. Prior to that he was in an animal shelter with several other litter mates, and I don't know what his life was before that. A lot of research has shown that pregnant female dogs who are stressed have a high likelihood of giving birth to puppies that will be less likely to have coping skills, and suffer from anxiety as adults. Research also shows us that newborn puppies who experience severe stress developmentally will have problems.
As a dog trainer I did all the things that you were supposed to do. Quinn went to puppy class, and participated in puppy play time appropriately. At a young age he did show a lack of confidence, but I did not realize that it was going to develop into such serious issues as he aged.
At about 6 months of age he started to show selectiveness in the types of dogs that he liked to interact with. In particular he seemed to be very unsure and nervous about dogs that were his size or bigger than him.
As time went on and it got worse, I implemented behavior modification so that instead of lunging at dogs that were 15 feet from us, he eventually could walk past them and ignore them. It was a lot of hard work, and I was proud of his progress. I also managed Quinn so as to prevent him from engaging with other dogs unless they were dogs that he knew, or were friendly dogs that were much smaller than him.
Unfortunately, all of my strict management wasn't enough. Because as much management as I was willing to implement, I could not count on other dog owners to do the same. Several times during adolescence Quinn was assaulted by other dogs that were bigger than him.
I remember one specific incident in which we were returning to my car after a hike. I saw a woman in the parking lot unload a Labrador retriever, and knowing that it was going to be a dog that Quinn would not want to interact with, I left the path to go behind a pine tree in an attempt to reach the parking lot without passing that woman and her dog.
Unfortunately, the woman had decided to hike her dog off leash. The dog left the trail, targeted us, slammed right into Quinn and knocked him over, and proceeded to straddle him growling and muzzle punching him in the chest. The woman called him, and didn't even apologize, she just kept walking.
Incidents like these taught Quinn that other dogs coming into his space are not safe.
Over the years there have also been many incidents with so-called friendly dogs. I only hike in places where dogs are required to be on leash, but that doesn't mean that other owners are considerate enough to keep their dogs leashed. On too many occasions to even count I have encountered off leash dogs on hiking trails, with owners who refuse to call their dogs back to them and leash them up. Some of them try to reassure me that their dogs are friendly. And when I tell them that my dog is not friendly, I get the feeling they think I'm a bad owner.
Unfortunately, with every interaction like this, Quinn has learned that loose dogs are unpredictable, and he cannot count on me to keep them away from him. And because of this, he has learned skills to protect himself, such as the bite and hold with the bulldog.
Defensive tools for dog walking
When the incident happened the other day, I had to give quite a bit of thought as to what to do about future situations. The easiest thing to do would be to not take Quinn for a walk. I can't count on dogs being leashed at parks, and I obviously can't count on dogs being contained in yards in my neighborhood. There is no place that I can go where I am assured that we won't encounter an off-leash dog.
But what quality of life would that be for Quinn? This is a dog who spins and circles and jumps for joy when he sees me get leashes out. He loves going for a walk. It's not fair to him to prevent him from enjoying what he loves to do so much, simply because other owners are irresponsible.
On the other hand, I do want to protect him from feeling that the world is unsafe and that other dogs are going to be dangerous to him. In addition, as annoyed as I am by people who let their dogs run loose in areas that they shouldn't be, I am also concerned that Quinn will seriously hurt somebody else's dog. Even if it's not my fault, my dog should not be placed in a situation where he feels unsafe, and somebody else's dog should not have to pay the price for the owner’s irresponsibility.
I finally decided to purchase a product called Spray Shield. It's a small can of citronella oil that sprays a stream up to 10 ft away. The product is made specifically to deter other dogs from approaching you by spraying the citronella oil at them.
Other people might be upset if I spray their dogs, but they would be even more upset if they needed to take their dog to the vet because Quinn was defending himself. I cannot count on other people to do the right thing with their dogs, and so therefore I have to take matters into my own hand and take care of my own dog.
If you have read this far, thank you. If you have a dog like Quinn, I have a great deal of empathy for you and please know you are not alone in your struggles. If you have only lived with dog-friendly dogs, please understand that those of us with dogs that aren’t are doing the best we can, and the behavior is not necessarily due to anything we did to cause it. And please be considerate and keep your dog on leash in areas where they are supposed to be.