My clients have countless stories about off leash dogs coming after themselves or their pets. I’ve heard them and I’ve experienced it a few times myself. This past Monday I had a situation that I was completely unprepared to deal with and to be honest should never have happened.
I had been out of town for the long weekend and had some lovely family friends taking care of young Pointer. It was his first weekend as a solo dog and I was anxious to pick him up and see how he did. My friends don’t currently have a dog and did a great job of taking care him even though he had been slightly anxious without his pack around. When I pulled up into their driveway to pick him up I noticed a man with a large Rottweiler playing in the nearby children’s park. This violates bylaw in Calgary in that dogs are not permitted on or off leash in these areas. It is however a common occurrence so other than noting that they were there and seemed to be minding their own business I didn’t really think of it.
I loaded up my dog’s crate and belongings before returning to the house to get him. He wears a collar, gentle leader and leash. I made sure to put on his leash, as I didn’t want him getting overly excited and attempting to go visit the dog in the park. He’s usually pretty good about staying with me but why take an unnecessary risk.
I said goodbye to my friend and walked my dog the entire 12 feet from their front door to my Jeep parked right in their driveway. My dog was happy to go to the jeep and didn’t even notice the dog and man in the park. I had my back hatch open and he was ready to jump in when I saw the other dog running towards us across the street. The owner didn’t even attempt to call his dog. I could tell the approaching Rottweiler was coming in too fast to be friendly. I yelled him to attempt to deter him but he jumped on top of my top biting his head, neck, ear and even leg. My dog was secured by his leash and gentle leader and was unable to defend himself. I yelled and kicked at the other dog in an attempt to get him to back off. My friend came running from her home to assist but let’s face there’s not much too unarmed women can do against a dog this size and she was also pregnant. The man eventually made his way over and removed his dog. He never said a word to either of us. I checked over my dog. He was scared, bleeding from his ear and had puncture wounds and scratches along his head, neck and upper back. He also had a injury to his left front leg that I discovered the next day. I loaded my dog into my jeep and tracked down the man’s address once I saw which house he went into.
My dog is an intact male and other dogs before have attacked him. This generally happens in an off leash park setting and he’s showing discomfort before anything happens. He never instigates these events and continually the target of neutered males. This is however the first time my dog has been a significant distance away and not even looking at the other dog. This particular dog has very real dog aggression and his owner choose to run him off leash in a residential area where there are many neighbourhood dogs.
Now that some time has passed (a few days) and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve come to realize that I need to be prepared for an incident at all times. I do carry an air horn with me when I go for walks to help break up dogfights. When you work with aggressive dogs for a living you understand that sometimes accidents happen. We can’t always predict the behaviour of our own animals and definitely not someone else’s. In this situation it was not an accident and the other owner was fully in the wrong. He failed to have control of his animal and he placed his dog in a situation where everything could go wrong. My dog and I are going to suffer the consequences of this, as I’m fairly certain this has damaged my dog’s ability to trust and meet new dogs of this type. He took a full 24 hours to begin acting like himself again.
So why the blog post? For two reasons I want to educate the public on why we need to follow animal bylaws and also what to do when/if this happens to you or your dog.
We need to follow bylaws not because we’re at risk of being fined. It’s because the bylaws are designed to prevent aggression and allow dogs to live in a community in peace with each other and humans. Every single dog owner should be familiar with the bylaws in their area, which include leash laws, noise compliance and tethering. In Calgary, the leash laws are very specific and they are designed to keep everyone safe. Just because you feel your dog has strong obedience or is friendly doesn’t mean everyone else using the public spaces will feel safe around your dog. If I am walking my dog on leash it might be because he’s sick, not friendly or because I believe in following bylaws and my dog and I most likely don’t want to meet your dog while he’s off leash.
If your dog isn’t friendly with other dogs there are options for exercising, which include leash walking, hiking in remote areas on a long line and visiting a fenced area where you can safely run your dog and keep him/her away from others. Using a basket muzzle as a back up for safety would also make sense. It is your job to not put your dog in a situation where he/she feels they need to act aggressively towards other animals or people. If you can’t do this then you aren’t responsible enough to have a dog period.
If you have questions about responsible dog management and need help with behaviour modification for aggression please contact an appropriate dog trainer or behaviourist to help. Look for trainers who have their CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA or KPA certifications.
So what do you do when this happens? I can tell you from experience that these situations can occur quickly and you won’t always respond as well as you could. I definitely could have done a few things different when this dog came after mine. The first would be having my air horn on hand. I definitely did not think I needed it for 12 feet of walking but I did know the other dog was outdoors off leash and I could have had it just in case. I was only thinking about managing my dog and not that the other owner was not despite being shown evidence that he wasn’t following bylaw and therefore most likely wasn’t very responsible.
I did a great job of not putting my hands in between two fighting dogs, which is crucial to human safety. I could have attempted to grab the other dog’s hind end. At the time this seemed far too dangerous but in hindsight may have been more effective than kicking. I could always have directed the other owner on what to do however I am not completely convinced that would have jolted him into action. But it wouldn’t have hurt to try.
And finally I need to ensure that I am taking my dog out for walks and reinforcing him heavily when we see another dog that is similar. He needs to know I will protect him and that he is fine so that my own dog does not develop reactivity or dog aggression.