Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This is not at all the post I was planning to write tonight. For one thing, I have several more Suzanne Clothier seminar recaps left to go, and for another, I had already started drafting one about the importance of routines for our reactive dogs. However, life has intervened, and I simply must talk about it.

When I got home from work today, I took Maisy for our usual afternoon walk. We generally follow the same path, and today was no exception. I headed up the same street we always take. The only real difference is that today I didn't have my iPod on. (Is it geeky to listen to dog training podcasts while I'm walking the dog?) I'm glad, too, because as we began to walk by a particular house, a large, dark grey dog came out of nowhere and bowled Maisy over. I didn't even see the dog coming- it was just all of a sudden there.

So, Maisy's on the ground, yelping, I'm holding on to her leash, which is inadvertantly jerking her around as she tries to escape, and there's this huge dog trying to do who-knows-what to her. I've got about a million thoughts running through my head: Should I drop the leash? How do I get this dog off? Is Maisy okay? How can I keep her safe? Does she know I'm trying to protect her?

In the end, I held on to the leash, though after an emergency call to one of my trainers, I decided that next time I'll drop the leash. She probably could have gotten away, and she has a darn decent recall; she would have come back. Getting jerked around on the leash only prevented her from protecting herself, probably hurt and/or scared her, and was probably not very helpful.

I also did something I feel awful about: I kicked the other dog. Hard. I'm really not one to use punishment, and I was pretty angry at the presumed owner for doing so just moments later... But it was a knee-jerk reaction, and it worked; the kick stunned the dog long enough that Maisy and I were able to get away. The probable owner then grabbed the other dog by its choke chain and briefly hung it off the ground. I wanted to tell him that wasn't going to help, but what could I say? I had just kicked his dog.

Did that help the situation? Or was I at risk of redirected aggression? Will that make the other dog worse in the future? What could I have done instead? Why haven't I bought that citronella spray yet, and even if I had it, would it have helped, or would it have stressed Maisy out even more? Did Maisy see my action as protecting or defending her, or did she see it as evidence that I might be a wee bit unstable? And, what else could I have done to help her feel like I had her back?

So far as the most important question, that of "Is Maisy okay?", well, only time will tell. She seems physically okay. She was limping slightly on her left rear, but she had a chiro visit yesterday with orders to take it easy for a week due to some issues we found, which means that that slight limp could have been unrelated to this incident. But I have no idea how she is emotionally. Her immediate response was pretty good; she bounced back quickly, and we walked away eating treats without too much stress. However, later in the walk, she froze and looked worried when she heard another dog bark. What kind of fall out will I see, and when?

And... was it really an attack at all? I'm not sure. It all happened so fast, and I'm just not that good at reading dog body language. Was it simply a very over-enthusiastic greeter? I suspect so, because if the dog had really wanted to do damage, he could have.

So, if it was just a dog being a dog, albeit a poorly mannered one, should I report this to animal control? The dog was off leash, and my city has pretty strict leash laws, at least on the books. But was he dangerous? If I report this, will his owners punish him again, or worse? Will they retaliate at me because I kicked their dog? At least they live several blocks away... I'll have to see if I can report anonymously, or at least have my name withheld.

As you can see, I have many, many questions, and very few answers.


elegy said...

I wouldn't feel guilty about kicking the dog. I know you well enough to be 100% certain that you were not kicking with intent to injure. You were kicking with intent to protect your dog with the only tools you had available. I'd have done exactly the same thing.

IMO, call animal control or the police and tell them what happened. Tell them that you don't want to make a big fuss or whatever, but let them know. It doesn't really matter all that much to your reactive dog what the incoming dog's intentions were. All she knows was OMG SCARY. The fight that Mushroom got into started exactly the same way- I don't think that dog's intentions were ugly from the beginning, but when my dog reacted with snarling, the fight was on. My dog was hurt, and I could have easily been hurt.

I reacted really really badly to that situation with Mushroom. And I know that my extremely poor reaction made his reaction even worse. He still has issues from it, and it's been years. I know that ever since then, I see another dog and I get scared and it goes right down the leash, and so he reacts. I wish that I could figure out how to work myself through that.

I'm so sorry this happened to you and to Maisy. I hope that you'll both recovery quickly from the trauma and the stress!

Crystal said...

Yeah, I think initially I was far more shaken up than Maisy, and I am concerned that I'll react poorly in the future... I guess only time will tell.

Megan said...

I think I would have handled it much the same way. Good or bad, you tried to protect your dog.

I hope that she's okay physically, and mentally. I totally get building up all that trust and wondering if it helped or hurt, and if it will still be there when you need it again. Very frustrating for everybody involved.

I feel like I need a "game plan" for the potential future unavoidable confrontations with a reactive dog. I bet your brain is working on one right now... I'll be interested to hear it.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

so sorry for you and Maisy!!!

Don't worry about the kick, you do whatever it takes to protect your dog and I would do the same thing in a serious fight. As an FYI I have learned from doggy daycare that the easiest and fastest way to break up a fight is to grab the hind legs of the nearest dog and fling them away. If you have their hind legs up in the air they have to stop what they are doing. There is risk of redirection though which is why I grab and swing the dog away. you can get citronella spray which is what we carry at daycare but I have never used it. It takes a while to get out and aimed and I can much faster break up a fight with the grab and swing. Plus in a serious fight it will likely not work. With an over friendly dog however it should work just fine.

What's done is done though so don't worry about what you should have done and what the possible fall outs will be. The more you stress about it the more Maisy will pick up on that. So try really hard not to think about what happened and keep doing what you were doing with Maisy's program.


M.T. said...

I agree that you do whatever it takes to protect your dog -- i have had to physically wrench a huge golden who set on my dog growling and snarling from no where off my dog before and was prepared to kick and punch and do WHATEVER if the dog did not stop.

I hope Maisy's alright ... it's just so heartbreaking when you've put so much effort into working with reactivity and then something like this happens! You wonder and worry about potentiall fallouts and then stress so much that it rubs off on your dog. It's happen to me several times where, like you, i don't really clearly recall what happened and what i should have done or whether i did the right thng, questionig myself back and forth. I think the best thing to do though, is just to "move on" from the incident as best as you can, carry on with what you were doing as someone else suggested and not try to stress too much about it. I do believe in the sayin gthat dogs live in the moment, and they don't necessarily dwell on incidents like that, even if they come away from it with unpleasant associations.

So sorry this happened, reading through your post just kept making me go: OMG, that was me! that was me! *HUGS*

trillium said...

You should be able to report it to animal control without the person knowing who made the report. Well what I mean is that your name won't show up on the report or ticket. That doesn't mean they won't think you were the one that reported them though because they will remember you are the last one that had an incident. (That they know about anyway.) That shouldn't stop you from making the report though.

I have my girls off leash quite a bit, (in an approved area at the fairgrounds. It's fenced and safe from traffic.) but they have a solid recall and there are rarely other dogs down there except for the ones that we play with regularly. One of those dogs (a lab, basset hound mix) doesn't exactly have great manners, and has knocked me down a couple times. She's overly friendly, and overweight so its a 80lb uncontrolled block hitting you at knee height. She's sweet as all get out, but if one of my dogs had been bowled over and was yelping I wouldn't hesitate to give her a kick and draw her attention away. I'm not sure I'd be able to let go of the leash though. Even with a good recall a scared, possibly hurt, maisy may not come back, or be easy to catch, and it was probably over too fast to really have a reaction. I hope maisy is ok. I've become very fond of her from afar.

Crystal said...

Stress? Who? Me?

I agree that it's (hopefully, probably) over in Maisy's mind, and that any stressing I do about it will probably be worse in the long run. But how the heck do I not stress about it?

Here's the thing: in my neighborhood, we have semi-regular run-ins with off leash dogs. And that doesn't bother me. Usually they come bounding over, but I have enough warning that I can tell Maisy to "switch sides" and body block the other dog away from her. I could also use citronella or something in that kind of situation.

Last night, though, there was no warning. The dog was just there before I saw him, so there was no switching, no body blocking, hell, even using citronella would have affected her as well as me. I'll have to try that grab and swing technique if I can remember- I would feel far better doing that than the kick that I ended up doing.

Boy and I glad I left the iPod at home.

Going forward... we'll try to have as regular as a schedule as possible, though perhaps we'll cross the street now. Extra treats on walks, and lots and lots and lots of counter-conditioning will be in order. Usually I just verbally praise her and give her a treat when there's another dog near/barking (like through a fence). Now it will be a constant flow from heaven for a few day.

Robin Sallie said...

Report it, Crystal.

Crystal said...

As soon as they're open. I called last night, but they'd closed at 5pm. I called the emergency number, but they said it could wait until today. There has to be bloodshed for anything to happen after hours.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. What a scary situation - glad you guys are both physically okay! Hopefully any other damage is minimal, too. I'm glad you posted about this; it is definitely something that anyone who walks a dog in a neighborhood needs to think about! (I know I have considered my 'emergency plan' as we've gotten to learn our new neighborhood and canine neighbors.)

Dawn said...

Heck, I kicked a dog away from Grace who attacked her during our agility class. The owner was pissed, but so was I. Citronella spray is not the way to go during a fight, its great if you can get the dog before they are on your dog, to stop it, but during an altercation you are as likely to get your own dog and that may make her less able to get away. It really depends on the situation. Back legs of the other dog is the best, if you can. But kicks, punches whatever it takes in my opinion is justified.

Bea said...

Quite recently I was walking my Aussie on leash in a heavily treed park where dogs are allowed off leash. Suddenly, two large standard poodles off leash (actually, no owner in sight) came charging at us. One growled at me and snarled at Patches. I stepped in between them and saw a third dog, a mastiff, barreling down the hill at us. All this happened in just a split second. Still no owner in sight, I was feeling quite alarmed. I grabbed a fistful of training treats (in every coat pocket!) and flung them over the heads of the growler and the mastif. Both dove for the treats. I quietly said, Let's go, and walked on. I also carry a very piercingly loud whistle that I might have used. I think that if you react quickly enough, a distraction can interrupt the activity just long enough to take control. Once dogs are physically in contact (fighting), rather than attempt to pull dogs off (in any fashion)or kick them, I would grab anything handy that I could throw at the dogs, again to interrupt the activity. I think the back legs technique is best left to experienced (and physically strong) dog people,which I'm not. It is extremely difficult to react calmly when you feel that you and/or your dog are under threat. I now mentally rehearse various scenarios and how I want to react to them so that I will feel more prepared. Patches and I still walk in that park and I need to feel confident and comfortable, after all, what fun is it walking your dog if you're constantly tense. I also try to put it in perspective: the majority of the dogs that Patches and I meet are not overtly aggressive: some are overly enthusiastic, most are OK.I hope that you and Maisy will not be overly affected by this and can return to enjoying your walks.

Anonymous said...

I would not feel a bit guilty kicking the other dog. My reaction to out-of-control dogs (friendly or not) getting in Faith's face is to kick them as hard as possible. (That sounds worse than it usually is since my aim is bad under pressure.) My only priority is to protect my dog. I'm really sorry you and Maisy went through that. :(