Thursday, October 21, 2010
Protecting Our Dogs, Part 1: Making Decisions
Writing about our awesome new place to walk earlier this week must have jinxed us, because Maisy and I encountered two loose dogs there the day after I posted about it. Thankfully, these were friendly dogs out on a romp, not the frustrated, aggressive ones we’ve encountered in our own neighborhood.
Even so, I found this upsetting, because there is no reason for Maisy to have to put up with rude dogs simply because they “want to say hi,” and there is no reason for me to require her to do so, even if the other dog’s owner says he’s friendly. Suzanne Clothier has written a wonderful article about this. Although I agree that Maisy would be within her rights to defend herself against rude dogs, I have come to believe that it is my job to protect Maisy from having to do so.
This means that I have developed some strategies for protecting her. I thought it might be helpful for others to read about what I do, and I know it will be helpful for me to read about what you guys do. That said, this topic is bigger than I can adequately cover in one post, so today, I’d like to discuss the decisions that need to be made before taking action. Although I’m primarily writing this from the perspective of protecting Maisy from other dogs, I will mention other situations where applicable.
The first step is to figure out how much protection your dog needs. If you have one of those mythical “normal” dogs, he might be able to emotionally withstand rude greetings. My dog, however, cannot. She’s been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and has fear issues. Beyond that, though, she is small and physically vulnerable due to her long back and poor structure. Larger dogs- even if they are friendly- could easily hurt her during an overly-exuberant greeting.
As a result, I have a no-tolerance policy with loose or out-of-control dogs: I spray first, and ask questions later. This has not made me popular with their owners, and I have been yelled at. Frankly, I think I’d feel the same way if our roles were reversed, so I carefully consider the risks involved if I choose to let Maisy off-leash in a place where it is not permitted. (I never take her to designated off-leash areas.) I also try to communicate with other owners whenever possible, and always ask them to keep their dog away from mine.
I absolutely love the owners who extend me the same courtesy by asking me if their dogs can greet mine. I usually say no, explain why, and thank them for asking. I only say yes if Maisy seems especially interested and the other dog is either small or extremely calm. This is definitely something you need to think about in advance, though, because it is easy to feel pressured and agree without fully considering the matter.
As a side note, I no longer allow children I don’t know to interact with Maisy at all. Most kids will scream “puppy!” and start chasing after her. I have found that it is easy to stop them by stepping in between them and Maisy, holding up my hand like a traffic cop, and loudly and firmly saying “Stop!” I also decline when children ask if they can pet her. I used to try to coach them on how to interact with her, but found that they rarely listened to me, and that even when they did, Maisy seemed stressed.
Anyway, once you’ve decided which situations require an intervention, you need to decide how you will do it. The first time Maisy got jumped by another dog, I kicked it. I felt awful about it even though I knew I needed to do it to prevent her from getting hurt. Besides, relying on my feet as a defensive maneuver requires that the other dog get far closer to us than I am comfortable with, and leaves me open to the possibility of being bitten myself.
For awhile, I tried putting myself between my dog and the other dog. When I did this, I would draw myself up to my full height, lean forward towards the other dog, and very sternly tell it to go home. This was effective on some dogs, but not that many. It was also difficult because Maisy, being reactive, had a tendency to rush forward and tell off the other dog. Not very effective.
I’ve heard of people interrupting an approaching dog by flinging a handful of treats at their face. Although I always carry treats with me, I’ve chosen not to do this. Personally, I find it difficult to get in my jeans pockets, grab a handful, and then aim accurately under pressure. Maisy also has a tendency to resource guard, and I worry that she might provoke a fight because the other dog is not only approaching rudely but also eating her treats!
Ultimately, I settled on using citronella spray. I chose it because it is effective at stopping low to medium level aggression, yet is not painful. This means I don’t have to worry about Maisy being hurt if she was accidentally sprayed or if the wind blew the spray back towards her. I also really like it because it has a range of ten feet, which means I can keep approaching dogs well away from Maisy.
So far, I’ve used the citronella spray a number of times, including on the two loose dogs at our new park. It has worked every time, including an incident with a dog that terrified me, although I have learned that some methods of administration are more effective than others. I still don’t like doing it, but it’s the best method I’ve found so far.
I’ll share more about how I use it in the future, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you guys. How much protection does your dog need? When would you feel the need to intervene, and when do you think your dog can handle himself? Have you ever needed to protect your dog in some way? What did you do, and how effective was it? I’m sure you guys have some great ideas I haven’t thought of, and I can’t wait to hear them!
PS- I know the picture in this entry isn't that great, but I decided to use it anyway. For one thing, I don't have any other pictures of Maisy with a strange dog. Plus, I just have to brag about how well she did- even though the dog in the background barked his fool head off at us, Maisy just sat there looking at me with that big, goofy grin! Also, I love those people- their dog was on a leash, and they didn't allow it to approach us.