Thursday, October 21, 2010

Protecting Our Dogs, Part 1: Making Decisions

Because she shouldn't have to say hi unless she wants to.

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.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

First off, love the new blog look!

Most of my encounters with other dogs are at the obedience club or petstores. My dogs might not be reactive to other dogs, but it is still my contract with them that I will not let any dog get in their face while on leash. Since my encounters are almost always with the other dog on leash, just held onto by a really oblivious person, I can usually insert myself between the offending dog and mine and give evil looks to the owner.

I honestly don't go on walks too often with my dogs, we're usually going to class or perhaps to the local park to play some disc instead so I don't meet too many off leash dogs. Even at the park most dogs are on leash and thankfully see that I am busy so don't try and approach me with overfriendly Fido.
If I did meet an offleash dog, I LOVE the idea of using citronella spray. While I still don't believe it works with truly aggressive dogs, I honestly like the idea of it more from the other owner's perspective. I would hope that maybe the owner would get a burst of reality when their "oh he's just being friendly!" dog got blasted. I'm a little evil like that I guess. It is just one of my biggest pet peeves with other owners and clearly trying to be logical with them never works as their behavior never changes.

If I really thought a loose dog was looking for trouble (serious or not) I would have my dogs do an immediate down as soon as the other dog started his approach while i stepped out in front. If they are in a down stay they are going to appear less threatening to the other dog and hopefully send the other on his way after a few rude sniffs if approached. I think it can be really hard to intimidate another dog into going away, so i would take the passive approach and just be ready to grab the other dog's back legs and swing if it got to that. I feel pretty confident in my ability to break up a fight. Of course I have the luxury of knowing my dogs will hold that stay and not provoke the other dog.

I don't think I would ever throw treats as it would make my dogs more edgy. Plus if the owner wasn't around or was far behind and slow moving like they always are, it would only encourage the dog to continue to approach us.

Crystal said...

Thanks! I'm digging the new look, too. :)

I haven't really had any bad experiences with dogs that are on leash. Certainly, I've run across my fair share of oblivious owners, but they've all been well-intentioned, and it's easy enough to either avoid them or quickly move away from them.

As for off-leash dogs, I really like the citronella spray. The one time I used it on a dog that I truly believed was aggressive, it worked well. That dog broke out of its fenced yard, and rushed Maisy while growling and snarling. (The owner, who had been in the yard with the dog, yelled at me that his dog was friendly. I don't think so.) I know it was probably a lower-level of aggression since the really bad aggression tends to be silent, but even so, it scares me to think of what might happened if I hadn't had it with me. That guy didn't say anything to me. I also called Animal Control on him. No idea what happened with that, though.

I did get yelled at by an owner once for using it. A man was standing on the sidewalk with his rottie almost half a block away from where Maisy and I were crossing the street. The rottie began running towards us, and ignored its owner when he called. The dog was friendly, but in an out-of-control and overly-exuberant way. It had to have weighed 4 to 5 times what Maisy does, so I was concerned about physical injury.

After I sprayed the dog, the guy yelled at me that I shouldn't have done that because the dog was a puppy. If it was, it had to have been 6 to 12 months old, because it was pretty good. I apologized, said that I had no way of knowing that, and his dog should have been on leash anyway. I felt REALLY bad afterward, but Maisy is my first priority.

I like your idea of having a dog do a down stay. I agree that it would look less threatening. I don't think it would work for Maisy and I- her stays just aren't that good, and even if they were, I don't know that she'd comply in such a stressful situation.

At any rate, I'm glad I'm not alone in being committed to protect my dog. All dogs should have the right to not be harassed by rude dogs, especially while on leash.

Dawn said...

Although I will protect my dogs in any way necessary, we rarely have run into any issues-except at a training club. Grace was attacked ata training club by a dog who had earlier attacked 2 other dogs there. Because the owner was friends with the club president at the time, the dog was allowed to stay in class (agility-off leash). I refused to subject my dog to that, and left and do not train there any longer. Ps I kicked that rotten little dog off of Grace and told the owner if that little @#%# came near her again I would aim for its head. Bad me, but don't mess with my family, dogs or friends.

Crysania said...

Well, you know Dahlia from the communities so you can imagine how much protection (or how little) she requires. She doesn't much care for dogs with really rude greetings -- the dogs who get right up in her face and sniff, the dogs who jam their noses up her rear, the dogs who jump on her. But those she needs no protection from. In general, she warns them off rather successfully with a growl. Most back off. If they don't, I HAVE grabbed their collar and pulled them away from her. In the case of loose dogs with no owner around (there are two who are notorious for escaping from their house), I unleash Dahlia and leash up the dog and we all walk to their house together.

The dogs I protect her from are the ones who are aggressive, the ones who are clearly not friendly as they rush toward us. We've encountered a few of these. Depending on the time of year I carry Citronella spray or a hiking staff. Both have been successful at warding off these dogs. I've also stopped an aggressive small dog by kicking at it until it went away (this dog was trying to latch onto Dahlia's back legs and I had no spray or staff on me as I was out of town and had forgotten them!).

Thankfully we've only encountered truly aggressive dogs a handful of times. Most that we encounter are friendly, if a little out of control.

Crystal said...

Dawn, that's terrifying! We haven't had any bad experiences at training clubs, thankfully, but I know it can happen.

Crysania, that's nice of you to walk loose dogs home, when you know where they belong!

katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

It is easy for me to justify a by any means possible rule with a dog that is truly a threat. Thankfully we haven't encountered that. . . yet.

But in Maizey's eyes they are ALL truly a threat. Understanding this, but also knowing that once the meet and greet is over she will play and have fun with other dogs I struggle with a "no meetings period" rule or wether to help her manage a successful meeting so she can keep learning dogs are fun!

I have settled on a "no meetings period" rule if I don't know the dog. Based on how she is doing that day I have a "maizey does not even SEE the other dog" rule so the chance to react is never there.

I try judge the usefulness that an encounter may be as a learning experience. There are some dogs I know she will not be able to handle. Black labs are always a NO to her, bigger dogs are a almost always no, small dogs can be judged on a per dog basis.

My biggest fear is that you just never know how another dog will react to her reacting to it. It would only take one snap from a big dog to do her grave harm. . .

She can look pretty out of control, and but I usually find the dogs to be better judges of her posturing than humans, and they react more appropriately. So sometimes it is the humans I am protecting her from. I have seen people grab their kids and run, so to speak. I don't want anyone misunderstanding her and turning her in.

It is a complex subject, but my cardinal rule? Maizey comes first. Period. Love the new look!

Crystal said...

Katie, I hope you guys never meet a TRUE threat. Of course, you're right that if Maizey perceives something as a threat, you need to honor that. :)

Thanks for your comment- it's been really interesting to hear everyone's ideas.

Kristen said...

I love your writing!

Do you get multiple uses out of your spray or do you get a new bottle every time? (I've used two... once the whole thing was used in a serious fight and the other accidently got set off in my bag. I was sad it didn't even make it smell good for long...).

I would/do intervene early. I work hard to keep my dogs, friendly or not, away from other dogs. It's just not worth the risk. This careful management makes people think that all my dogs are aggressive... but I really don't want my dogs getting right up to others any more than I want their dogs bothering mine.

I'm not even sure how appropriate/"say hi" it actually IS for one dog to rush up to another. When my dogs are appropriately greeting other dogs... they never do that. If it's already a friend, then yes... otherwise they tend to run around and smell things or maybe run-play-chase.

Crystal said...

Kristen, I haven't ever used an entire bottle on a single dog. The worst incident- the one with the dog who escaped his yard- used about two-thirds of the bottle. The most recent one- two friendly but out-of-control retrievers- used about a third. I generally get a new bottle once I've used it, or carry a second one. I don't want to be without full protection.

Katie said...

I don't think I'd ever ask an already stressed and uncomfortable dog for a down. It seems like it would make them feel even more vulnerable and stressed.

I have had pretty good success with making myself big and telling dogs NO GO HOME as long as I see them when they're far enough away. The ones who sneak up behind or come flying in from the side, I tend to kick. Not with the intention of hurting, just with the intention of deflecting. I've gotten yelled at about it, but oh well. Keeping your JRT safely out of the range of my dog's mouth is higher on my list of priorities than not hurting your precious feelings. Contain your dog and then we can all be friends.

I really should carry spray with me, especially since I have 3/3 dogs who will fight (I only walk one at a time). Two are fearful, Luce is just a jerk (but she is the most tolerant of other dogs at this point).

The only dog-dog meetings I'll allow are Steve and little dogs. He loooves little dogs, and I've even asked owners if he could meet their dogs if their dogs were also giving off eager-to-greet body language. Steve wants a Papillon of his very own.

Crystal said...

Katie, I agree that I wouldn't ask a stressed dog for a down. It wouldn't work for Maisy. But from what I know of Laura's dogs, it's an excellent choice.

I think it's hilarious that Steve wants a papillon. They ARE awfully cute, and I have to admit they're on my short list of breeds I'd like to have some day.