School Bully

Now that Isis has gotten a hang of this training thing, I’m starting to enjoy taking her to school. It’s way better working with a group of other dogs, and we’re starting to feel friendly toward some of her fellow students, including other shepherds and a 7-month-old floppy-eared Great Dane she’s been in class with since the first day. The Great Dane’s owner asked me my name Monday evening and I commented that it was funny that we know the dogs’ names, but not each other’s.

Class was moving along nicely when Mrs. Trainer let us know that a pit bull was working in the adjacent parking lot. It was muzzled, she said, but very aggressive. If the pit bull came at us, we should get in front of our own dog, she advised.

I’m so twisted that I thought to myself, “Now that would be exciting.”

The pit bull (who had shorter legs and a flatter face than most of the pits I’ve seen) was thrashing about on its lead, but when we moved our dogs farther away from the offending animal, I observed it sitting calmly beside its handler.

I can’t even remember what we were working on when I looked up and saw that the pit bull wasn’t wearing a lead anymore. It scrambled from a seated position toward the Great Dane, the nearest dog to the parking lot. Isis sat very peacefully (possibly oblivious) while the pit bull attacked the friendly dog. The Great Dane’s owner and Mrs. Trainer tried to move their bodies between the two dogs and wound up falling down on top of each other on the ground.

The pit bull was wrangled and Mrs. Trainer said, “We’re done.”

She took the Great Dane and her owner inside and examined the puppy. Isis and I followed because I sort of felt like the owner was my friend and I wanted to be there for her. She was teary and shaken. Mrs. Trainer found three puncture wounds on the puppy, who was taking it quite well. When I left, the owner and Mrs. Trainer were discussing whether to take the dog to a more expensive 24-hour clinic or wait til morning to go to the vet.

The pit bull’s handler was standing near her car, looking hysterical.

I was shaken too, and so grateful that Isis hadn’t been the target. When I got home, Rob asked me about the school’s liability, which hadn’t even occurred to me. Hell, yeah, the owner should have taken her dog to the 24-hour clinic and the school should pay for it.

I signed a release holding the school harmless for acts of negligence by myself, any person acting together with me or any animal I bring to class. What about the acts of an aggressive pit bull being given a private lesson, who, under the supervision of Mr. Trainer, was off lead and allowed to attack a dog in a group lesson?

Which makes me wonder about the liability of a martial arts instructor who allows a student to spar a little too enthusiastically and injure another student…but it’s not the same thing, because a martial arts student, in theory, should have more impulse control than an aggressive pit bull. Is it reasonable to expect dog trainers to have more control over their students than martial arts instructors have over theirs?

So I’ll go back to wondering why the pit bull was off lead at all. And whether the pit bull can be rehabilitated (to use Cesar Millan’s phrase) or will be put down. And whether the school will compensate the Great Dane’s owner. And whether she is having trouble sleeping too.