Scary Dogs Need Protection Too

When you have a big, scary German shepherd like Leo with a big, scary bark, you get used to other people thinking they need to keep their dogs (or their small children) safe from your dog.

Meanwhile, my job is to keep Leo safe from situations that overwhelm him.

Since last month’s “That’s a dangerous dog” debacle, I have trained Leo to wear a basket muzzle. He tolerates it, but if I go too long between cheese rewards, he wants to throw himself on the ground and rub the muzzle off on the grass. Also, I have to get down real low to get the cheese in his mouth.

It’s a tool I’m happy to have, but I do not know whether it would actually stay on were he to lunge mightily or scrap with another dog.

We haven’t yet walked past anyone while training with it, but I expect people will either:

  1. Feel safer because he can’t bite them, or
  2. Be terrified of the dangerous, muzzle-wearing dog, so they stay far, far away.

Both outcomes are equally satisfying to me.

Now that I am jogger-reactive, we’ve been spending more time at the dog park. Trust me, I would rather walk my dogs. My first choice at the park is to be the only dogs there (pictured above). But during the summer, when all the people are out, leash-reactive yet well-socialized Leo is safer in a fenced yard designated for off-leash dogs.

He proved this last week when another dog picked a fight. I had already decided it was time to leave because three kids under 12 had arrived with a medium-sized, pointy-eared black dog. I watched a flip-flop-wearing girl, maybe 8 years old, topple over onto the ground. She moved like toddler. Probably because of the flip-flops. She ran toward Mom and I said, “Careful about running at the dog park!” just as Leo grabbed the bottom of the giggling girl’s shirt. Mom said, “I told you. If you run, someone’s going to think you need chasing.”

Good job, Mom, I thought. But I also noticed her saying to her dog warningly, “Indy. Indyyyyy,” while her dog was nosing around Mia’s face. I wasn’t concerned, though I should have been, because the tone of that “Indyyyy” meant that the woman knew her dog was not trustworthy.

Mia was not ready to leave, so I followed her around until she let me catch up and leash her. During this time, Leo enjoyed a good chase with a flirtatious chocolate lab puppy, joined by Indy, who body-checked the lab. All typical dog-park shenanigans.

The chase ended near the woman and her kids. Again, I heard, “Indyyyyy.” And then Indy was all up in Leo’s grill. Not a Hey, you grabbed my girl’s shirt 10 minutes ago correction, but a legit, challenging, I want to fight you snarl, gnashing at Leo’s head.

Leo wasn’t having it. He barked back, but no fight escalated. He backed away from Indy, positioning himself right in front of me. I said, “You’re fine,” snapped his leash on, and left, without making eye contact with anyone.

Indy’s male person said, “I’ve never seen him do that before!”

Yes, you have. Or your lady has. At the very least, she knew he was capable of it.

To her credit, she knew it was time to leave. I heard a “Let’s go,” and they left right after I did. I feel for her. I’ve been that person, and she has it harder than I do. She has to entertain that dog plus three kids. The dog park is the wrong outlet, and I’m hoping she realizes that now.

So there, irate track coach who knows nothing about Leo. He is not a dangerous dog. He didn’t maul the running child, and he didn’t fight the dog that wanted to fight him. Even if he had done either of those things, I was right there to step in and minimize the damage. That’s in my job description of keeping him safe. And is why I never let my guard down.

He did bark at a floofy dog coming into the park as we left, and probably that dog’s person was like, “Good thing that dangerous dog left before we got here.”

On the ride home, Leo didn’t bark at a thing. Not even bicycles, and we passed a few. I kept catching his eye in the rearview mirror. He must have been pretty charged up from the near-fight, but he looked so cute and happy, the wind from the open window blowing through his fur.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Summer Safety, but all posts are welcome.

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13 thoughts on “Scary Dogs Need Protection Too

  1. I’m so glad that the muzzle training is going well–I feel your pain about having to get low. I’m so used to Barley’s mouth being right beside my hand that it’s taking forever to adjust to Rye who is much shorter. There’s all kinds of awkward bending and tripping and leaping (on her part) as we try to connect. Congrats to Leo for handling that stressful situation at the dog park so well!

  2. Sounds like Leo did great when that dog got in his business. Good for him having such good dog skills.

    I’m iffy about dog parks. But we used to take Honey very early on Saturday or Sunday mornings. At least in the Ithaca dog park, people who were willing to get up early on a weekend to take their dog to the off-leash park were the kinda people we felt safe around at the park.

    Once the latte drinking people with their kids arrived, the place became a free-for-all. 😛

    • Yup. With my first dog, when I didn’t know better, I’d be sad if there were no other dogs there. Now I prefer it. But Leo is better there than on a crowded trail, so we just go in small doses and beat it at the first sign of trouble.

  3. You made me chuckle with “both outcomes are equally satisfying to me.” I feel the same. Still, I admire you for not being afraid of what people will think if they see your dog wearing a muzzle. There is such a stigma with them that there shouldn’t be, when they can be such a wonderful tool.
    All the work you have been doing with Leo has certainly been paying off, good for both of you!. It’s too bad everyone couldn’t make the best decisions for their dog, like not taking them to the dog park with 3 kids in tow!

  4. Man, I hate to see that muzzle on Leo. I read your previous post about the angry jogger, and as a dedicated runner myself, I have to disagree with him. As long as your dog is on a leash and under control, I don’t see why he’s concerned that it’s barking at him. If it were off-leash and chasing him,yeah, then he certainly has a right to be angry. It’s almost as if Leo is being punished for simply being a breed that other people associate as being a mean dog.
    But, I understand where you’re coming from. My former dog, Beebs, was a husky mix and seemed able to pick up negative vibes from people, and these she would growl at, and bark, and even sometimes lunge, and naturally people didn’t like this at all. Still, I always felt safe with her at my side.
    I kind of see it both ways. Runners want to feel safe while out on the trails (and I’ve been jumped by off-leash dogs and usually carry pepper spray, not just for bears but dogs, too) but dog walkers also need a place where they can exercise their dogs and allow their dogs to act like dogs, you know, sniff and snort and bark and feel free.
    Here in Alaska we’re lucky enough to have dog parks that are really hiking trails so that dogs can walk and run off-leash without constant in-your-face encounters with other dogs. I don’t know what the parks are like where you live. But I do think that you’re doing a great job with your dogs. I think you’re actually going above and beyond your duty as a dog owner, when it comes to consideration and thoughtfulness and anticipating others’ reactions.
    Give Leo a piece of cheese for me, okay?

    • I wanted to respond more at length. First of all, THANK you again, for understanding our challenges. When I vented about Irate Track Coach on a reactive dog board, someone pointed out that “trail rules” are for the faster person to yield to the slower person. All this time, I was feeling like it was my job to get out of the way of the runner. I think Bellingham being so dog friendly is sometimes a disadvantage. It doesn’t occur to people that they should give space to two large dogs on the path. But then there’s breed bias when he does bark. It’s like, you weren’t afraid enough to keep your distance and now you’re mad he responded like a German shepherd.

      I love the idea of an off-leash trail, but even in one of our off-leash areas, people jog or ride bikes through it, and sometimes if they don’t have dogs with them, Leo wants to chase them. I don’t THINK he would hurt them, but it’s not a risk I can take. And with small children… forget about it. We’ve been working on having him come to come to me instead for a cheese reward.

  5. I think it’s great you’re keeping people safe from Leo and Leo safe from things that bother him. Muzzles are wonderful tools as long as they are introduced properly, which it sounds like you did! Is Leo the one who redirects sometimes back up the leash? If so, I really do think the muzzle is a great idea so you don’t end up hurt, too!

    • Yep, Leo’s the redirected biter. Although, it’s been a few years since he’s done it. The counterconditioning has been really effective.

  6. My initial comment has actually nothing to do with the subject matter of this post – but I must tell you first that Leo is absolutely gorgeous in that last photo 🙂 Such striking features!! I am so sorry he has to wear the muzzle. Paws crossed that the string cheese will reduce his negative thoughts about the muzzle too. Please keep us posted.

Bark and Lunge at me! I love reading your comments!

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