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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Now who’s reactive?

You know how dogs can become fearful after a bad experience like another dog getting in their face at the park?

That happened to me a few weeks ago. With another person.

During the springtime, our go-to weeknight walk takes us past a ball field and up a little hill. I try to time it to avoid joggers, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes, Leo succeeds even when I fail, which you can read about in Leo vs. the Track Team.

I hadn’t seen the track team yet this year, and the bottom of that uphill trail was so muddy I didn’t think any joggers would be coming that way.

Of course that meant two joggers came up behind us, but one happened to be a friend of mine. I held Leo back while he barked at the first jogger, and then welcomed my friend to cross the muddy moat to say hello.

“Are your dogs going to attack me?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the reactive dog mom who knows better than to make promises her dogs might not keep. Ha ha ha.

My friend came closer, Leo said hello and I stood and talked to her longer than I should have given that I’d already seen a jogger cross the swamp to go up the hill.

A young girl rounded the corner, and Leo barked and I said, “Are you going this way?” and held Leo back by his harness, and yeah, she looked scared, but she passed.

A minute later, a very angry dude approached and yelled that he was going to call animal control.

Now. I know I shouldn’t have a German shepherd barking at people on a jogging path. But couldn’t he have said, “Hey, I have a bunch of joggers headed up there. Could you move?” or even “Get out of the fucking way!”

Threatening to call animal control seemed a bit extreme. And frankly, I didn’t care for his attitude.

So I argued with him that I have a right to walk my dogs, and they’re on a leash, and chill out, dude.

And he said “That’s not just barking. That’s a dangerous dog.” And I said, “Go ahead. Call animal control.” And he gestured like he was going for his phone and I knew he wouldn’t really call.

Of note: Leo was not barking at him during all this.

We turned to carry on with our walk and the dude shouted, “You’ve been warned. If anything happens with that dog. You’ve been warned.”

I deduced that this guy coaches the aforementioned track team. And I get where he was coming from. I really do. I don’t want my scary dog to interfere with other people’s right to jog. But as Midnight Dog Walkers, our options are limited. That was a walking path that worked for us. Until it didn’t.

I’ve been walking reactive dogs for 10 years. I thought I’d gotten over the feelings of humiliation and guilt when other people think my dog is dangerous. But in the following days, whenever I tried to think of someplace else to take the dogs, I got scared.

Everywhere I could think of carried the risk of a jogger leaping out at us out of nowhere. There are no dog trails where joggers are banned. I ordered a basket muzzle, something I’ve never felt was necessary, because what if a jogger gets too close? After all, I’ve been warned.

And then I realized, my anxiety was not about Leo, or about joggers. It was about that dude rudely getting in my face.

Realizing this reinforced how easy it is to regress. One bad experience can create negative associations. As positive dog owners, we work hard to make sure all our dogs’ experiences are good ones. At least in this situation, I was the one with PTSD, not Leo.

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 Dog Sports, but all posts are welcome.

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Running out of Cheese

baker-dogs-2017

In my last post, I wrote about a de-facto off-leash area. If everyone else’s dogs are off leash, why can’t ours be?

For me, it’s an issue of manners. People who don’t have reactive dogs (or people who don’t KNOW their dogs are reactive, especially those whose dogs are small) think it’s perfectly fine for their dog to run up to a person or another dog. When other dogs are off leash and my dogs are off leash, there is no problem. In that situation, Leo doesn’t have much interest in the humans. Unless they’re moving particularly fast. Or on wheels.

Even so. Leo probably would not run up to a jogger or cyclist (or cross-country skier) and bite them if he were off leash. Probably not. But that’s not a risk I can take with a 98-pound German shepherd. Unfortunately, when he is confined to a leash, he is extremely likely to bark and lunge and act very scary as one of these fast-moving humans passes by. See my problem? Everything would go better for everyone if Leo were off leash (probably). But since I can’t assume that everyone we meet will be okay with my dog running up to them, I keep him on a leash.

Last year, we took the dogs to play in the snow on Mount Baker and didn’t see another soul on the trail. This year, the little parking area was full, so we knew we wouldn’t be alone. I was not overly concerned, because the trail is fairly wide, with good visibility, and I had cheese. When I saw people approaching, I called Leo back to me, leashed him, and cheesed him until they passed. It worked brilliantly. Our counter-conditioning has been a terrific success.

It became clear that this was a de-facto off-leash area, so I stopped calling Leo to me when the people approaching had a dog. Except this one couple who took one look at Leo from afar and shouted at their own dog. Their doodle retreated behind their legs, and Leo stayed frozen, staring. Several hundred feet away from the dog. (Mia was close enough, and we leashed her). I called Leo, and omigod, he came right back to me! As I cheesed him, the couple passed, and the man said, “We just had a bad experience with a German shepherd,” explaining their panic.

bakerdogs2-2017

I felt that we and our dogs were behaving very appropriately and responsibly. It’s so rewarding to take them on outings that are more exciting than a walk around the sports complex or half an hour at the dog park. Everything was going just splendidly.

Until we ran out of cheese.

Not a problem at first. When a pair of slow-moving snow-shoers (actually, one was carrying her snow shoes) passed us, I moved Leo off to the side, plopped down in the snow and scratched his chest and told him what a good dog he was. He stayed calm, saw them, unconcerned. I was as proud as I could be.

After that, there were two or three incidents that did not go so well. The kind involving my holding onto his harness while he barked real scary-like. It’s not his fault. We ran out of cheese.

You know the spoon theory? It’s kind of like that. Also known, in the parlance of dog training, as trigger stacking.

While Leo was regressing, so was I. I had a flashback to the emotional, desperate, discouraging times when I felt like I couldn’t take Isis anywhere. To running up ahead of Rob on the trail to warn people that we had a dog with us that was freaking out. That nervous, awkward “ha ha ha, sorry about that” exchange, when really what I’m feeling is mortified and guilty. Why did I think we could bring our dog with us to a public trail?

That feeling faded once the cross-country skiers were out of sight, and we were back in the car. I reassured myself that we are allowed to take our dogs for a walk in the snow. Other people had off-leash dogs. Leo didn’t hurt anyone. We were responsible. And I tucked that little seed of a question away in the back of my mind: What if we just let him off-leash the whole time? Wouldn’t everything go better for everyone? Because no. I’d be less embarrassed, but I’d still be rude.

 

That one dog who ruins it for everyone

A peaceful alternative to the noisy dog park: lying in the grass by a ball field while Rob practices flying a drone.

A peaceful alternative to the noisy dog park: lying in a ball field while Rob practices flying a drone.

Dog parks are risky for reactive dogs – all dogs, really – but we’re lucky to have three off-leash areas that aren’t usually too crowded where we can manage our well-socialized dogs. We leave as soon as a small, uncontrollable child arrives, or at the first sign of an unstable dog.

We tend to rotate between these three areas. I was thinking about taking the pups to one of these tonight, instead of the same exact walk we went on yesterday and the day before.

Perhaps the one that’s close to a new Poke restaurant in town. Oh, but no, I don’t want to go there because that’s where the weird lady with the reactive long-haired shepherd goes. (If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, maybe don’t bring it to an off-leash area where there are other dogs. People are always asking if our dogs are friendly. No, they eat other dogs. We just brought them here for a little snack. How does yours taste?)

And we can’t go to the Good Dog Park, because that’s where that dog goes who lifts his upper lip when Leo chases him chasing his ball.

Worse is the Bad Dog Park, monopolized during all the afterwork daylight hours by this ponytailed dude and his spazzy dog. She’s an overly friendly dog who runs up and wiggles against everyone. She gets in Mia’s face. When Mia snarls and tells her to back off, she gets in her face again! She has this crazed energy that infects the whole park, and if I’m feeling particularly empathetic, I can imagine that this guy gets home from work and his dog’s been cooped up all day, so he spends his entire evening with her at the park or else she whines and chews stuff. Except, he doesn’t even play with her! He lets her run rampant while he 1) chit-chats with other owners, usually women, or 2) naps on the bench. And you just know he thinks it’s wonderful she’s so friendly!

So, each of our parks has one (1) dog that ruins it for us. Of course, we’re probably ruining it for someone else. But hey, all of this will be moot soon as we lose daylight and will be walking them around the neighborhood wearing headlamps.

Facing adversity with positive training and string cheese

Lovely Leo
Leo’s leash-reactivity has been so well controlled that I decided to increase the criteria with a more challenging walk.

Just kidding. We accidentally encountered unexpected triggers because we went later than usual.

We walk this route a couple of times a week, and it involves passing some sports stadiums. There are often games on these fields, but not usually on all of them at once. With members of the public attending. This evening, people had parked their cars along the sidewalk and were walking toward the entrance to the stadium in greater numbers than we’ve seen.

I successfully cheese-cheesed Leo from barking at the pedestrians, until one of them, apparently having forgotten something, turned and ran back toward his car. I saw him do it, but couldn’t get far enough away, so Leo barked and lunged. The ball-capped dude looked very apologetic and actually said he was sorry, so either he recognized that running at a German shepherd was not the best idea, or he was trying to get on my good side so I wouldn’t let my dog bite him.

At that point, we moved onto the grass in front of a fence around an apartment complex, to create some distance between ourselves and the pedestrians. The grass feels like a public space, even though I guess it’s not. My dogs shit here all the time. I pick it up every. single. time. But I have seen other dogs’ poop left behind there before. Which probably explains what happened next.

An old dude comes out of the complex and walks toward us. I’m strategizing the best plan of escape when he growls, “Get your dogs off the property.”

Okay, but I can’t because there’s nowhere for us to go that won’t lead to barking and lunging. I don’t say that, just turn and walk the other way, remaining on the grass until it’s safe to go back to the sidewalk. He mutters a couple of other things at me.

And Leo did not react! He only barked at the guy who ran directly at him, and only a little, and even that guy forgave him!

Honestly, I’m comfortable with where we’re at. I manage Leo pretty damn well. He doesn’t bark and lunge a lot, and when he does, I’m prepared, and I get over it. But that old guy bothered me.

Obviously, we couldn’t continue on our usual route, so I did something unorthodox and took them them down a wooded trail I’ve never been on before because I have no idea where it leads. What if joggers pass? Or bicycles? Couldn’t be any worse than the current state of our usual path.

We saw no one, and it was lovely, and I contemplated walking there again someday. We cut through the woods to a paved path that led back up to where I’d parked. A couple of bicycle cops looped around below me, and I had a flash of worry that the old guy had called the cops on the trespassing German shepherds.

As the cops started pedaling up toward us, I said, “My dog barks at bicycles, so . . .” And they kind of nodded, like, whatever. While they passed, I cheesed-cheesed him to a ridiculous degree, adding praise like, “I know! This is stressful! You’re doing so well!”

And. He. Did. Not. Bark.

Which would be a terrific happy ending, except then a kid whizzed downhill toward us on his bike, and I couldn’t get Leo cheesed fast enough to keep him from barking.

Oh, well. Two out of three ain’t bad.

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This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hophosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. The Linky Link will be open through Sunday.

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Surf’s Up with the Pups

Just kidding. They don’t swim. A better title would have something to do with the dead crabs littering the rocky beach.

We are so lucky to live in a place where we can regularly find safe places to play with our pups off leash, both in the snow, and on the beach! (But see Monday’s post about how even our Best Dog Park can be a recipe for disaster.)

Here’s Rob with the doggies at Cherry Point.

One more important thing. I recently updated my Reactive Dog Resources page with a new book called The Midnight Dog Walkers. If your dog barks and lunges, or if you’ve ever found yourself timing your walks to avoid seeing other dogs or people (like, say, at midnight?), you must read this book!!

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What happens at the dog park

Pups at the best park

I try not to write too many posts about the wacky and/or horrifying things that happen at the dog park. I know and trust lots of dog professionals who think off-leash parks are terrible places where bad behavior gets reinforced by clueless dog owners making the wrong choices for their dogs.

I agree. But I also have a well-socialized dog who is leash-reactive, so when the weather’s nice, it’s easier to exercise him off-leash in a park with other dogs than it is to walk him anywhere on leash. (Pacific Northwest people and their bicycles! Oy. They’re everywhere.)

And while it’s incredibly trite for me to regale you with anecdotes about the badly behaved dogs and stupid humans we encounter… I’m going to.

I’ve long since given up my dream of politely telling prong collar parents that it’s unsafe for their dog to wear the collar inside the park. (Trust me. I’ve been the idiot dog owner who leaves the prong collar on.) But a couple of times recently, I wished I had a tactful way to tell another dog parent that they’re doing it wrong.

1) Dog A was crouched in a hole of his own digging when Dog B tried to join in. Dog A got snarly. Dog Parent A said, “He hates to share. I wish he wouldn’t do that.” Dog Parent B: “The more you bring him, he’ll figure it out.” Dog Parent A: “Yeah, we need to bring him more.”

No! Bad plan!

2) This one really cleared the park. Our Best Dog Park has a significant design flaw: Only one entrance. Leo and I were chasing a ball at the opposite end, fortunately, when we heard a major Barkapalooza by the gate. Not your healthy, “Hey I’m at the park, yay!” barks, nor your “I have barrier frustration, but once I get in there, I’ll be fine” woofs, but full-blown reactive barking. Rob had a better vantage and saw the man enter with his dog on a long ropey leash. “He was pretty determined to barrel his way in,” Rob reported. This dog snarled and lunged at another dog, and the two had to be separated. The man continued to walk through the park with his dog on leash.

Now then. My guess is that his dog does not have good recall, so he planned to keep it on a longline at the park. My guess is also that he does not understand that his dog likely was barking and lunging because it was on leash. (Unless it always acts that way, in which case, it has no business at the dog park.)

But what can I say to that guy? “Hey, your dog is experiencing barrier frustration. He probably will be better without the leash.” Because I don’t know that. So I just said to Rob, “We should go.” And we went.

One more dog park story, but this one is a cautionary tale to myself.

3) We arrived close to sunset when no one else was there except for a couple sitting on plastic chairs looking at their phones while their dog lay down a ways away. Nothing inherently wrong with this behavior, but I dislike it when people expect their dogs to entertain themselves at the park. Of course the point is for dogs to play with each other, but their people should be alert and involved. Dog parks are not a substitute for spending time with your dog.

After a little bit, the man got up and threw a ball to his dog, which got Leo pretty interested in this dog he had been ignoring and who had been ignoring him. When Leo blocked the dog and prevented it from retrieving the ball so the man had to go get the ball himself, I muttered to Rob, “Whatever, I don’t feel anything for people who just sit around and look at their phones while their dogs do nothing.”

Then I realized the girl with him was young, probably his daughter. And I wondered what circumstances might lead a man and his daughter to spend a Friday night at the dog park with no other dogs, and not play with their dog. I imagined a divorced dad with the daughter for the weekend. Not much to do at his divorced dad pad. When they get back, she’s going to go to her room and not talk to him for the rest of the night. This time at the dog park is the only time they have together.

Turns out, I did feel something for them. I don’t know what their story really is, but it’s none of my business. There’s nothing to be gained by mentally criticizing anyone. You never know what they’re going through.

How about you, friends? How often do you judge your fellow dog parents? Can you hold your tongue when you see a disaster in the making?