Between Loud Dogs and Loud Dogs

It was a beautiful California morning. The sun was shining, bees buzzing, birds singing in the trees. A perfect morning for a walk. Rosee’s leg was acting up so, unfortunately, she was forced to stay inside, but Simon was all smiles, ready to take on the world.

Theresa and I cut up some Pup-Peroni, grabbed the house key, tethered Rosee, strapped Simon into his Illusion Collar, and went out the door (quite a to do list). We started walking towards the end of our street, Simon deciding to be good from the outset, and the three of us set a steady pace as we rounded the street corner. Upon arriving at the next street to walk down we were graciously greeted by two neighborhood dogs we hear all the time. Since these two dogs were particularly excited to see us today, and I could see Simon getting a little too excited by all the commotion, we quickly crossed the street to put some space between our groups and give Simon room to calm down. Apparently, this was the wrong decision.

As soon as we crossed the street we were bombarded with the high-pitched snarling and barking of two small(ish) white dogs that had come tearing out of their house and right up to the white picket fence that blocked in their front lawn. Now, these dogs were mean. These dogs were growling and snapping, showing teeth and nails. These dogs were not filled with excess energy and looking for a way to burn it off. These dogs were not scared or anxious or nervous. These dogs were territorial and vicious.

Normally, such a mean dog would be no concern. Theresa and I would simply cross the street, put some space in between ourselves and such terror, especially if we had Rosee. Except, in this instance we had just crossed the street to this side, and we could not go back. Essentially, we were stuck between a rock and a hard place, between loud dogs and loud dogs. Unfortunately, all I could do was walk out into the street, stepping around that parked cars, and put some space between my dog and the two little terrors. I thought I had found the solution, that everything would be fine and we could all go on about our business. I was so very wrong.

Next thing I knew one of the little white dogs had climbed his way over his fence (which was no easy feat as it stood about five feet tall and the dog was probably ten pounds soaking wet), landed on the sidewalk and charged Simon. We were forced to walk into the middle of the street (luckily with no cars coming from either direction) and move quickly. This little dog must have thought he had completed his job though, because after running a few feet out into the street he then turned back around and continued to bark at us from the sidewalk in front of his fence. Needless to say, the three of us swiftly turned the corner and continued our way on our walk, never looking back.

You want to know the worst part of this entire situation? The owner was right there. The owner of these dogs watched the whole incident play out. She watched her dogs bark and snarl at us. She watched her dog jump over the fence. She watched her dog chase us into the street. She watched everything while standing on her doorstep and just calling the dogs back. That’s it. She really thought that simply calling the dogs’ names would be enough to get through their territorial-filled haze and stall their rampage. It wasn’t (obviously).

Now, why did I tell you this story? Why share a seemingly insignificant two minutes of my life with you? Nothing happened. No one got hurt. The dog went back home and we continued on our walk. Simon forgot about everything the minute we turned the corner. Simon didn’t even see these dogs as a threat. This silly boy just started jumping like it was all just so much fun! But I was upset. All I could think about was what if that dog had gotten closer? What if there were cars coming and we couldn’t run into the street? What if the dog actually bit Simon? What if the dog bit me or my sister? What if?

Simon’s never been face to face with an aggressive dog before. He’s never had to deal with a situation where he was in danger and needed to protect himself. He’s never been bitten before. I worried about how he would react. Would he cry? Would he fall? Would he bite back? What would I do? Simon’s obviously the larger dog. Would an animal control officer even believe me if I called and reported that he had been the one attacked and was not the one doing the attacking? I’ve heard too many stories of people calling about other dogs, yet their dogs ending up in trouble simply because of what they look like (i.e. Pit Bull-ish). Would the other dog’s owner get mad at me? Would she call on my dog? Would she blame me and my dog for “starting something”?

Call it over-reacting, but all of these questions run through my mind every time another dog comes after my dogs. And unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In the three years that I have had dogs we have been run up on/charged/chased/whatever-you-want-to-call-it quite a few times. The dogs have ranged from large German Shepherds and black Labs to Chihuahuas (have I mentioned that there a lot of loose ones in my neighborhood?) to Basset Hounds. All of our would-be attackers have not been mean or aggressive, some just curious puppies that haven’t learned any better, but for whatever reason they have come up on us they all had one thing in common. In every situation the owners have been right there, watching the whole time and doing absolutely nothing. Whether they truly believed that their dogs would listen to them and come back, or they thought their dogs would cause no harm, in my opinion these owners were irresponsible. These owners were thoughtless. These owners were inconsiderate. These owners were reckless in trusting someone else’s dog to be just as nice as they thought theirs to be. While Simon has no problems with dogs, loving everybody and everything, Rosee does not. Rosee might look nice and sweet as she walks down the street, but she has her issues and unless I put a big noticeable sign on her back that says “Scared and nervous around other dogs. Keep away” these people don’t know that.

But why should I have to label my dog? I am the one being a responsible dog owner, keeping her controlled and comfortable on her walk. I bring treats so as to train her to ignore distractions and to calm her down if she experiences an uncomfortable situation. I give her space so that she is not a danger to anyone or thing, and nothing is a danger to her. I read her body language and respond accordingly. So, why should I have to shame her with a sign just because other people can’t control their animals? Why should I have to pull Simon into the middle of a street? Why should my dogs be put in danger so that someone else’s can exhibit bad behavior? Because ignoring one’s owner and rushing another dog is bad behavior.

Obviously, I haven’t figured out any answers (otherwise I would be sharing with you the secrets to the universe). I can only live in this world and deal with things as they happen. And like some people I tend to dwell a little more on negative experiences than positive ones. I remember bad times more clearly than good times. This walk with Simon had two bad minutes out of fifty good ones. We continued on our walk and Simon was a perfect angel. It was a good day. Except, in my mind I remember those two minutes. I remember how I felt and what I did. I remember the dog getting over the fence. What I need to remember is the way Simon walked right by my side during the entire walk. I need to remember how Simon didn’t pull on his leash and how enjoyable our walk was.

So, I suppose the moral of my story is this: Be it you have a small, medium, or large dog and you are a responsible owner it might be really annoying (and slightly dangerous) when you have to deal with other people’s dogs’ bad behaviors, but deal with it (because you’re being forced to) and move on. Focus on the positive. Be proud that you could control your dog. Be proud that you know your dog well enough to take care of a negative situation. Be proud even if your dog freaks out like Rosee does (though less than she used to, it’s all progress!) because you didn’t. You were a champ, a rock star, a constellation shining brightly in a dark sky! Your dog doesn’t have to be perfect, mine certainly aren’t, and you don’t have to be a perfect owner, I’m definitely not, but I care and you care. Apparently, that makes all the difference.

Review: “Don’t Dump the Dog” by Randy Grim with Melinda Roth

Reading is a favorite activity here at Play Hard, Bark Often. In fact, for Rosee it ranks right after napping and going on walks. Whenever I have my e-reader or a paperback book out she tries to steal it from me to read it for herself.

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Sometimes she enjoys a book so much that she can’t help but take a bite out of it.

I sort of happened upon Don’t Dump the Dog when I was surfing the internet and came across an article on something dog related and a commenter on the article recommended this book. Initially, the title was enough to peak my interest which led me to Amazon and after perusing the sample and finding the first chapter named “ADD Dog”, I knew I had to read it. In case you didn’t know, my mother has always called Simon an ADD dog. Mostly, he earned this nickname from her because he can never seem to focus on one thing. He is always getting distracted, running off to do something else, and can never seem to just sit down and relax. One of the hardest things to teach him has been to relax, and while most days it’s still difficult, if we all remain calm and stay consistent in how we act and what we expect of him, he eventually does settle down. Of course, it also helps if he gets his daily walk and play session. So, when I read “ADD Dog” as the first chapter title I knew that this was a book I needed to read, like yesterday.

What I enjoyed about reading this book was that it was not necessarily a book about training your dog, although Grim did impart pieces of dog training wisdom at the end of each chapter. Rather, it was more focused on why your dog may engage in a certain unwanted behavior. It was a book to help pet parents understand their dogs better. Each chapter focuses on a particular issue, and he opens the chapters with a letter he has received from a dog owner who complain about said issue with their dog. Most of the issues are common ones including, but not limited to, energetic and/or excitable dogs, separation anxiety, dogs that don’t get along with other dogs, excessive barking, dogs that go in the house (you get my drift here), and fearful dogs. Grim does his best to explain the reasons behind why a dog may exhibit various behaviors, and offers advice on how to deal with them. It’s pretty straight forward, and Grim is extremely blunt in his own remarks in answer to the letters he presents. Although, I have to say, it wasn’t easy reading about people wanting to give up their dogs so easily. I know rescue dogs often have some issues, some great and some small, but the idea that dogs could be so easily disposed of was sort of disheartening. I know some dogs’ have issues that require a lot of attention and patience, but that wasn’t necessarily the case in this book. Grim focused on the more everyday problems dogs and their owners may experience. In the end, reading this book was interesting because it really made me look at my dogs and try and understand the reasoning behind some of their actions.

My favorite chapters were “Chapter Two: Escape Artists,” “Chapter Six: Cujo in the Dog Park,” and “Chapter Nine: Bullies with an Attitude.” Chapter Two was a much loved chapter because it taught me to reject the “rejection of the herd”  if it means giving up such a significant friend (aka: the dog). Chapter Six was a favorite chapter of mine because it reminded me to acknowledge the small victories I have with my dogs. Instead of only seeing what my dogs are not really good at yet, I need to start seeing what they are accomplishing and realize that we’re getting there. Lastly, Chapter Nine was an interesting chapter because Grim explained this whole “dominance theory” and basically how the pervading popular theory is really not correct. Showing dominance over your dog is not about overpowering them and proving who’s tougher and stronger, but it relies more on one’s ability to command respect from them.

The main reason I really loved this book was that it got me. It really, really got me, and more importantly, it got my dogs. All the feelings I’ve had while dealing with Simon’s endless bounds of energy or with Rosee’s anxiety and fear issues, which pretty much left me feeling like a complete failure as a dog owner, were understood. The fear I’ve had of my dogs never being considered “normal”, the utter despair I’ve felt over Rosee being thought of as aggressive (and all the negative stereotypes that follow) due to her anxiety and fear of other dogs, and my own anxiety over not doing enough to let my dogs know that they could trust me to protect and take care of them (this is mostly coming from learning to deal with Rosee’s issues) were understood. I felt validated, and more importantly I realized that my dogs are pretty awesome. Instead of fretting over my dogs not being considered what others may deem as “normal” (rejecting the herd here) I should strive for them to be good dogs. Maybe Simon has a jumping problem that we’re still working on, but when I can tell him from across a room to lie down and he obeys I feel pretty darn proud of him. The point I’m trying to make is just because your dog may not be great at one thing doesn’t mean he/she won’t be amazing at others. Training is a continuous process that takes time and effort. Reading this book simply reminded me not to give up on my dogs because as long as I don’t they’ll learn what they need to.

And what is “normal” anyway? (Not exactly a new question I know, but humor me.) It’s a notion we strive for, and yet it’s hardly definable. However, after reading Grim’s book I decided that I would never want my dogs defined as normal because then they would lose the things that make them distinctly Simon and distinctly Rosee. Simon’s 23-hour energy and all around exuberance for life encourages me to stay active, to live in the moment, and to find joy in the little things (i.e. a squeaky toy being thrown around in the backyard over and over). This doesn’t mean that Simon can’t be a well-trained and behaved dog; it just means that he needs a few extra play sessions a day to deplete his over-abundance of energy. Whereas Rosee’s journey to overcome her anxiety and fear encourages me to overcome my own fears in life, be more patient with others, and understand that anything is possible as long as I have the support of the people who love me. So, I’ll take Grim’s advice and mark it as a victory when I walk with Rosee through a park where other dogs are running around and she doesn’t freak out, but walks beside me.

In conclusion, if you’re a pet parent and need some encouragement when it comes to dealing with your unruly dog or if you just want an interesting read about dogs I would absolutely recommend this book, and so would Rosee. Even if your dog is well-behaved 99.9% of the time I would say read this book because it helps us all appreciate the small things that dogs do for us. It’s not just the licks or other obvious gestures of affection that we should appreciate from our dogs, but it’s the little, unnoticeable things, like how they follow you from room to room just so they can stay close, that we should appreciate as well.