Losing your cool with your dog is never cool

I saw something horrifying on Tuesday. I was working with two of my fantastic clients and their Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. I was hired to help McIntire with a bit of fear around men, hand shyness, and other assorted issues such as teaching him to have better off leash control.

We were on the way back from a very successful session in the park when I saw something that made my skin crawl. It started out developing into a scene that I have witnessed countless times in Chicago. A man walking his dogs and giving off body language that showed that both the person and one of the dogs was not comfortable with my client's dog.

There is a lot of dog-dog aggression in the city and the congestion and sheer numbers of dogs results in frequent encounters with dogs that do not like other dogs. Studying dog behavior and signs of aggression and anxiety is not only a fascination with me, but a necessity for self-preservation.

I would have had many more than 5 bites in the past if I did not know what I was doing. I can tell that a dog is anxious way before I am in harms way or put a dog in harms way. It was also obvious that the man had seen this behavior before as well, because he started to choke up on the leash and direct his attention towards his dog. Then it happened.

The Yorkie stiffened, looked at McIntire and started growling. I had already suggested to my clients that we move aside and let the man and his dogs by, because it was obvious that the little Yorkie was getting more uncomfortable as we got closer. But, instead of stopping or slowing down, the man continued moving towards us as we were moving out of the way.

And, no surprise to anyone his dog started barking and lunging towards the end of his leash. It happened really quickly. He said, "No!" and kicked his dog. His dog was probably 6 pounds soaking wet. The Yorkie did not yelp, or seem to care that much. But, it is impossible to know whether the assault caused any injuries that will show up later.

He was also in a full frenzy telling McIntire to back off. Animals don't stop to assess their wounds during the heat of a fight. But, whether he was injured or not is not the point. We all walked by in horror and my clients mentioned how terrible the whole scene was. I agreed, but kept my deepest feelings to myself. I was angry. I was sad.

I thought of what those dog's lives might be like. Living in fear each time they saw a dog, not only scared of the approaching dog but scared of the boots their person was wearing. What a tortured existence this must be. The ironic thing is I think one or both of the dogs had bows in their hair. What twisted person would take the time to put bows in their dogs hair, put them in a situation where they are obviously uncomfortable, and then kick them for acting like a scared dog?


Kicking a dog? A 6 lb Yorkie? I don't care if it was a 95 lb Rottweiler, it is the person's fault for putting his dog in that situation in the first place. The only excuse for ever being physical with a dog is if there is a dog fight or if the dog is attacking a person and the non-invasive methods including noise do not work to break it up. Dogs can cause damage very quickly.

But, it is inexcusable to have a dog that has obvious fear around other dog and repeatedly put him nto a situation and then get angry with him. The man could have crossed the street. He could have told us that his dog wasn't comfortable and would we mind waiting a moment until he passed. He could have gone the other way. Fear and aggression can be incredibly frustrating. I train dogs for a living and I have to sometimes remind myself to make sure I am focusing on the small successes when I am training a fear aggressive dog.

They can take one step forward in their progress and two steps back sometimes. They can seem to be ok in a situation and then lunge for no obvious reason. But you know what? It is not the dog's fault for being fearful. There are many reasons why dogs are fearful. It might have been improper socialization, or a trauma or genetics.

But often it is a combination of the three and most of the time they can be helped. There are sometimes extreme situations that are unworkable and necessitate the need to rehome a dog to a less stressful environment, but most dogs can stay in the home.The terribly ironic aspect about the ribbon wearing Yorkie with the abusive man is that he might actually love his dogs but just did not know how to help them!

Maybe he saw a television show that spouts the need to be "A calm leader" while the trailer for the show shows a woman dragging her Basset Hound down the street by a choke chain while the dog is lying on the ground. Maybe this guy just got bad advice! There is also a pretty good chance that he did not socialize his dogs properly and this whole situation could have been avoided.

If you have an aggressive dog, I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I feel for you. I am sure you would rather have a dog that runs happily through the park chasing butterflies and playing with all of the other dogs. I know that it stinks to cross the street and get looks from the other dog guardians that are questioning at the best or accusatory at the worst. I know that there are a lot of you reading this that adopted a dog from the shelter and now have a dog with an unknown history that shows dog aggression.

I know most of you are so emotionally invested in your dogs that you would do anything to help them. But there are so many competing views on how to achieve your goal. You are probably not a professional trainer and want to spend quality time with your dog after a hard day's work. You want to have a dog, not a project. I understand completely. But, it is never ok to put a dog in a situation repeatedly and then get angry.

Don't practice alpha rolls, don't use choke chains, shock collars or prong collars. Work on lessening the fear and anxiety and work on teaching your dog to be confident and feel safe, not scared.

Don't lose hope, and don't get angry. Don't.

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