Can I fly around on my broomstick for a couple of minutes? I really debated about writing this post but it's something that needs saying and it applies to every single person who does dog sports, no matter the breed, the venue or your level of experience.
When I started training dogs through the local 4-H program about a hundred years ago, the very first thing the instructor told us on the first night of class was “Watch your dog.” Pretty sound advice for a bunch of teenagers with a bunch of barely socialized farm dogs.
Such a simple lesson.
So why don’t we — as adults — do it?
In the last two weekends, I’ve had three separate incidences of dogs getting in Phoenix’s face. None of these dogs were being aggressive but Phoenix didn’t know that. Each time he was on leash, under control, minding his own business and all of a sudden - WHAM! There’s a dog invading his personal space! One was loose (approached straight on at a dead run), one (on lead) buried its nose under his tail and another dog (also on lead) leaped up to put his paws on Phoenix’s head.
His reaction was predictable and it wasn’t pretty. Instant fangs and snarls. Whirling and snapping. The kind of noise that has everyone around stopping to stare to see who’s getting killed. The kind that has me elevating his head and hauling him away on his back legs and body blocking the damn dog who came out of nowhere because its owner wasn’t paying any attention and is now wondering why the malinois wants to kill it.
Only it never comes to that because A) I AM watching my dog and B) Phoenix doesn’t really want to kill the offending dog, he just wants it to GO AWAY.
Unlike my previous dogs, who all came with varying degrees of doggie diplomacy, Phoenix has zero tolerance for strange dogs who get in his face. I’m not talking about dogs who approach him quietly and calmly when I’ve given him permission to go sniff. He’ll happily wag his tail and make nice for a brief greeting (he doesn’t need to develop lasting relationships). I’m talking about the SURPRISE IN YOUR FACE dog who comes out of nowhere because its owner has no idea what’s happening on the other end of the leash. I have a reactive dog and I know he’s not the only one. There were a number of dust-ups at a very crowded trial site this weekend and I know one handler got bitten.
In all three of our instances over the last two weekends, Phoenix was engaged and working with me when it happened. In two of them, we were waiting in line for an agility run, practicing attention and tricks. By their very nature, agility trials are crowded and congested. Basic courtesy dictates keeping your dog's nose to himself.
One lady’s dog was walking at the end of a 6-foot leash at the end of her outstretched arm. All was fine and good until the dog (8 feet away from its owner) decided to sniff Phoenix’s butt. While he was sitting at heel. Watching me. With his back turned to the offending dog. Until a nose rooted under his tail. To say that didn’t go over well would be an understatement. I remember the look of irritation on the woman’s face when I whirled around with my dog and saw her dog at the end of its leash, still trying to sniff Phoenix who was going off like a Roman candle.
The second agility incident happened, again, while we were in line for a run, minding our own business. A fellow stopped to visit some friends crated nearby. Pretty soon his dog wandered over and got in Phoenix’s face. Fireworks ensued.
I’ve quit apologizing for my dog roaring like a demon from hell when he’s taken unawares. Should I apologize because someone else wasn’t paying attention to what his or her dog was doing? Yes, my dog is reactive and yes, I am sorry this happened. But know what? He’s not going to bother your dog if you keep your dog out of his face. It’s that simple.
It scares the crap out of me every time it happens. Then I always feel guilty, like I should have seen the offending dog coming and done something to prevent the snarkiness. (Actually, I spend quite a bit of time watching over my shoulder and have, upon occasion, yelled at people to please keep their dog way. Then I feel guilty for being such a crab. But I’d rather be crabby than break up a dog fight.)
Lots of people believe in a Walt Disney-esque vision of performance events where all dogs love one another and frolic happily together through the day. Of course this is unrealistic. Tension, stress and adrenaline levels can turn a simple sniff into a outright challenge.
Please. Watch your dog. It doesn’t matter how friendly it is. Or that it just wants to say hi. I don’t want anyone to get hurt - my dog, your dog, me or you.
Okay, parking my broomstick now.