Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 7, 2013

Sometimes, stuff suddenly happens

Posted at 11:11AM - Comments: (14)

Last week, the dog blogs and all of my dog-owning friends were upset about a column in the New York Times, written by a mother whose then-two-year-old got badly bitten by a dog. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/magazine/the-dog-bit-me.html?_r=0) In the column, the mother recounts the incident, which happened three years ago. Long story short, the dog involved used to be her dog, but proved to be uncomfortable around kids, so she rehomed him with her father; and then some months later, when visiting her father’s house, the dog bit the child – badly, and in the face.

I didn’t blame anyone for wanting to comment on the column; there were many aggravating things about the author’s tone, her seemingly grudging and incomplete feeling of responsibility for the incident, and her lack of understanding about and for the dog, who was sadly set up to fail.

A few days later, the same author wrote a sort of follow-up piece (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/what-i-learned-too-late-about-keeping-kids-safe-around-dogs/?src=recg) that somewhat helpfully showed what had not been clear from the first article: that the author actually learned a few things about keeping kids safe from dogs. However, she didn’t say anything about keeping dogs safe from kids – or keeping at-risk kids and dogs assiduously apart through the use of gates, doors, and crates.

I read a lot of the comments, but I didn’t want to chime in. There was plenty in both articles to criticize, but as the owner of a dog (my beloved Rupert, many years deceased) who had not one but two face bites on his permanent record, I’m here to say that sometimes someone lets the dog out at the worst time, and someone messes with the dog who shouldn’t, and oh my goodness I’m sorry and yes I am going to pay that hospital bill. (In my own defense, it was ultimately my fault each time, never the dog’s. And it happened each time in a moment of inattention – not even a minute, not even a quarter of a minute. A second or two that I’d like to have back forever.)

And dammit, you can’t ever get those seconds back, a horrid fact I was reminded of in the wee hours this very morning.

I was working late. It was hot, so all the doors and windows were open. A cat screamed in the backyard, and all the dogs – big Otto, little Tito, and a foster dog (a Corgi named Ruby) went flying out the back door barking, ready to do battle against the world’s feral cats. I leaped up and hissed myself, “No! Off! Come! Otto!” not wanting to wake any neighbors who hadn’t been woken already. The dogs came streaming back in, full of excitement, tails wagging, eyes shining. I turned to close the door behind them – and there was the second I’d like to have back. As if in slow motion, I saw Tito get jostled, and he stiffened, snarled, and snapped at the foster dog. And just as fast, she snarled and grabbed him by the back of the neck.

Tito screamed. I yelled, “HEY! OFF! NO!” – which didn’t make her stop her attack on Tito, but scared Otto enough to make him dodge out of the fray; I think he was about a second from diving in and attacking Ruby. Yelling didn’t make her stop or let go, though, so in the next second, I grabbed her by the scruff, still yelling, and shook the stuffing out of her. I lifted her off the ground (she’s only 25 pounds) but it still took her a second or two before she loosened her grip on poor Tito and he fell to the ground, still screaming. I carried her, still by the scruff, to the closest room (the bathroom) and threw her in, slamming the door behind her, because Tito was still screaming.

Thank goodness, he doesn’t have a puncture anywhere, but he’s sore and dispirited. He shook the whole time I cleaned him up (he had evacuated his bowels, and anal glands, in the melee) and shrieked and snapped at me a few times as I inspected him closely for damage. Ruby was going in this morning to be spayed, anyway, so I’m going to take him too and see if the vet will give him some pain meds.

I don’t think I missed any danger signs from Ruby, things that would indicate I should have kept the dogs apart. I had seen her stiffen a time or two when Tito growled at her (for example, when they first met, with her on-leash, and she sniffed his butt). But each time, I moved quickly to encourage them both to turn away and step away, and each time, she wagged and stepped away and that was that. I’ve only had her for three days (and am scheduled to have her for only another four or five days before she’s scheduled to go to her adoptive home, where she will be an only dog), but I really don’t think (so far) that I’m missing signs that she’s a scary, dog-aggressive dog.

That said, I certainly did fail to pay perfect attention and manage the situation to minimize any chance of an incident between her and my dogs. I should have walked farther through the door with the jacked-up little pack, and not turned to close the door until they were safely dispersed, not all bunched up at the door. And perhaps I should not have even had 10-pound Tito, known to bristle with that infamous and misplaced Chihuahua self-confidence, hanging out with a foster dog (even just a 25-pound female) with an unknown history so soon.

Anyway, I’m feeling a bit like that hapless New York Times columnist. Hit me! I’m ready (and sorry, Tito).

Comments (14)

Dogs are not people so it is not surprising that we are not able to tell what will make them do the unexpected no matter how much we know or how close we are to them they are a different species that live by instinct above every thing else they relate to pack order which i think is based on lots of stuff we will never know everything about. We have yet to completely figure out our own species. We may assume that the dog is a simpler species less complex and easier to predict but that dose not make it so.Except them for what they are as they except you.

Posted by: Mary J. Q | August 19, 2013 11:06 AM    Report this comment

You really can't beat yourself up over this. What it comes down to is that they are dogs, and even those of us who know body language, you can miss something and that something can happen so fast. You just have to learn from the mistakes and try not to let whatever the situation was that started it happen again.
Back to the NYT article. It's still sitting on my kitchen counter because I am so mad at that woman and that story. I was going to write to her, but just haven't had the time. What really got me was the fact that she wished the dog were dead and that she had let him die in St. Croix. It was really all her fault! I hope she never owns another dog. Some people just don't deserve them.

Posted by: Nancy B | June 18, 2013 5:29 PM    Report this comment

thank you for sharing, if we can learn from our mistakes I think our dogs thank us.

Posted by: TERRY C | June 18, 2013 12:02 PM    Report this comment

I have a Golden Retriever (87 lbs, 4 yrs old,) who feels easily threatened by other dogs his size or larger. The trainer said he was an "insecure dominant." I no longer take him to the dog park because he has gotten into some scuffles. No one was hurt and they never lasted longer thana few seconds, but with large dogs, the sounds are very scary to hear. He m.o. is to for whatever reason, pick on a random dog to sniff. If that dog walks away, he follows it to sniff and if the dog shows any objection, a fight breaks out. Whenever I see him wanting to sniff a dog, I call him over or distract him, but I sometimes was too late. This didn't happen on a regular basis. It was always random. I am sad that I can no longer take him to the dog park to mix with other dogs. He has attacked puppies who try to take their toys back from him. He is a toy/bone thief and will not return nicely. If we walk by someone throwing the ball for their dog, I always warn them not to allow my dog to get the ball and tell them why.It's sad because my Goldne is very loving, great with kids, has never bitten anyone, very patient, and usually good with puppies. As long as the puppy stays away from his face.

Posted by: pascalelee53 | June 12, 2013 8:46 AM    Report this comment

I've worked with and had dogs for 43 years and never had that happen, despite having as many as a dozen in-house at one time, always a combo of my own Dane, several boarders, a rescue, and my pack coming in on a break [ all larger breeds---another Dane, chows, a Ridgie,a Golden,etc.].My mostly male group were unneutered,as this was back in the 70,s and 80's. No gates, no cages, in two tiny rooms. The dogs were used to seeing new faces.There might be the introductory growls or even a lunge from the inductee, but that was seldom repeated and mutual respect would be the way things went. I never had them challenge each other. It wasn't magic. They simply knew, without question, that they were all under ME, and my protection. I was the alpha.I was the leader [ and still am]. Knowing this kept them calm, I'm sure, because the only 2 times a fight broke out between two of them [ a different pair each time] was when another person-who should've known better--pushed them into each other's faces to "kiss". But at least no damage was done. There's something wrong with the mentality of a dog who launches into kill-mode, and they're desperately in need of training.

Posted by: Ms Willie H | June 11, 2013 8:17 PM    Report this comment

Our current household is only 3 dogs, 2 cats; however, we've had up to 8 dogs, various cats (all inside) at one time, and we've also taken care of family's pets when they're away. It has been one heck of a dance, let me tell you. Just as soon as you think you have the routine down, someone throws a monkey wrench into it. The key word there is "someone" because it's almost always a person. I really think the key to success in such circus arenas as the multi-animal household is having all participating human members square-dancing together. When everyone has the routine down and ALWAYS does it (as opposed to not if they're tired or cranky or just don't feel like it) you've got it licked. I have put a dog down for biting, or I should say, dangerous unpredictability. I had another who had a severe disliking for a smaller dog in the household and would hurt her if she had the chance and, at the same time, one who always squabbled at her father, although she never, ever bit him or anyone else. The dog I put down was the first time I had a dog that could turn so suddenly and quickly from tender, sweet, cuddling balls of yarn she would steal from my sister while she was knitting to a vicious biter who actually would try to kill. It traumatized me severely; the guilt was so terrible that it's only recently I could look at the entire situation and figure out what the problem was. It was people. It was me allowing the unpredictable human who never swayed me ever in how I related to all my other dogs suddenly make me let her call the shots. I really am much better at calling the shots, and now that I know that, it will never happen again. The dog I put down (my decision) was so good and so talented in so many ways. It still hurts. I take my dog relationships seriously. Even if you don't put them down and they die, there's the danger of blaming yourself and carrying guilt forever. You just cannot go there.

Posted by: Jemini | June 11, 2013 7:21 PM    Report this comment

Several years ago we adopted a one eyed American bulldog puppy that was 6 weeks old. She joined our family of two German shepherds, a Weimaraner and 3 dachshunds. Everyone lived happily and appeared to be a blended pack until 4 months later. We were getting ready to go to bed when I decided one more treat would be a good night treat. A crumb fell on the floor and all hell broke loose. The puppy (who at 4 months weighed about 35 lbs.) jumped on top of my 10 lb Doxie and ripped him to shreds from his neck to his tail. The other dogs tried to join the attack but dutifully stayed at bay. The pup wouldn't release the Doxie and he had to be pried from her grasp. We wrapped him in a blanket and ran to the emergency room where for a full week he remained in intensive care. This all happened within a second with no prior warning from a happy go lucky pup. My Doxie survived and when the bulldog went to attack one of our cats a week later we returned her to the breeder who we assume put her down. Needless to say I felt totally responsible and to this day relive that scene trying to uncover a clue prior to the attack. There was no clue.
It came out of nowhere. Since that horrible night we've had a pack of 6 dogs of various breeds and ages live respectfully together....

Posted by: MarshMelOh | June 11, 2013 6:52 PM    Report this comment

For the first time in a long while I have a family of dogs that for the most part know their heirarchy and get along fairly well. There is, however, a bit of rife between the matriacrh and her oldest daughter (6 yr old mother and a two 1/2 yr old female). This usually appears if one of them has been away and then returns to the household. Usually the daughter initiates the posturing with bristling of the shoulder hairs and stifening of the body and tail, eyes firey. I choose to difuse the behaviour by pretending that it is ridiculous and declare that it is "time to play!" Surprisingly, this method works very well. I like the idea that I can allow the dogs to work out their differences themselves without getting between them because I think that this method solves the problem better than it would if I try to intervene and create an "artificial" or ingenuine and false sense of where each member actually stands within the group's dynamic roles. As time goes on, they are sure to challenge each other and I would rather it be by a slow, ongoing process than a sudden deathly fight. My hope is that by not interferring constantly in their behaviour patterns when showing dominance and submission, they will work things out amongst themselves. I DO have one rule though...It always seems that in play sessions, the youngster of the group is always subject to being bullied. I will only let that go on for so long before I call a "time-out" and separate everyone and break up the play session. I feel that although the youngest member learns he/she has a place at the bottom and has to learn to work their way up, they should not be demoralized....Just a few of my thoughts. I also do not go away and let the oldest (matriacrch) and the chalenger 2 1/2 year old daughter together alone.

Posted by: Mardi H | June 11, 2013 3:38 PM    Report this comment

Oh yes this is my worst nightmare! My husband calls me a crazy control freak.....and I am for sure getting worse. Last summer we had 11 dogs in the house. Six of our own and five foster dogs. They were a combination of big (81#) and small (2 puppies) and young and old dogs. My husband (71) and myself (63) were exhausted from taking care of everyone (we cook for all of the dogs) and keeping them exercised (we have large fenced in yards...that helps a lot). We have had a few close calls when there is a traffic jam at the door waiting to come in. I have one little guy who is a Chi-Jack Russell mix (was foster but we adopted him because he was so freaky) and he is a little testy with puppies at first so we are super careful with new fosters. Thank you for writing about the incident it really could happen to any of us!

Posted by: Olivia | June 11, 2013 3:16 PM    Report this comment

We are so often caught between a rock and a hard place. We can go to extremes of caution to keep everyone safe, but this limits our dogs' opportunities to learn better skills and experience great things; which is a big part of fostering. And lots of folks who wind up fostering are the kind of people who already live with, and love, their own socially-challenged dogs. Safety v. opportunity, as my dogs keep reminding me, is one of the great balancing acts of life, and I don't know if the balance can ever be perfect.

Posted by: Stephanne C | June 11, 2013 2:32 PM    Report this comment

Agreed, hind-sight is 20/20. What I've noticed in doing a LOT of rescue is that you really need to be careful with an unknown dog.

When dogs get excited (including fence-fighting) with another dog in another yard, they CAN turn on each other, regardless of how long they have known each other. So your cat-induced bite frenzy, with overly excited dogs, is not as surprising as you might think.

Posted by: Betsy | June 11, 2013 11:56 AM    Report this comment

In a situation of hyped up dogs you can always do the "what if" scenario. No matter how diligent you are, as you found out, things happen in seconds. The right time - right circumstance etc. You can only try to be as diligent and careful as possible and there are times things are going to happen. If you had walked out of the doorway the fight might have still happened and you would have been farther away and possibly not have been able to stop the fight as quickly. If you have a dog that you know bristles or has an attitude than more caution needs to be used. That being said you don't want to be in a situation of isolating that dog which will cause other issues for that dog. You can have the most level dog and just happen to come in contact with another dog that gives a look, a lip curl, body posture, or whatever and a problem happens. Fortunately your quick response saved further damage and no one was badly injured. You now know how Tito reacts and will be more cautious in the future. None of us have crystal balls to know what will happen in every circumstance. Chalk it up to additional experience and be thankful no one was seriously injured. I would work on teaching the dogs not to fly out the back door when they choose regardless of the distraction. It is also a good lesson for all of us not to judge the circumstances of someone else without knowing all of the facts. Sometimes as humans we judge others too quickly.

Posted by: PAMELA L. S | June 11, 2013 11:32 AM    Report this comment

Hind-sight is 20/20. I don't see a good reason to beat you up for what happened. It just goes to show that even the most dog aware people can have something like this happen to them. You were lucky and you know better for next time.

Posted by: VERONICA M | June 11, 2013 11:00 AM    Report this comment

thank you for your honest and insightful recount of this terrifying event. I'm very glad that you didn't receive a serious bite. I don't know any dog owner who doesn't have at least one instance (more often several), where they would do anything to re-live a few seconds after their dog's regrettable interactions with other dogs, poisonous snakes or yellow jacket nests, people, you name it. Hindsight is 20-20. It's great you were quick-thinking and acted immediately to separate the dogs, to avoid a tragic conclusion.

Posted by: Jency | June 11, 2013 10:48 AM    Report this comment

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