A Cautionary Tale

If you own a dog-aggressive dog, you already know you have to manage him or her carefully. Learn from my mistake, too.

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Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

Last month, I told you that WDJ’s Training Editor Pat Miller and I had been discussing the possibility of writing an article about dogs who kill other dogs; over the span of a few months, Pat had received calls from three different people who had a dog killed by one of their other dogs. After much thought and discussion, Pat wrote a terrific article on how to manage a beloved family dog who, incongruously, appears to have the potential for this horrible deed.

What I didn’t tell you is that I had been pressing Pat for this article because I was still struggling to understand how, late last summer, one of my foster dogs caused the death of my tough little Chihuahua-mix, Tito – and why I didn’t see it coming.

tito chihuaha mix

I haven’t discussed it in any WDJ forum yet; only my closest friends (including long-time WDJ contributors) and family have known about this traumatic experience. I’ll tell the long version of what happened on the WDJ website blog page, but suffice it to say here that I have been punishing myself ever since for a fatal lack of foresight or ability to recognize (Pat would call it a lack of experience) these things: that even a dog who appears to be happy and unstressed on the day of the tragic event could, in fact, be suffering from the effects of stress experienced during the previous days or weeks. And that even happy excitement can trigger a physiological response that’s chemically – hormonally – identical to the “fight or flight” body chemistry of a highly stressed dog, which can put a dog-aggressive dog into a dangerously aroused state. And that any difference in size, strength, and speed between a dog-aggressive dog and other dogs around them can spell doom for the smaller, weaker, or slower dog.

After reading Pat’s article, “Managing a Family of Intra-Aggressive Dogs,” and re-reading an article she wrote that was published in the October 2010 issue of WDJ (“Understanding Aggression in Dogs“), I understand what happened a lot better. I don’t feel any better about it, and I’ll never forgive myself for failing to recognize the seriousness of the aggressive behavior of the foster dog (a Corgi) or failing to protect Tito. He got hurt, and despite immediate and thorough medical attention and hospitalization, he died a day later from his injuries.

My dad used to say, “Nobody’s perfect!” when someone was upset about an error they made. After 20 years of writing about dogs, though, I’m still mortified and grieving about my mistake and the fact that Tito paid the ultimate price for it. And I’m hoping that if you have a dog-aggressive dog, you read Pat’s articles carefully, and think about Tito, may he rest in peace.

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