Tuesday, March 29, 2011
To Be Prey, or Not to Be Prey; No Question
[Disclaimer: The following is NOT a How-To guide, it is a How-I-Responded story. Thank you.]
Let me state right off the bat; I am a dog owner. My dog is a Shepherd mix, which means that she is large, she has a strong protective instinct, and she will bark her freaking head off at anyone who happens to be walking along the street as if they are the first wave of an assault of Visigoths intent on our murder and utter destruction. We don't need an alarm system; we have Vali. Because I own such a large and obnoxious dog, I am sensitive to others' reactions to her and do my utmost to keep her from annoying or frightening people. (Unless you are a Visigoth intent on our murder and utter destruction, in which case she is free to be her protective self.)
I have also taken some time to instruct myself on the training and handling of big dogs, which is my reasonable responsibility as a dog owner, and have learned that the most important aspect of her training is to teach her that I am the Alpha dog, not her, and she is therefore to obey me at all times. (I'll thank you to keep it in context if you want to quote me on this; I am not an alpha dog in any other circumstance or relationship. Thank you.) Even still, Vali sometimes gets out of hand. For this reason, we never allow her to simply run free in the yard without supervision. Our home came with an invisible fence, which we soon discovered to be faulty, so if Vali is out, we are out with her and she is wearing a shock collar with a portable device which we control. If we are in the front yard, where she is likely to spot an unsuspecting Visigoth walking along enjoying the public road, we stay right with her and grab her before she investigates said Visigoth. Even if the fence were operational, I have witnessed dogs deciding that the momentary discomfort was worth whatever goal they were racing towards as they bounded right past the invisible barrier to sweet freedom.
That said; I am also a runner, which means that I encounter many dogs along the routes which I run through my neighborhood. Walking one's dog is rather popular up here, because, frankly, we live in a beautiful area for walking and taking Fido for the daily constitutional is a responsible and healthy activity. On many occasions I pass people walking their dogs, which is nice enough because the dogs are leashed. I know many of the dogs, and their owners, by name, and we exchange a friendly hello as we pass each other. Recently I passed a family working in their yard with their aged Golden Retriever hanging out, leashless. They all watched as their dog came out into the road to meet me, and as I alone told the dog to go back to his family- not a word from any of them. Okay, everyone knows that Goldens are the friendliest dogs ever created by God, but these people had no idea whether I had a pathological fear of dogs or not. Fortunately, I am not afraid of dogs; it was merely a nuisance.
Because of the natural beauty of the neighborhood, invisible fences are frequently used. On many occasions I pass the homes of people who have their dogs running free in the yard, trusting the invisible fence to keep them in control when an irresistible temptation passes by. Some dogs bark; one pair are more menacing as they simply run growling through the underbrush. It's been a lifetime since I considered myself to be irresistible, but a couple of weeks ago I discovered that I indeed still am.
I had already run a hilly two miles in one direction from my home, and since I still felt good I decided to continue on past my house and finish up with one more mile, out and back to the end of our road. Running past a house mid-way down our street a pair of dogs tracked me across the length of their yard, hackles up, barking furiously. Over their barking I could hear the whine of the invisible fence collars which they wore, clearly indicating that they were at the limit. I left them behind, rehearsing in my head what I'd tell my friend from Florida who doesn't like dogs in any form, "Don't worry, you can hear that those collars are holding them at bay".
I made the turn at the end of the street and came back by, this time on the side of the road closest to the dogs. Since there was no traffic in either direction, I gradually moved to the center of the road in order to avoid provoking them unduly. They were waiting for me. Beginning at the corner of the yard they again tracked my progress, pacing alongside me and barking as loudly as before. At the midpoint of the yard, next to a tree, the larger dog suddenly took the plunge and darted straight out at me- finally deciding that I was worth breaking that barrier. I watched it happen as he ran right into me, beginning with a body blow to my thigh before turning to attack me, teeth bared.
Not even realizing what I was doing, yet fully in control, I turned to face him, yelling "NO!" as loudly and with as much authority as I could muster. More, actually, as I had no idea that there was any breath in my body. No freaking out, no fear, I met aggression with aggression and showed the dog who was boss. The dog skittered back into his yard and I continued on, keeping my eye on him until I was well past their property. The next-door neighbor was halfway down his driveway headed in my direction, clearly coming to investigate the yell that had shaken the windows of his home, and I gave him a thumbs –up to indicate that all was under control. Finishing my run I wasn't feeling as great, and by the time I got home I was actually shaking from the adrenalin. I was in one piece, however, which was all that mattered.
Later in the week on another run past the same house I spotted a human and stopped to talk. I'd found the house-sitter, as the owners were out of town, and I told her what happened. I wasn't yelling or complaining, simply informing. If there's a weak point in the fence it should be repaired; if the power on the collars can be turned up, perhaps they should. I'd certainly want to know if MY dog had attempted to attack someone, which is why I stopped. House Sitter listened between puffs on her cigarette, and then assured me that if only I hadn't freaked out and had stood quietly and still the dog would have peacefully sniffed me and then gone on its merry way.
I think not.
Let's be clear, I. Don't. Freak. Out.
Meeting a peaceful dog with a demure and quiet attitude may be recommended, but an aggressive dog mid-attack requires a different approach. If I'd been quiet and still I'd be reporting to you how many stitches I got in the Emergency Room.
I may be a runner, but nobody would mistake me for a gazelle. I am not prey.
Please, dog owners, control your dogs.