When to take your Shiba out of the dog park.

What’s one place you’re not going to find Tierce this summer? At the dog park. It looks like his tolerance for puppies and ‘paws-on’ dogs there has reached its limit.

Tierce and Tex

Tierce and one of his friends at daycare.

A four-month-old puppy was in the dog park the other evening. Tierce went over and was sniffing her. She started licking Tierce’s face and he lost it on her. Snarling, snapping, pinning her to the ground, screaming imprecations in Canine… it was scary.

We checked the puppy and she did not appear injured, just scared. Information was passed on in case she did have an injury discovered later on. Luckily for us, once the owner realized that we were taking responsibility and the puppy wasn’t hurt, he was mollified. The puppy perked back up a little, but of course she was frightened and it was unpleasant for all concerned.

So, I think it’s time to retire Tierce from the dog parks permanently. He is just become too intolerant of dogs getting into his personal space. Previously, in the dog park, he would snap or snarl if a puppy got too up close and personal – just enough to tell them to get away.

I’ve talked to a bunch of people about this incident and there have been several theories advanced.

One is that face-licking can be viewed as intrusive even if it’s done very submissively. The puppy wasn’t doing anything I would view as ‘rude’ enough to warrant Tierce’s reaction, but I have very little idea what goes through his head at times. I can guess, but in the end, I’m kind of feeling my way.

Several people have mentioned that their Shibas have ‘cut-off’ dates, where their Shibas have up and decided that, nope, the Shiba was no longer open or business with other dogs or certain types of dogs – puppies, ‘rude’ dogs, overly energetic dogs, etc.

This makes sense, based on what I’ve observed with Shassi. After the age of about a year and a half, Shassi hated other dogs, cats, you name it. She warmed up to very few other dogs – Tierce was tolerated at best and threatened with early neutering at worst.

And, of course, there’s simply the Shiba explanation: Tierce is a Shiba and thereby motivated by dark forces to lead me into a false state of complacency and humiliate me at the most inopportune times.

Anyway, this blog post is about when to take your dog out of the dog park. Well, even though he didn’t hurt the puppy and may have been expressing his disapprobation with the puppy being in his personal space, I think that’s way too intolerant for him to be brought back.

I’ve had some experience swallowing my pride over the last nearly-20-years-with-Shibas, so maybe this decision isn’t as hard as it would be otherwise. I don’t want to go, “Oh, he didn’t hurt the puppy, so whatever,” and then have him hurt another dog down the line.

One thing I’m conflicted on: Tierce seems much more at ease on off-leash trails and I’ve never had a problem with him there.  Is it the environment as much as the dog-to-dog interaction?  So far, at daycare, he is doing well, possibly because he is part of the ‘regulars’ and has his friends and is mostly left alone by the younger dogs.

It’s so difficult trying to get into this dog’s head and I’d like to hear people’s opinions on the matter.

A Warning

tiercesnarlI had a wake-up call a couple of days ago.  It’s hard to get it down here, because I feel so utterly ashamed of myself.

We have friends who own a pit bull.  “Buddy” is a lovely example of the breed; happy and friendly with people, but also with the single-minded intensity and dominance around other dogs that are hallmarks of the breed.  Despite this, he has had amicable relations with other dogs, so we thought he and Tierce should meet.

Buddy and his owners came around the corner of the house.  We were outside, because we thought it would be easier than in the house.  I brought Tierce forward on the lead to let them sniff noses.  Tierce was excited and went directly to Buddy… and Buddy grabbed him by the ear and Would. Not. Let. Go.  Tierce started SCREAMING and thrashing.  Luckily, Buddy’s owners were right on both the dogs and held them down so Buddy couldn’t shake his head and Tierce couldn’t thrash about too much.

At this point, I’m ashamed to say that I completely freaked out and could do nothing but alternately cry and scream, “Oh my God!”.  I couldn’t see how much damage Buddy was doing.  I couldn’t get in there because it would have made things more complicated, meaning worse, since Buddy’s owners were already in there and getting him to open his jaws.  Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done if I had been alone and I don’t want to know, because I broke down so completely.

They separated the two dogs and took Buddy to the car, while I got Tierce into the house. I was freaking out, my boyfriend was frozen with horror, my friends’ kids were hysterical and terrified that Buddy was going to be taken away or put down, and my friends had each been bitten by Tierce while he was freaking out from the terror and pain.

Amazingly enough, Tierce did not have a scratch on him.  It had been a warning.

But what a warning!  I was thinking of Bella, who is still at large.  I was thinking of all the pictures that I’ve seen of pit bull attacks.  Despite the fact that Buddy is a well-socialized, well-trained dog, he still took a long time (it probably was maybe 45 seconds to a minute) to let go and one of my friends had to stick his fingers down the dog’s throat to do it.

At this point, I would like to emphasize that this is NOT an anti-pit-bull post!  This was a huge human error on both sides.

Above all, I am kicking myself for not foreseeing this and protecting Tierce.  Buddy is a great dog, but he is a pit bull who has been attacked by other dogs before – it’s not strange that he would be on the defensive.  And, for an ABPT, defensive is usually a really, Really, REALLY good offensive. APBT have been bred for generations to fight other dogs and are very, very good at it.

Thank Dog my friends took the time to train and socialize him.  Thank Dog they were on the ball.  In the end, Buddy was a true APBT.  The only injuries that occurred were from Tierce and I’m going to give him a pass on that because he was hurting and scared.  Buddy never bit or threatened to bite his humans.  However, he would have severely injured or killed Tierce if things had not gone the way they did.

After this horrorfest, we got Tierce calmed down, Buddy calmed down and the kids calmed down.  After a visit from his “mom”, Buddy was a happy dog again.  Tierce was happy after I had the kids feed him a huge slab of turkey.  We dressed the wounds that Tierce made and spent a reasonably relaxed hour visiting… “So, anyway, how ya been?”

We also discussed the situation and came to the following conclusions:

Mistakes:

– Expecting Buddy and Tierce to get along because we wanted them to.  This was a big one, because we relaxed our guard around two male dogs, one an APBT and one an intact Shiba.

– Introducing the dogs near the house.  That was Tierce’s territory.  Out in the street or even farther would have been better.

– Bringing Buddy around the corner of the house to meet Tierce.  Surprising a dog with the presence of another dog is not always the best idea.  We would have done better to go out in the open where they could have seen each other coming.

– Letting Tierce come up to Buddy right away.  Keeping them separated to see their reactions could have clued us in to the fact that this was a Bad Idea.

– Not acknowledging the fact that Tierce is a very dominant dog and therefore is likely to approach other dogs in a dominant, in-your-face way.  Not something a male dog, especially a male APBT, is likely to take in good part.

– Forgetting that dogs often make decisions based on smell or minute behaviour that humans can’t easily detect.  Tierce’s entire demeanor up to the instant that Buddy grabbed him was, “Who the fuck are YOU?”  Buddy probably had figured that Tierce was going to try to take a chunk out of him well before Tierce came within touching distance.

I am heartily ashamed of myself for not stopping to think.  I could have easily cost Tierce his life or his left ear.   As it was, neither dog was hurt and the humans will recover.  I think my friends were scared – Buddy had never done that before.  I’m guessing he made the decision, after he was attacked by a loose Labrador, that a pre-emptive strike was best.

This was also an excellent lesson on the kind of responsibility that goes with the ownership of an APBT.  Buddy’s owners were prepared to deal with him and did not hesitate to act when things went south.  This is the kind of owner that a pit bull needs.  Buddy is a good dog who has a great temperament and who is owned by knowledgeable, prepared owners.  However, this great temperament is directed at people.  Dogs are a completely different ballgame, as we learned that day.  This incident proved that even the best owners can be blindsided by their dog; fortunately, Buddy’s owners acted immediately and saved Tierce from permanent damage.

Of course, if Tierce had been someone else’s dog, they could have easily blamed Buddy for the incident, because he is a pit bull.  It wasn’t Buddy’s fault. It was our fault, for not recognizing our dogs’ limitations and stress thresholds.  Unfortunately, since Buddy is a pit bull, the onus tends to be on his owners to prove that he didn’t start a fight or that the fight was the natural result of dog-to-dog dominance and not he’s-a-pit-bull-and-they-are-all-vicious-uncontrollable-dogs-that-should-be-killed.

In retrospect, Buddy acted exactly like a typical dog of his sex, age and breed would have acted.  In fact, given what we know about APBT, it was odd that a male pit bull in the prime of life, possessing all the speed and power gifted to his breed, latched on to Tierce and did not leave a single toothmark.  Maybe it was luck or maybe Tierce was very lucky that Buddy was socialized with other dogs in his youth and did not immediately go for a killing hold.

Repeat after me.  Dogs are not people.  Just because a dog gets along with people, does not mean s/he will get along with other dogs.  Shibas are very smart about a lot of things, but their comprehension of their size and fighting power is grossly exaggerated.  Shibas are little shits who will take a shaky situation and make it worse if they possibly can.  Despite the fact that Shibas are little shits, it’s the owner’s full responsibility to make sure they don’t pay the price for being said little shits.

So, if you have a dominant Shiba, be very careful about their attitude towards other dogs.  A Shiba that is extremely submissive may not have the problems that were brought up by my experience, but then again, I have never met a Shiba that didn’t think it owned the world.  If you want to introduce your dog to your friend’s dog, stop and think:

-am I prepared to cancel the physical meeting of the dogs if I think that they are not reacting to each other well at any point?  I ignored my inner warning voice because I wanted the dogs to get along.

-is my dog really good with other dogs?

-is my friend’s dog good with other dogs?

-is there any history that might indicate that the dogs may not get along or may start to grate on one another?

-are the dogs stressed at all?

-am I choosing a neutral venue that allows the dogs plenty of time to see and evaluate each other before physically meeting?

-if there is a fight, am I prepared to deal with it?  Can I break up a fight if it happens? (this is a big one for me; I learned that I need to know what to do if this (DOG FORBID) ever happens again, instead of standing around like a useless, screaming git.)

In the end, this was a relatively minor incident that ended as well as such incidents can.  I didn’t blame Buddy for being what he was.  I didn’t blame his owners; I was just as much at fault for not seeing the pawprints on the wall.  They didn’t blame me or Tierce.  While we were shaken up and frightened at what could have happened, what could have happened didn’t.  It was human error, not canine viciousness and I daresay that Buddy’s owners learned as much as I did about their dog’s abilities and limitations.

I just hope that this story will encourage people with dominant dogs to take things slowly when introducing their dogs to other dogs and keep their dogs away if there are any signs that things will not or are not going well.

Rambling Post from SuperSickShibaPerson

Well, Nanaimo finally got some snow and I’m sick.  I’d like to say “sick as a dog”, but Tierce has been disgustingly healthy.  Well, that was before he barfed up some bile in the car, when my boyfriend decided to take him to the dog park to run around.  Tierce and the dog park are not always compatible, as my boyfriend found out when Tierce decided to take offense at a Shepherd/Rottweiler mix who promptly pinned him down and gave him a smacking.  Not to be deterred, Tierce decided to launch a full offensive, only to be separated from his bemused antagonist by Boyfriend and the other dog’s owner.

cloak-005Sometimes Tierce gets on alright with other dogs; sometimes not.  However, in the dog park, there are 2 acres that he could be deciding to fight another dog in and that just doesn’t do it for me.  I might try him out after he’s neutered, but I’m still leery of it.  Neutering doesn’t always “fix” all the aggression and dominance issues some Shibas have.  Tierce is much better one-on-one with other dogs, or with females (surprise, surprise).

And my boyfriend isn’t planning on taking Tierce back to the dog park.  Amazingly enough, the owner of the other dog was frantically apologizing, probably the result of having a large, strong dog with obvious guarding breed ancestry.  Boyfriend, bless his heart, said, “Why are you apologizing?  My dog was being an asshole and deserved whatever he got!”

Tierce was fine, by the way, which was a good thing, as that dog could have seriously taken a chunk out of him had he wanted to, from Boyfriend’s description.  I’m wondering if there really is some kind of “small dog syndrome”.  I’ve heard owners of Rottweilers and APBT talk about it – small dogs going for their dogs for no apparent reason (often while their owners wring their hands and accuse the owner of the attacked dog for having a vicious monster).

Either way, Tierce is not going back into the dog park for a long, long time.  Now my boyfriend knows why I generally don’t let him in there unless there are no other dogs (although that’s tricky, because someone could come in with their dog at any moment).  All’s well that ends well, but things can be better when they don’t happen in the first place.

And, no, that picture above has nothing to do with the subject of today’s treatise; it’s just a cute picture of Tierce on the SCA garb my brother scored off of Craigslist for me.