Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dominance, Dog Aggression and Dog Parks

Usually it's my sister who did the bad thing! Not me, sweet Zoe!

So we had an incident this week and because I like to keep things real, I'm going to tell you about it. Everyone makes mistakes and I ended up making one. I'm lucky we came out of the situation okay. Honestly, I wish I could tell you what I was thinking when I made this mistake and I'm still kicking myself for it. I know better than this but I screwed up anyways.

I've been walking my dogs separately this week, I'm planning on doing a post about it soon.  It's been hugely eye opening for me and I've been really enjoying each dog for her own personality and I love the one-on-one time.

On Monday I was out with Zoe. It was the holiday and all of the neighbors were out, too. Lately, I have been feeling badly about Zoe never getting to meet new dogs because we always have Phoenix with us and she doesn't like other dogs. Zoe used to go to the dog park all the time before we got Phoenix and she had a ton of friends there.

Zoe playing with her friend, Jasmine, the Great Dane
Zoe & Marley are best buddies!
Kisses from a bully puppy!

Zoe is generally pretty friendly with other dogs but she's had a few dogs try to bully her in the past and she's had a few dogs go after her. She really doesn't appreciate rude behavior and she's not shy about saying "hey, I don't like that!"

So we were out walking and this "brilliant" idea pops into my head, why don't we head over to the dog park? It's nice out and she could run around off leash. Generally, I avoid the dog park on weekends and holidays (or whenever any of my neighbors are using it) and I know my neighbors dogs are pretty much all terrible. I know better but I did it anyways. I really wish I could do that day over again! Why You Should Avoid Dog Parks!

We get to the dog park and one neighbor is in there. He has a husky and a shih tzu. I've seen his dogs before and in the past I've noticed that they are a little barrier frustrated. They were barking at the fence at Zoe and they seemed too excited. The owner and I talked a little bit, giving the dogs a chance to calm down a little and I asked him if he would call his dogs away from the fence so I could come in. He came and got his dogs but had no control over them and the shih tzu began growling at him. This is where my gut was telling me to turn around and go away but I didn't listen. Why did I open that gate!? Sigh. I think the owner holding the husky back made him even more frustrated because when I opened the gate, the owner let go and the husky just bull dozed Zoe. It was one of the rudest greetings I've ever seen and it didn't turn out well. Zoe was instantly defensive and they got into it. Zoe actually ended up pulling out a chunk of his shedding hair.

So I yelled HEY!!! at them and they separated and everything was okay for a few minutes. The other owner was so nonchalant about the whole thing and because of his reaction to it, I doubt this is the first time his dog has gotten in trouble with another dog. Then he proceeds to tell me, "My dog is just a dominant male. All dogs are just trying to be dominant, you know!"

Bigger SIGH. Here's where I'm going to insert an amazing article on the Dominance Controversy by Dr. Sophia Yin. Basically dominance has been disproven by science. The scientist that came up with it and has sense retracted his research and apologized! I recommend reading the article. It's really good. (I have more resources available on the Dominance Controversy, just visit my training page.)

My take on the whole incident was this was a young dog who was too excited who didn't have dog/dog manners. He was also being a husky, his body language was overly forward and I don't think he knew any better. He is a husky who is not trained and is obviously not well socialized. He's probably not exercised enough, either. I never see them walk him and the only time he's out is when his owner sits with him the dog park. It's not his fault but his owner just thinking he's being dominant is not helping the situation. Dominance is not a personality trait.

Ladder of Aggression

Zoe was not being "dominant", either. She was responding to a threat. She was defending herself. She didn't know if that dog was going to attack her. All she knew was that she was suddenly being bulldozed by a bigger dog that she didn't know. Her response, in my opinion, was a bit over the top but I get it. Zoe has had other dogs go after her in the past and she's learned that rude dogs do not listen to her. So she has to escalate and be really loud, scary and bigger than the other dog to get her point across.  I'm not saying it was okay at all. It was not good and I'm not happy about it. We are lucky that they stopped when I yelled and that neither dog was seriously injured.

I ended up apologizing to the owner and we left the dog park. There was no way they were going to get along, the husky kept poking at her and kept trying to bully her as she wandered around trying to sniff things. It was a bad situation and leaving was the only thing I could do. The other owner had no control over his dogs, he had no intention of even trying to control his dogs and it just wasn't going to work out. It's never a good idea to let the dogs try and work it out. Things just go from bad to worse so leaving is the best thing for everyone.

So what is my take home from this? I need to listen to my gut instinct. Dog parks can be okay places for some dogs but they are not for everyone. Small enclosed places with other strange dogs don't work for my dogs anymore. They can do Thousand Acres because it's a big place and they can get away from other dogs easily. We also go there at off times and I don't stop to chat with people. The interactions out there with other dogs are very short 5-10 seconds at the most. They sniff each other in passing and we all go on our merry way. In a small fenced area, there's no where to go. With dogs, it's fight, flight or freeze. In a small enclosed area, there are not many options.

I will no longer allow interaction with any of my neighbor's dogs and we will only use that fenced area if no one is around.

I feel very badly about what happened, for both Zoe and the husky. It's my job to protect my dogs and I failed her. The only thing I can do now is to try my best to make sure that never happens again. I'm sharing this with everyone so that you can learn from my mistake as well. Always listen to your gut instinct. If a situation feels wrong it probably is. Always be an advocate for your dog.

Have you ever had an incident at a dog park before? What did you do?


  1. Our dog parks are mostly huge, so it is easy to go and just walk off leash. At the smallest one, many humans stand in one spot and expect their dogs to play, but we keep walking the perimeter and it works. We just don't like people who don't pay attention to their dogs. I prefer to be left alone, but some dogs just insist on sniffing so I snap at them. We generally only go to the dog parks on week days during the day as we like to avoid crowds. We go a few times a year and it is fun.

    1. I totally agree, Emma! The park we usually go to is a 1,000 acres and it's not fenced. We hike the trails and the girls can run free. We hardly ever have any trouble out there. The small enclosed parks are no longer an option for us. The one I went to with Zoe in our complex and I will only be using it from now on if no one is in there.

  2. I am so sorry that happened to you guys. Yeah. I would have been wary about entering given what you observed in the other two dogs. I am not above educating an owner when that happens. Sue Sternberg says the entering a dog park can be the most dangerous time for a dog.

    I feel fortunate that we have two entrances to ours. I have walked away from one entrance and gone to another one when there is too much action near one. It also helps that we have 16 acres and can walk away. I hope this guy learns something from the encounter, but I doubt it.

    1. Yeah, I definitely agree with Sue Sternberg. I really wish I could go back and have a do-over! I know better and I was still dumb. It sucks. I won't be using that area again unless it's empty! :( The big dog park we usually go to is over 1,000 acres and we rarely ever have issues out there. It's not fenced and the dogs don't feel trapped. We hike the trails and wave hi to people as we pass.

  3. That is a bummer! But don't be too hard on yourself. We are all only human and even the most expert in any given field will make a mistake from time to time because they are human. I would bet Zoe knows you didn't mean her any harm and mistakes happen. Good learning event because you were paying attention. How many people have things like that happen and don't learn from it because they aren't trying to do their best?

    1. Awe thank you! I'm trying not to beat myself up but when I know better it's hard for me to not. I definitely learned my lesson, though. Always listen to your gut!

  4. Aw wow, i'm so sorry!!! People who own huskies and do not properly train, nor give them enough exercise, is what gives huskies a bad name. People need to grow a brain!!!!! I'm glad you got out of there before the situation got worse! I love my local dog park, because it's small and I know everyone there, as well as their dogs. (I live in a small town) but I do avoid dog parks in larger areas, thats for sure!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    1. Yep, absolutely! I've known some amazing huskies but I've also known some bad ones. People just don't know what to do with them! :( That's awesome that you have a good dog park with people and dogs you know!

  5. I'm so sorry you had this experience. Delilah has barrier issues so I totally get this. The times we did go to the dog park I would try and keep her well away from the gate. It is also the main reason she stopped going to Daycare, because she actually bit a dog through the fence. Whether that was her intention or not, it is not acceptable.

    I've discovered that most people don't know the proper way to let dogs get to know each other and so I do my best to avoid them when possible.

    We are so hard on ourselves when something doesn't turn out the way we expected aren't we? It may not have started well but you removed her as soon as you knew it wasn't going to work. Please stop beating yourself up about it.

    1. Thank you! I am definitely very hard on myself. Especially when I do something so dumb like the above! We will be avoiding all of our neighbors from now on.

      I'm sorry that happened with Delilah! Phoenix is also barrier frustrated and she loves to fence fight. It's definitely a tough thing to work on!

  6. That sucks, but don't beat yourself up. We're going to make mistakes with our dogs, just a fact of life. Poor Zoe!

  7. Don't be so hard on yourself - you are teachable. You learn from your experiences and know to do better. That idiot with the Husky, should feel badly about well, being an idiot and allowing his dog to continue to act like that in what seems like a pattern of bad behavior. In my experience, the majority of people use the dog park inappropriately. I avoid dog parks like the plague due to a handful of not very good experiences and a LOT of idiot dog owners. I run into enough people that treat the local park and the desert trails behind the park like a dog park. Thankfully, I usually notice them soon enough that I can get B off the trail. Of course, some dogs insist on approaching her anyway (despite their owners' pathetic attempts at trying to recall their dog). We had this happen over the weekend. B and I pulled off the trial - she noticed the large poodle coming at her and had her head lowered, tail tucked. Thankfully, the dog was educated enough to respect the signals B was giving about not wanting to be approached and didn't come any closer. I love (not) how people actually believe their dogs have great recall when the fact is - their dogs probably have great recall only when there aren't other dogs around! Sorry, but that's not great recall. I seldom allow B to be approached by another dog even if it is on leash unless I see she's giving the all clear - which is basically her looking interested and whining and wagging her tail to meet the other pup. If it's mutual, they meet each other, sniff, and then we move away. Short and sweet. I'm not perfect in gauging every situation and I've learned a lot of these lessons the hard way - and I'm still learning. We all are, and that's the take-away from a situation like you had. When we think we know everything - that's when we are in trouble. Be glad that the encounter didn't end up with a vet visit or threats of a lawyer, etc. :)

    1. Thank you! I wish people would educate themselves and actually work with their dogs. It's so sad that they don't!

  8. Good thing you learned and no one was hurt in the incident.
    We avoid dog parks like the plague, their are plenty of good articles about why you should avoid them, bad doggy manners, stupid owners who don't pay attention, disease, behavioral issues, and dog fights being big reasons. When we started doggy daycare, even the people there said they can always tell a "dog park dog" because they are usually the rudest and have the worst manners, as well as mounting issues since owners don't seem to think its a big deal.
    I've noticed most dog park people just cut their dogs loose and don't watch what is going on, being that I have bullies even if they didn't start something (i.e Ziva defending herself from a rude dog) i'm worried we'd be blamed if another dog was injured.
    So we stick to play dates with friend/family member's dogs or nice people that we meet on a walk if the dogs are all getting along nicely.
    Ziva's beginning of her reactivity problems was when she was attacked by a a dog park...before we knew better. Turns out the mastiff was food aggressive and wanted the treat that the lady was giving to Ziva for himself. Our mistake cost us a year and a half of threshold training to get her to be around strange dogs and even now i'm paranoid about making sure they meet right. But on a good note she loved doggy daycare and made tons of friends!

    1. Trust me, I know all about all of those dog park articles. I am the first one to share them! We took Zoe when we first got her and she liked going. She likes to meet other dogs but I saw first hand the dangers of the place. When we got Phoenix, we stopped going all together except for Thousand Acres because it's so big and there are not fences, no tiny enclosed places for dogs to feel trapped.

      Like I said, I honestly have no idea what I was thinking or why I opened the gate. I know better and I am still kicking myself over it.

  9. Hi hi hi! Ojo here! Dominance is not a personality trait. That is true!

    We do not go to Dog Parks (my person says this is because my needs are very different from Cobi's, and because she prefers to keep us walking rather than just hanging out), but I have had many incidents out of Walks. I make my own mistakes. When I get overwhelmed I run, and then I get chased, and then I get flattened. This is not because I am not dominant; it is probably because I lived in a place called Shelter as a puppy and did not learn what to do in tense situations. (I get treats each time I can stay still and move past an intense dog, and I am slowly getting better at this!)

    Cobi likes to think she gets to be dominant, or in other words that she gets the things we both want. But I have to tell you that it's equal. Just this morning we both wanted to lie in Donut Bed, but I snuck in there faster and first, so I got what science called dominance! Hurray for me! But really, we just always work things out!

    Pee Ess My person says to say that she makes mistakes all the time too. She tries her best to set us up for success and help us, but sometimes things happen and she sees how she should have done something differently. Like yesterday she should told that person sooner not to pet Cobi (and so Cobi wouldn't have had to bark and lunge to protect herself). But I know she does her best, just like you do!

  10. All dogs need exercise, and it's really unfortunate when the working breeds who thrive on physical activity are not exercised enough, like the husky you ran into.

    I've never taken Bain to the dog park, I've been really close to tossing around the idea, but I just can't. I'm glad that I never have, and it's unfortunate what had happened. We all make mistakes and I make them with Bain as well, I'm actually doing a post on it very soon. Some owners just ruin your day, I ran into one yesterday!

  11. Yes, even though we invented our dog park mom does not take us very often and avoids crowded times too. Scary stuff can happen there!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  12. We all make mistakes we wish we could take back, but you've learned from this and that's the important thing. Bar and I had a similar incident on our walk (well--two) recently where she got charged by two dogs and I didn't have my spray, but some neighbors came to our rescue and then the next week on a different street another dog charged her, but I'd put my spray in the pocket on the side where I hold her leash and couldn't get to it before the dog was on us. Luckily, both times things turned out ok--but I've certainly learned that the sprayshield has to have a space in a pocket no matter how short of a walk we're planning on taking and it needs to be in my non-leash-side pocket. I know how terrible it feels to fail your dog, but sometimes that's the best way to learn how to help them in the future.

  13. I took Quenya to the dog park this week and had a similar experience--from the outside the two dogs (a Border Collie and a Greyhound) seemed okay, but rushed Quenya the second we got inside. She erected her fur and gave one of those warning snarl-barks, but responded when I called her and we tried to run away. BOTH dogs chased after us, still teaming up and rushing at Quenya. We walked all the way to the other side of the park and the BC followed us the whole way--his owners did nothing except watch. At one point I said firmly "You need to STOP!" within his owners hearing. It was like they were deaf. On top of it all they had an ACD puppy who was terribly frightened to be in this park with big dogs. Quenya walked over the sniff him and he immediately began yelping and hid behind their feet. Reactive dog in the making, anyone?
    Like you said, it's the owners fault, not the dogs. Unfortunately that does mean that responsible owners end up avoiding dog parks all together. I really wish we had an offleash area as large as your 1,000 acres!

  14. Ma never takes me to dog parks. Mostly because I don't have good recall. And I got jumped by a doggie when I was a wee lass, and tend to act like Zoe, so Ma avoids them like the plague! ☺ Just yesterday, there is this nice elderly couple down the street that own two big Boxers. They bark and charge at me every time they are home. Ma has learned to cross the street when we come near their house. This was a good thing yesterday, when they had installed a sliding screen to their front door (no frame!) and one of the Boxers ran right through it! Right at me! Barkin' and jumpin'! of couse I had to bark a few times too...what's a gurl to do??? So Ma said it was okay, not my fault. I was just defendin' myself. Tellin' that Boxer how rude it was to charge me! I mean..the nerves! Anyhu, the owner got him in the house and apologized and stuffs, butt Ma was miffed, because they should know better. This isn't the furst time something like this has happened. Some owners never learn. They don't bother to connect with their dogs, and keep them safe and out of harm's way. What happened to you was not your was the Husky's owners fault. And not the Husky's fault either! Some people will never get it.
    Hey, I thinks it's time for a margarita, no?! ☺
    Ruby ♥

  15. I think that the part about following your gut feelings is really important. In the past, I've ignored my gut feelings because of social pressure or because they got in the way of what I'd planned to do. Shyla has taught me to completely trust my gut feeling. Just the other day, we met an off-leash dog on a trail where all dogs are supposed to be leashed. I would have ignored that transgression except that the dog froze and growled at Shyla. I stepped in front of Shyla to block the dog and told the lady to control her dog. The lady replied that her dog was "friendly". I replied that I needed her to control her dog because mine couldn't handle any issues that might re-ignite her former fearfulness. I guess I was assertive enough because the lady did what I asked of her. We passed with no bullying by that dog.

    Three years ago, pre-Shyla, I would've backed down to that lady because my dogs were pretty resilient. With my newfound trust in my gut feeling and having learned how much one incident can affect my dog, I doubt I'll ever go back to being the person I was before.

    Anyway, it sounds like you've analyzed the situation, and have figured out your solution. That's the mark of an awesome dog trainer and owner. We all have to keep on learning!


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