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Friday, April 10, 2009

Threatening dog encounter

The promised dusting of snow arrived overnight, and I coughed my way out the door on my Fatback. Rime ice covered aspen buds and catkins, and a silvery hue enveloped pine trees. The spunky Pasqueflowers yet again fought through snow to capture some sun.
When I first rolled out, blue sky met me but, after climbing about 100 feet, clouds enveloped me. A bit more climbing earned me a view downward at the foggy cloud bank creeping up the gulches from the east.Both K and R joined me for the first leg of my trail ride - on hard frozen trails. K is acting bolder each day, as her increased thyroid medication takes hold. She played with R today - and the two of them sprinted joyfully while jointly carrying a large stick. It made my heart sing to see K happier again and sufficiently confident to play with R! She's also rekindled an old hobby - eating rose hips off wild rose bush skeletons. I've checked with the vet and the only danger is that the prickers on the branches will scratch her. You can see the bright red rose hips in the photo below if you look carefully.

After I dropped off my two pups, I headed out to explore which trails were passable after our recent snows. But, contrary to my plans, my ride ended up being dominated by a dog encounter. I've met a myriad of dogs while riding my bike - including friendly, stand-offish, enthusiastic, herding-obsessed, and aggressive ones. I've seen dogs hit by cars as they chased me. And, I have scars where 4 canine teeth punctured my calf. It's amazing that I've ended up loving dogs so much because many of my bad experiences occurred before any dogs joined our family.

Today, on a county-owned but very small dirt road, a shepherd mix charged after me. One glance told me to stop in my tracks to avoid a herding bite on my calf. So, I began my usual routine of stopping, looking away from the dog, and talking in a soft soothing voice. Usually, this routine earns me a dog friend, and I end up patting the dog before riding off. Not today.

This persistent dog's body language told me that he was afraid of me but his herding instincts overrode his fear when I moved. Since stopping and making friends wasn't working, I tried walking slowly away with my bike as a barrier between him and me but he kept following, barking, and lunging at me. Next, I stood stock still and waited for him to lose interest. When he finally seemed distracted, I tried riding off but he charged after me with teeth snapping. Finally, with relief, I heard a person yelling for him from a nearby house.But, the situation got worse, instead of better, when the owner arrived. He was a huge strong guy, outweighing me by at least 3 times, and was testosterone-powered. He ran after the dog to try to grab him, yelled threateningly at the dog, threw things at the dog, and terrified both the dog and me. I tried sneaking off in the midst of the fracas, thinking that the dog's full attention was on the crazy-acting guy, but the dog's teeth homed in on my calf again.

At this point, I felt scared of the whole situation and unable to flee without being bitten. My next strategy was to try to calm the owner. I sensed that the guy felt humiliated by his dog's disobedience in front of me so I told him that my dogs humiliate me all the time. I fibbed and said that my crazy puppy runs away from me and frustrates me. (Note to R, in case he's reading this - it's not true. I was trying to build empathy with a white lie).

The turning point was when the guy said that he was going to "beat the s*** out of the dog" when he got his hands on him. For an instant, I forgot to be cautious about the guy's temper, and I blurted out that violence was probably why his dog wouldn't come to him. I said that if you're mean to your dog when he comes to you, your dog will try even harder to evade you in the future. The guy paused, and I felt afraid that I'd gone too far for this guy's hair-trigger temper. But, after thinking, he muttered "makes sense".

In the end, after the guy and I had become partners in trying to corral his dog, I sat in the middle of the road and pretended to dig a hole to lure the dog to me. I acted like my hole was the most fascinating thing ever to appear on the road... and it worked. The dog cautiously but very curiously approached, and the owner slowly reached for his collar. After leashing the dog, the guy was gracious, introducing himself and thanking me. He was nice to the dog, at least while in my sight.

In the ensuing conversation, the guy said that he almost lost his dog to a lion the other night. His dog chased a deer and the guy heard frantic barking a short distance away (pretty much right where we were standing). He found a lion attacking the deer, with his dog barking insanely from a slight distance. When the lion saw the guy, the lion released the deer and fled. The deer was bleeding heavily but also vanished. The story struck a chord with me because we were standing less than a mile from where I saw lion tracks two days ago - it was probably the same lion.

As I rode home after the dog encounter, the scene kept replaying in my head. I continually worried about the poor dog. Maybe the owner, who seemed reasonably smart although short-tempered, will learn to treat the dog well. That's my hope but I'm not optimistic.

I distracted myself from these dark thoughts with the incredible views of the Divide as I descended westward off a ridge through slurpy and slushy snow.
Blue sky buoyed my spirits on my final approach to home.
As I headed toward my three loving Labs waiting for me, I felt thankful that a great dog trainer taught me to look at life from the dog's viewpoint when faced with behavior conundrums. Seeing the world through a dog's eyes often provides the key to knowing how to communicate with them.


  1. Yikes! What a crazy, disconcerting encounter! I'm glad you made it out without getting bitten, and hopefully without the dog getting beaten.

    I had a similar encounter when Z got attacked by a white GSD while we were running in the forest a few years back. The GSD's owner literally beat his dog off of Z with a big walking stick, and then continued to beat his dog afterwards - it was horrific. Then the guy wanted to come over and make sure Z was okay and I had to tell him to please keep his distance. Poor Z was just as terrified of the large angry stick-weilding man as he was of the other dog, and I was afraid he would bolt if the guy came any closer. Gah!

  2. Your beautiful photos are quite the contrast to the ugly encounter. I'm glad the guy calmed down and seemed to heed your advice. I hope for the dog's sake he changes his ways.

  3. I am constantly surprised at how some people treat their dogs. So many of them make the dog cower in fear before them and then the dogs act aggressively toward everyone else. It seems to give the owner's a sense of pleasure to know they are the only ones who can "control" the dog.

    Glad the day ended without anyone getting injured. Scary stuff.

  4. Yikes, I hadn't even thought of how much worse the whole encounter would've been if I'd had a dog with me. Whew, I'm glad that I was alone.

    I agree that it's unbelievable how people treat their dogs. If the guy had actually hit the dog in front of me, was there anyone that I could've reported him to? I don't know.

    I credit my dog trainer with me not getting bitten. I've learned so much about how to be unthreatening to dogs - using subtle body language that I knew nothing about until she pointed me toward good books and demonstrated things to me.

    Let's all think good thoughts for that dog. I wasn't at all mad at him - I think that a savvy owner could help him a lot.


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