Friday, May 28, 2010

Do You Know Your Dog?

Having a dog as part of your life is a responsibility. A HUGE one. One that I took on willingly and eagerly, but that I was unprepared for at the time. I had only had dogs as a child - when your parents really do all of the 'heavy lifting' of pet ownership, and you sit back and reap the rewards. Boy was I in for a surprise.

For one thing, I took in a German Shepherd when my largest dog to that point had been a mutt of approximately 40 lbs. For another, my new (already over 60 Lb) puppy was 7 or 8 months old, and had not had an easy life to that point. Add in the fact that she was sick, freaked out, growing REALLY quickly, and fast approaching 'womanhood', and you have a recipe for rough sailing. I was ready for daily walks and lots of play time, but I was unprepared for socialization issues, dog periods, heath complications and tummy trouble.

The first few months (year?) of our journey together were hard (and incredibly expensive). I was overwhelmed, but determined to make it work. I did a lot of work on myself. I learned a LOT about patience very quickly. Of course, what I learned has taken years to really sink in :-) I spent time learning about dogs in general and German Shepherds in specific. I also paid a lot of attention to my dogs' specific behaviors and issues. I feel good about the relationship that we have formed. I know for a fact that I have not done enough work with her on discipline, but I know her limitations intimately, and I don't put her in situations where she will fail in a way that could be harmful to others. For example, she doesn't play well with other dogs. She never learned proper play behaviors, so she interprets most playful overtures as threats. As a result, she is never allowed off-leash around dogs who jump and 'dominate' as play, nor is she turned loose into impromptu 'packs' at parties.

And now we come to my point: I have become more and more frustrated with people who seem to be oblivious to their dogs or the impact that their dogs have on the world around them. I've referred before to the boxer pup down the street who darts out of his house and bounces onto Keely and the random neighborhood dogs who follow us on walks because they're roaming free. Well, yesterday's incident makes those all feel like angel kisses in comparison.

(Preface: WE ARE ALL FINE) Yesterday, we were attacked. I had Lily Ruth in her stroller, and Keely on her leash. She wears a collar, a harness and a leash. Her harness is really only in case we stop somewhere and she needs to stay tethered. I walk her with her leash looped as a 'slip style lead' high on her neck (above her collar). I have found that she responds more readily to me this way. She can also slip out of a collar with minimal effort because her ruff is so thick that her neck is huge :-)

We passed a woman waking a pit bull. I noticed that the dog had multiple scars across her face and muzzle. She also had the abdomen of a dog who has had multiple litters of puppies. I actually thought 'wow, this lady took in a dog who has had a rough life and is treating her nicely'. I figured we were fine, because this woman let her dog sniff noses with Keely. We smiled at one another, and continued on our separate ways. Almost immediately, I heard her say something in a worried tone, and I looked back to see her dog give one full neck rotation and pull immediately out of it's (waaaayyyyy too loose) collar. The dog came directly and silently toward Keely.

It clamped down on the base of her tail and started to wool her around. When Keely turned to defend herself, it launched onto her neck. By then I had pushed Lily's stroller to the curb facing away from the fight, and was standing in the middle of the street screaming and trying to assist Keely without getting bitten. It seemed like hours, but was really only moments before the woman grabbed her dog. It was even less time before it broke free and threw itself onto my dog again. By then, Lily was crying, I was yelling for help - none was available. The woman was screaming 'why are you doing this' at the dog as she tried to contain it. It was then that I began to realize that she had no real understanding of that dog. She had the wrong collar on it. She didn't know not to let it sniff noses. She didn't know not to throw herself on top of a fighting dog. Well, thank goodness for that last one. She finally managed to tackle her dog and get it off of Keely.

I grabbed the stroller and RAN. She yelled 'is your dog o.k.' after us. I didn't stop. All I could think was that her dog could turn on her at any second, she would let go, and we'd be fighting for our lives again. I ran as far as I could... which was not far, but it was far enough. We were almost home.

I took my baby and my dog inside. I dropped to the floor and held my dog. I cried and ran my fingers all over her body again and again as I looked for wounds. Lily sat wide-eyed and silent. I didn't find any blood. Keely just shook. I called my husband in hysterics while I sponged the spit off her fur. I called my dad and asked him to come check over my dog. Then we headed into the nursery - the darkest and most quiet room in the house - to collect ourselves. Lily Ruth nursed, Keely and I just breathed.

- I had to take a break to go hug my dog just now. Then I sat on the floor with my baby and played silly games until that feeling passed again.

We're o.k. We're fine. I did eventually find one very small puncture wound in Keely's ruff. She is bruised and sore. She feels kinda tender-hearted.

Lily Ruth was clingy and prone to crying fits all day yesterday. She finally went totally manic, overbalanced, and hit her head on the coffee table. Then she cried herself into a nap. Today, she's worn out. I'm a mess. My neck hurts. My arm hurts. My head hurts. I had nightmares about dog attacks.

Pit bulls have a very strong bite, but relatively short teeth. German Shepherds have a relatively weak bite, but they have very long, sharp teeth. They are also built to protect themselves and others. Had this fight continued, and had Keely committed herself to the fray instead of trying to escape, it could have gone either way - quickly.

What I really need to say is GET TO KNOW YOUR DOG! It does not make you a noble person to 'rescue' a dog if you cannot keep them (and those around you) safe. It is not enough to want a dog. It is not enough to feed them. It is not enough to take them for yearly check ups. Learn about dogs in general and what they need. Learn about your breed and what it takes to keep them healthy and happy. Learn about YOUR DOG in particular. Find out what makes them tick. It makes a difference.

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