Have I mentioned that the Brindle Dog doesn’t like other dogs? The dog we had before her was very dog-aggressive, and the Brindle Dog learned it as a pup when she came into our home. Since we didn’t realise that would happen, we took no steps to prevent it. So the Brindle Dog learned from old Ratna how to sit, how to stay, how to play, and how to fear and charge at other dogs.
The Brindle Dog has known a few puppies. As with Ratna, she has always accepted puppies into the pack with careful introductions, as long as they were less than ten or twelve weeks old. That’s how the Fluffy Dog could make it to adulthood with those two snarky females as aunties.
But in general, the Brindle Dog has to be kept away from other dogs. I take this very seriously. My yard is fenced, and if she is outside the yard then she is on a leash. I inspect the leashes and harnesses and collars regularly for wear (since Ratna injured a dog once when her leash snapped at a weak spot). When we absolutely have to be in a place where there might be other dogs nearby, like the vet’s office, the Brindle Dog reluctantly holds still for me to strap on her basket muzzle. On the street, we walk way out of our way to avoid other dogs, and I try to use those times as training moments for both of us to practice self-control.
She has never seriously injured another dog. Mostly she is all sound and fury. Once she got loose and chased a neighbour’s Great Dane down the backlane, and when she cornered him, she did that awful clack-clack-clack snapping right next to his neck—but she didn’t actually bite him. The times when she has lost her temper with the Fluffy Dog, she has done the same: clack-clack-clack-clack all fangs and spit, and then she comes away with a mouthful of his long fur. So I don’t think she would be as bad as Ratna, who did indeed have a few bad fights in her life, but I am still determined to make sure the Brindle Dog never has the opportunity to prove me wrong.
I’ve lived with dog-aggressive dogs for close to eighteen years now. I know how this works. Good equipment, constant diligence and vigilance, the leash never held loosely by the loop but rather wrapped twice around the wrist first so it can’t be jerked out unexpectedly. If I have to pass the leash to my other hand, there is no moment where it is unstable: one hand gets looped into it before the other hand lets go. She usually carries a stick or a toy as a distraction and training tool. I don’t walk her if I am drunk, or very ill, or very angry—I have to be aware of my surroundings and capable of reacting quickly.
Of course I’ve read books, and tried classes, and gone to trainers. There was the advice to “helicopter” my aggressive dog. The advice to beat it out of the dog. The advice to alpha roll the dog and scream in its face. The electric collars. The exposure therapy. The guy who wanted me to leave me dog out at his farm for a month in a roofless cage in the woods while he “reconditioned” her. Basically, fuck those people. I will not abuse my dog. I will manage her carefully and make sure she can’t hurt another dog.
So you can imagine my trepidation when I rented my basement suite to a small family with a little dog.
Popcorn is a sweet little white fluffy dog, a Pomeranian cross with the softest fur and an enthusiastic disposition. Just the kind of dog we used to morbidly call a “Ratna-snack.” The Fluffy Dog loves her, and has raced around the yard with her a few times over the last year. But the tenants and I are always extremely careful not to let our respective dogs into the yard without first checking to see if another dog was out there already.
What made me most nervous was the young teenage daughter. If this system fails, I thought, it will be because the teenager lets Popcorn out without checking when I’m in the yard with the Brindle Dog.
Today, the system failed. And it wasn’t the teenage daughter. It was me.
(Let me quickly snag a spoiler from the end of the story: no dogs died or got seriously injured in this incident. I’m just telling you this now so you don’t worry about what’s coming.)
My alarm goes off at 5:50 on weekdays. I stumble into yesterday’s clothes, half-asleep, jam my feet into whatever boots are handy, throw on the Dog Walking Coat, and let the dogs into the yard where I stand rubbing my eyes and nursing my full bladder until the dogs have peed. With the new tenants, I had to start paying more attention before letting the dogs out. But because my tenant works evenings, I have never, in the eleven months they have lived there, seen her outside at that hour. So I got complacent. Sloppy. Over-confident.
This morning, I threw open the screen door for my dogs without checking to see if Popcorn was in the yard. My face was turned to the left to make sure the gate was latched, and then out of my right side I saw a white streak and then there was an explosion of dogs and then the screaming started. Popcorn was screaming so much I was sure she was being killed even though I could see that both dogs were still running. Popcorn’s owner was screaming “Run, Popcorn!!!!!!” And I don’t even know what (or if) I was screaming in the adrenaline-fueled ridiculous race around the muddy yard to try to capture a black dog in the near-dark.
I finally caught up to the Brindle Dog and threw my arms around her, linking my hands under her belly. I was bent over and lifting her slightly so her back was pressed against my belly and chest. We just stood there, panting, while Popcorn and her owner escaped into the house, whereupon I followed her in to see if her little dog was okay. Popcorn was shaking and had one paw raised for flight, but I couldn’t see any blood on her. Her owner and I texted back and forth all morning about our dogs, and I’ve apologised about a gazillion times for being so careless. It turns out that Popcorn does have two small punctures (clack-clack-clack-clack-clack), so I’ve encouraged them to go to the vet (and I will of course pay for it although I sure hope they take Mastercard because that’s all I’ve got left this pay period).
Five years ago—no, even two years ago, I would have been hard-pressed to catch the Brindle Dog. And when I did catch her, I would have had to work hard to keep a grip on her. All her life, she had been as strong as an ox, and as impossible to restrain as a greased and furious walrus.
But today, not only did I catch her, but once I had my arms around her, she stopped struggling. She was panting hard and her heart was hammering, but she stayed still in the circle of my arms almost as if she was relieved that I stopped her. As if maybe she doesn’t want this great responsibility anymore of keeping me safe from all the evil (read: other) dogs in the world. I think the sprint was really hard on her.
At lunchtime, when I went home to let the dogs out, the Brindle Dog was very subdued and exhausted. I’m glad she has a vet appointment this Wednesday. This showed me more clearly than anything else that she is old and sick. But it also reminds me that I don’t get to treat her only as an old, sick dog. She is still my Brindle Dog, up for a scrap and down with defending. It would be a mistake to think that her age and illness are the only things defining her now. So even though she was tired and tentative, we did a few minutes of training at lunchtime, and that brought back her wag.
I have no idea what the Fluffy Dog did during this whole incident. I know he was there. When all the dust settled, I saw him pee, and he trotted obediently to the door when I called the dogs back into the house. I feel bad for ignoring him, but also so delighted that he didn’t join in on the chase. He is a good dog, and I have finally learned how to break the cycle of aggression where the new puppy learns this crap from the older dogs.