Learn from my mistakes…

Ahhh, the awareness in hindsight! Last Thursday I was explaining to a new social hour employee to never put her hands between two dogs. It’s such a natural thing for us to do, reach in, separate, grab or otherwise manage a situation. But of course when you’re dealing with dogs, it’s not safe. Flashforward to Saturday afternoon….

A beautiful Durango day, the humane society and thrift store were a buzz with people adopting, looking and shopping and of course walking their own and humane society dogs. I too was working with a shelter dog and now with 24 hours to contemplate the experience these are the things I did wrong:

  • I had a known dog-reactive dog in a congested area on a busy day and I got caught up in a conversation
  • Once he had seen one dog and successfully walked away from her, I should have immediately ended on the good-note and not tried to get a second win
  • Pausing dogs makes it worse!

So what happened was that I was in front of the thrift store with a shelter dog as a woman walked out of the thrift store with another. I immediately moved the dog I was with over to the trees/mailbox area and waited while she passed. Unfortunately, she didn’t pass, she stopped.  While she was stopped, the dog she had wiggled, jumped and otherwise tried to get at the dog I had. Then suddenly he was free. He had slipped his collar and was running straight for us.

I caught him by the neck and held the two dogs apart for as long as I could, hoping someone would come and grab the wiggling dog but after what seemed like longer than I’m sure it was (both good sized dogs), my knee dropped between the two dogs and the result wasn’t pretty.

knee bite

Luckily, I was wearing jeans that I had rolled up and they caught a great deal of the impact but still it was a significant bite. So what happened? Think about it….the dog I was walking….the dog I already knew was dog-reactive was flipping out. He wanted to get to that dog SOOO bad and he wasn’t able to…..think of pulling a rubber band to the farthest point and this maybe be similar to the tension this dog was under.

And then suddenly something comes in the middle of it. Unfortunately it was my knee, but it wouldn’t have mattered what it was – it was something he could get to and sink his teeth into, something he needed to do at that particular moment. (Ever know a guy or kid that gets soooo mad they have to punch something? This is similar.)

It’s what we call a redirection bite. This dog redirected the energy and aggression he was feeling for the other dog into something else; me.  A crappy situation all the way around and one that of course could have been much worse, so we’re now discussing changes going forward to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Like it or not, dogs are everywhere. In an ideal world when they’re in public they have basic manners and are well behaved. But also in a perfect world, individuals walking dogs would know what to do and are capable of doing it if necessary. But alas, it’s not a perfect world so….

  • From now on I will be walking all dog-reactive dogs in a gentle-leader. Though I ask the volunteers to use these I’m often training the dogs and therefore don’t want the management tool in the mix. This experience though was a good reminder that we cannot control the environment, but we can control the dogs in our care. A gentle-leader on any dog who’s mouth is unpredictable (they may bite a human or another animal) is an easy, quick and safe way to ensure this doesn’t happen. (Note: Halti’s don’t work as well – the dogs can still get in a pretty good bite when wearing a halti head halter.)
  • We are discussing replacing all our dog collars with martingale collars. Martingale collars are terrific because they can sit loosely on the dogs neck while at the same time their design makes it impossible for dogs to pull them off while out on walks. There’s a cost here, that make be difficult for the humane society to absorb but perhaps a small donation drive may be in order…
  • Pay better attention. I work at the humane society 3-4 days a week. I get to know a lot of the people and I encourage the dogs to engage with a lot of the people, experiences and such at the thrift store – figuring it’s a good place to assess, work and challenge them….but the store is crowded these days…with items for sale, shoppers and of course dogs.
  • I struggle when folks, especially individuals I see regularly, strike up a conversation while I’m working with a dog. I don’t want to be rude so though I’m focused on the dogs, I also try to show the people that I’m listening. My job at this point is to get the dog good with unpredictable people, places and events and though random conversations are part of this, they have to come secondary to the dogs.

Bites happen. But they don’t have to. Typically, if we get bit, we can trace it back to something we did wrong. In this case, after the bite, I let go of the wiggling dog who now didn’t want anything to do with the one I had. And he ran around for a minute then right back into the shelter. I should have done that initially, instead of being worried that he would bolt or get hit by a car. Lesson learned….knee will heal….phone won’t, unfortunately. Argh! expensive lesson 4th phone in 18 months.

martingale collar

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