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When a Dog Has Nowhere to Run

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

cute dog on leash

“Oh, he’d never bite.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that phrase, I’d be blogging from a beach in Tahiti. The truth is, no matter how sweet a dog is, if the right set of circumstances conspire, that dog will bite.

The most common scenario for an otherwise peaceful dog biting is that the dog is frightened, and feels he has no other choice. This commonly happens during vet visits; the dog becomes defensive when restrained or when having a medical procedure. But it happens in homes as well. A dog who is lying in his crate, when confronted with a child crawling in to kiss him, has nowhere to go.

A dog can easily feel cornered even when not confined, whether indoors or out. And when a dog is restrained by a collar or leash, his fight or flight options are severely limited.

You would think it would be obvious to owners when a dog is going through this type of emotional turmoil, but all too often, it’s not. Yesterday morning at the park, Sierra and I walked along with a nice group of owners and their dogs. We passed a woman I’d seen before, whose terrier I knew to be fear-reactive. Sure enough, as they neared our group, the dog began to bark defensively while practically hiding behind her owner. The woman stopped to chat with one of the men. The owners stood there having an amiable conversation, while the poor little terrier had a less pleasant experience. The man’s dog, a medium-sized mixed breed male, kept trying to investigate the terrier, and the terrier wanted nothing to do with him. Unfortunately, the little dog had nowhere to go. I tried in vain to explain as it was happening that the dog was clearly upset and afraid. My entreaties to allow the dog to move along fell on deaf ears. The man actually told the woman, “She seems to be doing better,” and the woman agreed. I stood there dumbfounded.

I’ve seen people stand with their dog on leash in the middle of an actual dog park where other dogs are romping off-leash. Naturally, dogs come up to sniff the leashed dog and some try to play with him. Others, though, try to hump the dog or even start a fight. I’ve seen the latter two happen to leashed dogs as the owners stood there, oblivious, chatting. It boggles the mind. I’m not a parent, but I can’t imagine that if I were having a conversation with another adult and their kid began to scare my child, that I’d blithely continue talking and ignore what was going on. How is it possible that this happens with alarming regularity with dogs? Owners are shocked when their wonderful dog, who’d never hurt anyone, bites another dog. The worst part is that the biting dog gets blamed, when the responsibility should rest squarely on the shoulders of the owner. Maintaining at least peripheral attention to our own dogs and others, even when we’re engaged in other activities, would go a long way in preventing bites and reducing canine stress.


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