A while ago, there was a medium sized dog at Toronto Animal Services South who was very people friendly, excitable and somewhat unruly from lack of training - no different from many other TAS dogs. He didn't really display much of an aggressive or friendly attitude when he passed by other dogs so he was a bit of a mystery in that regard.
One morning as I was bringing him back from his walk, one of the other walkers came out with a puppy. The pup certainly presented no threat and my guy didn't seem all that interested so I brought him over a bit closer to see his reaction (it's always good to know how a dog will behave with other dogs so that the information can be passed along to potential adopters). The pup, upon seeing us walking closer, started jumping and getting excited about meeting with another dog. My guy grumbled a bit but I didn't think it was a big deal but I didn't let him get any closer just in case.
I knew my guy really liked belly scratches so I started petting his side and he immediately fell down and rolled on his back exposing his stomache. The other walker stayed where she was a few feet away and played with the puppy. I figured the enjoyable belly scratches in close proximity to the pup would be a good conditioning exercise for relaxing my dog around other dogs.
As I scratched, I started talking to the other walker and was only half paying attention to my dog. I should have been more attentive. The puppy was getting a bit exuberant in its play and at some point, it did something - I don't know what - to annoy my dog who was on its back and probably beginning to feel exposed more than relaxed with the hyper pup near by. My dog rolled back over upright and before I realized what it was going to do next, it leapt over to the puppy and had the pup's whole face in his mouth.
The pup screamed and wailed. I'd never heard a dog make that kind of noise before. Even as I was reaching out to grab my dog, I was thinking about the damage it was doing to the poor pup and cursing myself for being an idiot and not being more careful.
When I got to my dog, probably less than 2 seconds after it attacked the pup, I grabbed its upper and lower muzzle with my hands and pulled them apart. This most probably was not proper technique but I was terrified for the pup, imagining the worst. Also, I knew my dog wasn't people aggressive and since it wasn't in an out of control frenzy, I took a chance and figured it wasn't going to turn around and bite me.
As soon as I got the dog's jaws open a bit, the puppy pulled back and wailed some more and then it just lay there, shaking in the hands of the walker, crying and trying to catch its breathe and crying some more, so much like a human child would do after a traumatic event, so much like a child that it almost made me queasy while I waited for the blood to start flowing out of various puncture wounds as I was sure it was going to do because there was already blood on my hands. I could see some blood on the puppy's muzzle too.
But as it turned out, there was no gushing. The pup actually didn't seem physically injured at all. The other walker, sure as I was that the pup was hurt, did a close inspection all around the muzzle, the ears, the eyes, inside its mouth. There was nothing. So, we thought maybe it had bit its tongue, maybe that's where the blood came from but even when we looked close, we couldn't see anything.
It wasn't until five minutes later, when I looked down at my own hands again, that I realized the blood was mine. It must've been from when I had reached out to pull my dog's jaws apart. I must have scraped the edge of one of my fingernails on a tooth, causing it bleed. I wiped away the blood and beneath it, it was just a scratch, later to be washed and disinfected.
The pup was carried back inside, still shaking. My dog had already lost interest earlier, as soon as the pup had crawled away in fact.
The pup fully recovered from the incident, at least it seemed that way and I hope the attack didn't negatively impact its future behaviour too much. It was adopted out and last I heard, it was doing well.
The dog I was walking was adopted out also with a warning that it may not always get along with other dogs. I haven't heard back about how it's doing.
That incident was a reminder to me to always be attentive around dogs I don't know well but, more, it was a good kick in the pants for me to feel an emotional reponse to a dog bite. I've always known that dogs can bite, of course, but I've never experienced the awful feeling that comes from watching a dog which I am supposed to be responsible for, bite another innocent dog, or God forbid, a person. I never want to feel that feeling again.
Many of the dogs I come across, and I'm not just refering to the ones at TAS, do not like other dogs or do not like certain other dogs or do not like certain other dogs under certain circumstances. Bites can result.
Having said that, though, I don't believe biting should mean game over for a dog. The solution to biting, except in the most extreme out of control cases, is behaviour modification and control. If a dog doesn't like other dogs, then keep it away from other dogs until it can be taught to feel at ease around other dogs. Why force a dog into a situation where it will fail at staying within the bounds of acceptable behaviour?
I've been thinking about this stuff because of some recent events involving dog bites and the different responses to them from the dogs' owners.
More on that in a future post.