Whose fault is it? (dogs need space)

[I found this in my diary from several years ago.]

My 12 year old dog, Tigerlily, shocked me. We were coming in to port on our dinghy and I had two dogs on leashes, still wearing life jackets. I let both my dogs jump off the dinghy, and as I was still holding their leashes, this helps hold the dinghy to the dock, and gets the dogs out of my way, and helps me get up onto the dock as we tie the dinghy up  and disembark.

Just after the dogs jumped onto the dock (still on leash) I saw an old man approaching, walking along the narrow dock. I was fairly discombobulated, hanging onto the leashes of my dogs (who were eager to get off the dock and go pee!) and balancing myself as I tried to get off the dinghy and onto the dock. I assumed the gentleman was going to give me a second to get all the way off the dinghy and untangle myself and my dogs, but he just kept walking, passing right over my two excited dogs. Tigerlily, who has lots and lots of training, many hours of experience providing pet assisted therapy to children, sick, and elderly, jumped as he passed, grabbed his pants leg and apparently also nipped at his hand. I saw the pants grab, not the hand nip, but the gentleman showed me blood.

It was a scratch not a puncture, but it was not okay. I apologized profusely, and the gentleman fortunately accepted my apologies. He said, “My brother was a dog trainer, and so I know, it’s not your fault. I’ll just put a bandaid on it.”

That was generous of him. He wasn’t looking to blame, not looking to be “right,” not looking to add insult to injury. It was kind, honest to admit that he shouldn’t have walked so fast and close to unfamiliar dogs who can’t get away from him on a rickety dock.

And I don’t want to apologize so much that the old guy decides now I owe him money, or that my dog deserved to be treated as a dangerous dog, but it was really my fault. There is liability and risk in connection with dog ownership. If gun owners were required to handle their dangerous weapons as responsibly as dog owners must handle our sometime lunkheaded dogs, guns would need to be a lot cuter.

When Tigerlily jumped up and nipped, she was less than three feet away from me, on a leash. Twenty five pounds. The dock itself is only four feet wide. Offloading in a place they had never been before, Tigerlily was getting old and blind and deaf. Me too. Probably the stranger, too. He appeared out of nowhere, rushing and stressing us in an already somewhat wobbly situation.  

He suddenly invaded the space of unfamiliar dogs and humans, but still  I could have looked up, said a loud clear, “STOP!”  And I should have scouted the docks more carefully before off-loading.

After the incident, I was anxious for the rest of the day, just waiting for that man to come to my boat, and label me and my old poodle. I was so upset and ashamed, I felt like such a failure, that I imagined saying, “Here. She’s your dog now. Here’s the list of words she understands. Here’s a bag of dog food. Just take her and do whatever you think is best!”

But in spite of how dog/human social interactions can be challenging, anxiety provoking, dangerous, we keep on keeping our dogs. Humans and dogs continue to make mistakes. I’ve had off-leash dogs charge and bark at me and my dogs, I’ve had a sweet old black lab on a beach bite me pretty badly when I tried to get back my $15 Planet dog ball.

What bothered me about the dock incident was that I was right there, I had my dogs ON leash, I imagined my dogs were safe, but an accident happened anyway.

The best way to prevent dog bites or nips, no matter how well trained the dog, is to keep plenty of safe space around our dogs. Practice saying, “Stop! My dog needs more space!” Say it with a smile! Or try “Stop! My dog doesn’t want to be so close.” Even if our dog MIGHT do perfectly great, there are risks. Maybe our dogs need more space, and also more TIME.

Can we recognize those dangerous moments where our dogs are being pressured by other dogs or people?

Most dog bites come as a big surprise! And whether it’s a bite or scratch, knocking someone over, muddying clothes or just creating a scare, it’s OUR fault. We chose this responsibility. It’s up to us to do everything we can to prevent accidents.

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