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The fearful dog diary - Part 5 The third interaction that affected Lola more than we realised

This incident is up there with one of the most insane experiences I have ever had.

I currently work with one of the local veterinary clinics, running their puppy school classes and being referred cases by them. This incident occurred at the beginning of our working relationship and I was in the process of preparing for their open day where I would have a stand advertising my business. This involved me baking a variety of natural dog treats to hand out to the dogs that dropped by my stand. I spent the entire day in the kitchen and Lola was an absolute star, being very patient and reaping the rewards by getting extra treats every once in a while. When I was finished I decided to take her the park for some relaxation time. It was a little earlier than we usually headed out but I was looking forward to some one-on-one time with my pup.

At this stage Lola was about 2 years old and things had been going fairly well. She still loved to chase and herd other dogs but we had been working on that and as we were now a lot more aware of how much she enjoyed it,  we were becoming quite good at preventing her from getting too worked up. She had shown some signs of being less tolerant around different dogs, usually the ones that were a bit full on and in her face, but she had always liked to make sure she had her personal space.

When we arrived at the park there were no dogs nearby so I let Lola off the lead and she went about her own business, sniffing and checking things out. After a couple of minutes she noticed a car drive past and took off running after it (luckily staying within the boundaries of the park). We had learned that there was no point in calling out while she was ‘chasing’ so I waited until she had slowed down and called for her to come back, which she did immediately. Just to be on the safe side I put her on the lead so she could have a chance to calm down. We continued walking around but as she was a bit excited from chasing the car it was a bit of a stop/start walk. As we came over the embankment I saw another dog who was with it’s owner and two children, playing ball. The dog was very focused on the ball until it saw Lola and then cam over to say hello. Their hello was fine but Lola got a bit excited when the dog went back to playing ball so I continued training her to walk on a loose leash as we approached where the family was.

The owner of the dog had obviously seen me making sure that Lola only moved forward if her leash was loose and she said ‘I wish I had the time to teach Tess (her dog) to do that but its hard with the kids and work. Luckily she is just obsessed with the ball so we can bring her to the park and not have to worry about it’. By this stage we had reached the other dog and Lola was looking very interested in the game she was playing and the lady said ‘it looks like she wants to play’. I figured she had calmed down enough by now and had walked over well, so I let her off for a game.

The two dogs were having a good time running back and forth after the ball. Both were behaving nicely and as polite as dogs can be when a ball is involved and they both want it. During this time a lady walked up with 2 to 3 small to medium sized dogs off lead and they all joined in the fun together. I noticed that during this play time there were occasions when Lola got a bit crowded by the other dogs every now and then and was giving them warning signs, standing still, head down to let them know she wasn’t overly comfortable with the situation. At one point she had a little snap, it wasn’t at any particular dog, just a reaction to the situation in general. I thought that it might be time to leave this group and start our walk again so I called her over to me. As I was about to put her leash on the two ladies started talking and it turned out that the lady that had just arrived was a professional dog walker. As I was in the process of starting up my business I decided to hang around and see who my competition was! This obviously turned out to be a bad move.

While they were talking and I was listening, I noticed the lady’s two children who were kicking a soccer ball around, move closer to the dogs. They seemed to just be kicking the ball between the two of them and then I saw one of the kids deliberately kick the ball at his own dog, Tess. The mother saw this too and told them to stop doing it. The kids didn’t listen and proceeded to kick the ball at Lola who, as the ball hit her, jumped around to see what was going on and spotted Tess behind her so she gave her a little snap. I can only assume that Lola thought Tess had been the one to hit her and was telling her to back off. Tess took exception to this and it was on. Initially Lola tried to stand her ground but it wasn’t long before she just dropped to the ground and lay there while Tess held her and kept biting at her neck (luckily not causing any damage). As this started the other owner and myself ran over to try and separate them. Once Lola had submitted I could tell that Tess wasn’t actually hurting her so I stood back and let the other owner try and get Tess off of her. She had a ball thrower with her so she began using that as well as screaming at Tess to stop. Her kids also joined in screaming ‘Tess stop’, ‘Mummy make her stop’. None of the actions actually worked but after a few moments Tess started to give up her hold over Lola so she was able to grab Tess’s collar and pull her off. As soon as she was free I called Lola over to me and started checking her out to make sure she wasn’t injured and Tess’s owner began to do the same.

I saw a few nicks on Lola, mainly on her ear but other than that she was ok just obviously shaken up. Tess’s owner was screaming that she was bleeding form her mouth so they took her over to the water fountain to rinse her mouth and see ‘how much damage Lola had done’. Turns out she only had a small cut in her mouth which they claimed Lola had inflicted, this is basically impossible and the more likely scenario is that Tess bit her own tongue or the inside of her mouth. Instead of aggravating the situation any more I just sat next to Lola and remained quiet while the other lady made a scene.

It was during this time that a passerby came up to me and Lola and asked if she and I were ok as she had seen what had happened. I replied that she had no serious injuries and thanked her for checking on us. The passerby could hear the other owner carry on about Tess and her injury and she took it upon herself to question why they weren’t asking how Lola as Tess was the one attacking Lola. Well, this started off a pretty impressive back and forth argument between the two women. I was basically in shock and stayed mostly quiet until I was directly yelled at by the other owner who was screaming that Lola was aggressive and shouldn’t have been off her leash as she he had attacked the other dogs that were with the dog walker. She then brought the dog walker into the fight and kept yelling at her that Lola had attacked the dogs she was walking and didn’t she think that Lola was aggressive and should have been on a leash.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the fight between the two ladies but to be honest I’m amazed that it didn’t end in them hitting each other as well as the fact that all this was occurring in front of the now crying kids! After threats of calling police they started to distance themselves from each other and things eventually petered out and I was fortunate enough to have another passerby come and check on me and Lola. It turns out that this lady lived in my street and told me that she had witnessed the progress we had been making with Lola and was very impressed. I gave her a run down of what had happened and Lola and I walked around the park with the lady and her dog trying to recover.

As I said at the beginning this was a crazy experience and one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It left me in tears and wondering if I was actually going to be able to be a successful dog trainer. After I had time to calm down and assess what happen I was able to take away some valuable lessons from the altercation between Lola and Tess. The first would be that Tess’s owner obviously realised the ‘fight’ didn’t just occur because of Lola’s behaviour and she was probably somewhat shocked by Tess’s over the top reaction. In my experience the more over the top that someone is the more insecure and unsure they are and this is their way of compensating for that. The second thing I learned was that children cannot be expected to understand the consequences of seemingly small things like kicking a ball at a dog. Even the most seasoned and well adjusted dog could have reacted in a fearful way to this and I hope the kids learned a valuable lesson, but ultimately if you aren’t sure that someone can respect your dog then avoid them. Thirdly, I should learn to pay more attention to how Lola is feeling and help her deal with what is going on around her. Being a dog she may not be able to speak to me but her body language and behaviour in this case gave me many indications that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation and it is my responsibility to remove her from a situation that she can’t control on her own. Finally, every experience you have, whether it be good or bad is something that you can learn from. Once things have calmed down you need to go over what happened and think about what you could have done differently to avoid something similar happening again. One thing you know you can always take away from a traumatic experience is that you will never let it happen again.

It also taught me one of my biggest lessons, always trust your and your dogs instincts!!!