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The fearful dog diary - Part 3 The first interaction that affected Lola more than we realised…

Let me start by saying that this is extremely difficult for me to write. Each incident upset me more than I realised at the time. Clearly if they had such an impact on me then I can only begin to imagine how they affected Lola, especially being the nervous, fearful, anxious dog that she was already. None of these incidents were caused any significant physical injury but sometimes it is the unseen ‘afflictions’ that can have unwanted long lasting effects.

Anyone that knows and understands dog training will realise that how we think, feel and act has a dramatic affect on the way your dog behaves. When each incident happened a feeling of overall calmness came over me. I think this is a result of my years of being a vet nurse. In certain situations there is no point in working yourself up and adding to the scenario, having a clear head and figuring out what needs to be done is the best option. Of course that is easier said than done but when it comes down to it you sometimes surprise yourself.

The first incident happened at a small local park. I can’t actually remember how old she was but I think she was around 7 months. We had just walked into the park and there was only one other dog there all the way on the other side so I let Lola off her lead. In the time that I bent down to unclip her lead and stood back up a large, female, dog was running at full speed from the other corner of the park. At that point there was already nothing much I could do. I was hoping that the other dog would have a quick sniff maybe a little chase and then continue on its way. I wasn’t too worried about Lola wanting to follow as she was pretty much frozen just waiting for impact to occur. Unfortunately things didn’t go as I hoped. The dog wanted to have her and wasn’t taking no for an answer! She pawed, pinned, bit and scratched at Lola continuously. My poor pup was trying to do the right thing by showing appeasing and submissive gestures. Turning her head to the side, keeping her body low to the ground, letting this dog do whatever it wanted and the ultimate “I am no threat to you” position of lying on her back. After putting Lola back on the lead and trying to discourage, block, yell, scream and anything else I could think of to protect Lola, I realised the other dog wasn’t going to leave us alone. Looking around the park I noticed a lady I had seen earlier with her dog over on the other side. I couldn’t very well walk towards her in case the dog decided to have a go at her little dog so I decided my only option was to start the walk home, an option I think Lola was quite relieved about. I thought the other dog may follow us for a little while and then hopefully give up and wander off somewhere else. I was worried about where it would go as it had obviously already escaped but I figured the best I could do at this point in time was to call the ranger when I got home. We only live a few streets away from this park but it was the longest and scariest walk of my life. This dog just wouldn’t leave Lola alone, constantly jumping, barking, growling and biting at her. Even though at the time I thought you’re not supposed to ‘rescue’ your dog when they are scared and frightened I tried carrying Lola instead, I hoped this would make the walk back home quicker and keep her out of the dogs grasp. Even though this obviously put me at risk, I couldn’t have cared less at this stage and was willing to personally take anything this dog came at me with if meant Lola was ok.

I would like to quickly point out that I later learned it is impossible to reinforce a dog’s feelings if they are scared or frightened as these are emotions and they can’t be reinforced. Behaviours and the associated actions can be reinforced, emotions and feelings can’t be. If you think of it in human terms and your child was getting picked on by a bully, being physically attacked, you wouldn’t stand back and wait for the bully to stop or for your child to take a beating, so that they learned to not back down. You would get in there, tell the bully to back off, make sure that your child is safe and if they were upset hug them and tell them everything is going to be alright. Doing this means that your child would feel safe, cared for and loved and improve your relationship with them. You can protect and comfort your dog and let them know you are there for them, everyone needs reassurance and this can include dogs too.

After putting Lola back on the ground and walking as fast as possible we finally reached our back gate. The other dog had decided to follow us all the way home never leaving Lola’s side once during the terrifying walk. Before opening the gate I gave my best back away right now impression, which to be honest, was probably more a combination of swear words and shoving. Regardless it worked and the dog took a few steps back allowing Lola and myself time to get inside and close the gate behind us. Once I new we were safe I finally took a breath and checked Lola over to make sure she was ok and also gave her big hugs. The hugs were probably more for my benefit than hers but anyway I’m sure they made us both feel better. At this point the other dog started ramming, barking and scratching at the gate. I couldn’t believe she had started to do this and instead of being scared now I was just angry and wanted the dog to leave, any way possible! I took Lola inside to search for the number of the ranger. While inside I could hear the dog trying out our front door to see if this would get her access to Lola!! After making numerous attempts with no success the other dog disappeared. I snuck out to the end of the driveway and noticed it roaming up the street. Knowing Lola was safe inside with me I called our local ranger’s office to arrange for someone to come and pick up the dog.

Remember how earlier I mentioned that there had been another lady and her dog at the park when this all started, well apparently she was a very kind person. Even though she couldn’t do anything at the time to help us she had gone straight home and had called the ranger herself to report this dog attacking Lola and myself, so a ranger was already on their way to the park.

With my updated information the ranger was going to search the local streets to see if he could secure the dog. After getting off the phone, I completely broke down. I called my partner and explained (blubbered) everything that had happened to us. The poor guy couldn’t do anything except worry since he was at work. By now I should have been leaving for work myself but there was no way that was going to happen until I knew that the other dog had been picked up. I went back up the front to see if I could find where it was now and saw it was quite a distance up the street running back and forth across the road. Since I had calmed down a bit my vet nurse nature kicked in and I realised I couldn’t let it run off by itself in case it started attacking another dog or got hit by a car so I ran back inside, got a leash and went off after it. Once I got near it was more than happy to come over to me when I called out and let me clip a leash to its collar. We then sat and waited out the front of my house until the ranger turned up. While we sat there I realised it was the sweetest dog with a very gentle nature, it just obviously had no impulse control and didn’t understand what appropriate behaviour was or how to interact with other dogs.

While this incidence obviously shook us both up at the time, I didn’t think about the lasting impression it could have made on Lola or even myself. For a while after this occurred I was hyper vigilant when we went out on a walk or to the local park, keeping an eye on everything and everyone. While acting in this way is a good thing as it allows you to spot possible issues before they have the chance to turn into something, it also meant that I was in a constant state of anxiety and stress, something I’m sure that Lola picked up on. Lola, on the other hand, had started on the slippery slope to developing a fear of other dogs. Having done everything she could to let this other dog know that she wasn’t a threat and that she wanted it to go away, is a confusing scenario for a dog. Maybe Lola started to think, if a situation like this happens to me again do I do the same things or is there something else I need to do in order to protect myself?