There's a monster in the park.

             Canine etiquette; first you greet, then you play.  Skipping the greeting stage can lead
             to all sorts of misconception and trouble. 

Elsa and I were just finishing up our evening walk and were headed to the Xterra.  Up ahead I could see some folks sitting with their dogs and chatting.  A man with a dog was walking by and two small dogs came out to say hi to his dog and they looked to be having a nice time.  As we walked up the two dogs were called and I told them "she's friendly."  I wanted these nice little dogs to interact with Elsa.  So many small dogs are not friendly; and it can really leave an impression on a dog after being snapped at so many times.  The owners told them okay and I dropped Elsa's leash.  The three were interacting very nicely when a large black dog charged over that I hadn't even seen in the group of people.  With no greeting, hello or how are ya;s; she started to chase Elsa. 

At first it was just a very assertive approach to sniff and as Elsa tried to move away the dog chased.  Soon Elsa was running with the dog chasing her.  Elsa's rear end was about as tucked as it can be as I called out to her.  It is hard for a dog to hear anything when they are in a fear mode.  I continued calling her; I remained calm as there was no need to panic.  It all happened so fast that I find myself trying very hard to remember it all.  Then she screamed; Elsa let out a noise that I'd never heard before.  She was very scared.

Finally she turned and ran into the group of people for safety.  I walked over calmly and picked up her leash.  Everyone knew that Elsa was scared and I immediately made the decision to stay a while.  I asked again "she's friendly right?"  As it was difficult for me to read the dog myself.  Yes she had chased Elsa but it hadn't seemed aggressive; assertive yes but not aggressive.  They said "oh yes, very friendly."  Then they told me she just be charging around with some dogs; so I guess she thought that she'd just start up again.  But she hadn't even met Elsa before and I am sure that Elsa really didn't even know what this dog was.  It was a Bouvier des Flandres in full clip which means that she had no face and no tail as far as communication is concerned.  Elsa could not see the dogs eyes, or read her very short tail.  She was very full coated which meant that there was little other body language to read.  All Elsa knew was that this giant black monster was after her. 

So why did I not get on my high horse and head out after the incident?  Association.  I have worked too hard and too long to have it all come undone in one chance meeting.  The owner of the dog stayed seated, oblivious to there being a situation.  A very nice woman with another dog herself; grabbed the Bouvier's leash so that Elsa could get her composure.  I remained completely calm through the ordeal; surprisingly because I am a grizzle bear of an overprotective Mom.  But what Elsa needed now was; well thought out situational modification through precise manipulation indicative to creating positive association.  She did not need her Mother enforcing her fear by leaving in a panic.   We were not leaving on a negative, we had to stay for a while and the most important part was that I remain calm.  It may not be a warm and fuzzy moment but we had to stay.

I had Elsa's leash in my hand, we kept the monster at bay.  Once the monster realized that I had treats then she was happy to just sit and stare at me, waiting.   Elsa kept glancing at the Bouvier from the corner of her eye.  She was most definitely interested as she skirted around the woman and had a sniff of the monster.  It had all happened so fast that I'm sure Elsa was thinking "wt*."  She continued to have interested but was very wary if the monster looked at or approached her.  The Bouvier had very bad canine manners as did one of the other dogs there which I have actually written about before.  A very nice but oblivious Labrador.  She is very sweet but in your face and Elsa does not like in your face until she knows you. 

Elsa is one of the best dog readers I know.  When in doubt she hangs back; but this situation gave her nothing to go on.  Imagine you were on a walk and Sasquatch came charging out of the woods at you.  You'd turn and run, that's all you would do; well you might scream too.  Allowing your dog to do this is just wrong; if our dog's don't have manners we must teach them some.  That or keep your dog on a leash until it is okay to run and play.  Dogs with good communication skills would meet first, play bow or bounce; wait for a reciprocated communication and then charge off playing.  Elsa reacted very fearfully by running but; she could have very well turned and attacked in fear.  I am glad that she did not attack; it would have made the situation much more difficult to work with. 

Over the last two years I have sifted through dogs for interaction purposes.  I have tried to keep them all positive with a small amount of not so great just for learning sake.  This is the moment that I was working up to; the one that was not great.  With all the positive behind her, the hope is that this will not leave such a huge impression.  So we will head to the park again.  I will be ready this time and I will shout up ahead to keep the monster on a leash.  No doubt Elsa will remember.  Dogs simply don't forget.  One sniff and a dog has you in their memory bank.  We will keep it short and sweet and leave on a positive.  (Quit while you are ahead)  Maybe, just maybe the monster and Elsa will become good friends. 

Feel free to ask questions about dealing with a situation like this. 


  1. Did you eventually say anything to the owner about their dog's bad canine manners and how to avoid that type of situation in the future? Hard to imagine them just sitting there and not realizing that Elsa had been scared and yelping...

  2. love reading your blog about your poodles. I have two standards my wise ten year old Guinness (she has my heart) a small poodle mix (rescue taught me more than you can imagine especially forgiveness), and my new pup 11 week old standard Liberty. I have two questions..when I start bringing the pup around other dogs and she shows fear or submissiveness (by rolling on her back) what do you suggest I do? I sometimes feel a bit apprehensive towards some other dogs, not knowing how they will react. 2nd question..I allow my older girl to correct the pup but sometimes I intervene because I dont want either of them to get "hurt"...the pup seems to be 'testing' the older dog. (the rescue has her on the pay no mind list) :)

  3. Lisa, no I actually didn't. It was one of those moments where you make fast decisions in and that was one. If I would have talked to him I know I would have gone off. So I chose to help Elsa as she needed me. Probably would not have done anything anyway.

    The better option is to discuss it today or when we do meet again when I'm not fuming. :)

  4. Anonymous; if you pup rolls over in submission, that is a great thing. They are signalling to the other dog that they are nothing but a lowly puppy, no challenge. Many puppies do this and they typically will never get into it. That said many puppies will outgrow it as they grow confidence.

    You should get your puppy out now. You can have play dates with friends who have friendly dogs to help. Don't push your pup if they are afraid, let her take her time to meet new dogs. If you can sign up for a puppy class obedience that has play time, that is great. I did this with Elsa even though I'm a trainer just for the socializing aspect.

    Your older girl should discipline the pup. If she is not allowed to then the pup can become obnoxious. Of course if she is hurting her then yes step in but I doubt that. Also stop the pup from annoying the older girl. Sometimes the older dogs don't give enough feedback so we need to step in.

  5. I once saw a Bouvier charge a chocolate lab, 10 minutes after it arrived in the dog park (one of our last times in the park because of what we saw). Reason being was that the bouvier came into the park and needed to do its business (urgently) but the chocolate lab was all over him, not giving him a moment to himself. The choc lab's owner was waaay out of the picture, socializing with other owners, not watching what his dog was doing. Finally the bouvier got to do his business and the lab found another dog to harass/play with.

    10 minutes later, the lab was sitting in the field and the bouvier spotted him. Thankfully, I was holding my spoo and watched as the bouvier made a "decision" to charge the lab. With a good 20 yards of running steam, the bouvier head-butted the lab that sent him flying. There was then quite a commotion and that's when the lab's owner finally noticed his dog... that could barely walk (woozy would best describe him) after he was butted by the much larger dog.

    The bouvier's owner was oblivious to what his dog had done and simply took the dog to another area of the park. The poor lab had to be carried to the car and I found out later, he had suffered a concussion from the bouvier's head butt.

    Sadly, the lab's owner didn't pay attention to his dog's actions in the first place. Watching that incident and another time of being told that a female dog was in heat (ignorant owner!), was enough to keep me and my spoo away from dog parks. I'm sure there are some parks that are filled with awesome dogs but, from what I've experienced, never again for us... just not worth the potential danger. My spoo gets lots of social interaction elsewhere.


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