Aggression is never adorable
Yapping and growling, a tiny white dog raced across the street toward me and my 50-pound canine, Sai.
The tiny dog’s owner shouted at it from her front yard. Her words were indiscernible to me, lost to the quiet hubbub of my own thoughts: wordless prayers that the approaching dog would stop its approach, or that its owner would quickly realize shouting at an attacking dog is as useless as asking the rain to stop falling and move.
The snowball of fury reached my dog and began biting his paws. I shouted words I can’t recall as I struggled to keep Sai’s mouth away from the other dog. I was momentarily successful, but in a flash, Sai had lifted the dog in his own much larger mouth.
38 weeks pregnant, I struggled alone to separate two dogs without harming myself or my imminent second child. It felt like an eternity before the shouting woman reached us and another eternity before the smaller dog was dislodged from Sai’s jaws.
The moment it was free, it bolted back across the street and disappeared into its yard. Its owner chased behind it. A grown man emerged from the house in pursuit of woman and dog. I stopped and asked, “Is the dog OK?” The man glared at me and held up a talk-to-the-hand open palm before disappearing to the side of the house. “Yeah, fine, I’m leaving,” I said, determined to call Animal Control the moment I got home. I did call, but the office was still closed. I fumed.
The entire terrible situation could have been avoided. And how? By adherence to local leash laws:
all dogs while not confined within an enclosed space (i.e. inside a house, vehicle, or fenced yard) be secured by a leash no more than eight feet long and held continuously in the hands of a responsible person capable of controlling the dog.
The law does require constant control by human hands. The law does not specify different standards based on the size of a dog. Small dogs can be aggressive, and can hurt people or other dogs. They can get themselves hurt, such as by running in front of a car or failing to appreciate the possible impacts of attacking a much larger dog. But they’re often left to run free, especially in my neighborhood, because people often think small dog aggression is adorable. “Oh, look at him, isn’t he so silly, how he thinks he’s so ferocious?!” Even as the dogs demonstrate clear aggressive behaviors, their owners might say things like, “Don’t worry, she’s friendly!”
Like local leash laws, the definition of aggression isn’t scaleable. It doesn’t change based on the size of the aggressor. The definition is in the demeanor and actions, not the size: characterized by or tending toward unprovoked offensives, attacks, invasions, or the like; militantly forward or menacing. Aggressive behavior is never cute to me. It doesn’t matter if the aggressor is a five-pound canine attacking a fifty-pound dog, or a 5’5″ human male attacking his 6″ wife, such as I often witnessed in my own home growing up. There’s nothing adorable about it.
I stopped by Animal Control to discuss the incident and the prevalence of off-leash dogs in my neighborhood. While most only yap from a distance, there are others that mistake their in-home dominance with whole-world dominance. They are the roamers who attack much larger dogs assuming they’ll roll over, or who–in another recent real-world example–tear my jeans as I kick at them in attempts to deter them from biting my son. Animal Control was wonderful. Its representatives suggested I consider:
- Carrying an umbrella when out and about in the neighborhood. Many dogs will be “reset” by the sudden appearance of a barrier, and desist;
- Buying air spray to blast at an attacking dog’s face and deter it;
- Calling Animal Control every time I see an off-leash dog, the better to enable Animal Control to address and rectify the issue.
It’s my intention to take each of these suggestions. Sure, I shouldn’t have to arm myself against other dogs to walk my dog, or go on a walk with my son, but I’d rather take those small steps than take a trip to the hospital. I wish I could trust others to not only recognize aggression for aggression but also to work to curtail it or minimize its impact. But the truth is, as long as anyone waves off any aggression as “cute,” such trust will be misguided and potentially harmful. I will do whatever I can to avoid harm. All the while I’ll remain clear that fault in any failure to mitigate it lies not in my failure to deter an aggressor, but with the aggressor . . . and those to whose care he is entrusted.
— Written March 24, 2014