Home > Reflections, Safety > Aggression is never adorable

Aggression is never adorable

Sai in usual form

Sai in usual form

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!”

You DEFINITELY wouldn't want to rent to one of these monsters.

These sweethearts, on the other hand, are reviled as aggressive even with tails wagging

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.

In my childhood family drawings, the mom was always taller. People genuinely believed my mom was the aggressor because she was taller

Moms were taller in my childhood family drawings. And in my childhood home, I learned that–contrary to popular misconception–size didn’t control aggression

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:

  1. Carrying an umbrella when out and about in the neighborhood. Many dogs will be “reset” by the sudden appearance of a barrier, and desist;
  2. Buying air spray to blast at an attacking dog’s face and deter it;
  3. 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

  1. June 27, 2014 at 9:01 am

    This is a great post! Several years ago I was in a similar situation (although I was not pregnant). I was walking my German Shepard on a leash and a small dog came running at us. My dog felt threatened as the smaller dog came at her in a dead run, barking like crazy while its owner stood back weekly calling. I was unable to stop my dog from grabbing that little dog in her mouth and shaking it. I had to resort to hitting my own dog so she would let go. The little dog’s owner actually got mad at ME for my dog’s behavior!

    Very frustrating. I like the idea of carrying an umbrella and/or air spray. Glad Animal Control was helpful and supportive.

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      The little dog’s owner actually got mad at ME for my dog’s behavior!

      I have seen this time and time again, and heard it more times having volunteered with dogs whose breeds are labeled as aggressive . . . which I now take to mean they’re large enough to earn that designation, whether or not it’s actually warranted!

      I still haven’t picked up that air spray. Since that incident, my walks have been with the baby and without the dog. But you can bet that when I do resume walking the dog, it will be with at least one of these devices. I’m not going to let someone else’s lenience with their little terror bring me or my dog to harm.

      • June 28, 2014 at 10:10 pm

        (This is not, of course, to say all little dogs are terrors. I know many lovely ones! This is specifically referring to the little ones who are terrors because, among other factors, they continue to get away with it.)

  2. June 27, 2014 at 9:22 am

    A similar situation happened with my dog and my mom’s dog. Her little dog was yapping and jumping and nipping at my bigger, older dog and ended up in my dog’s mouth. It was awful from every possible angle. And a former neighbor had a chihuahua who was notorious for biting kids’ ankles. You’re so right — sometimes aggression comes in a much smaller package than we’d expect. I’m sorry, too, that it’s such a painful reminder of your past.

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Happily, it’s no longer painful. Having had a chance to speak my mind and done so with quiet power instead of rage, there’s a weight off my shoulders that my 20-year-old self could never have imagined. Now I just wish others the benefit of my experience, which is the knowledge that power plays have little to do with size, especially–but not exclusively!–when the actors are canines, and the power is in the posturing.

  3. June 27, 2014 at 10:57 am

    How frightening for you! Thank you for posting the suggestions from animal control. We rarely have people in our neighborhood that don’t abide by the leash laws. The only reason this may be the case is that the head of our county’s animal control department lives in our neighborhood!

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Ooooooh, man, am I envious of you right now! I haven’t yet bought the spray, but that’s on my short list of things to do. (This still might take another month, but hey! That’s not so bad these days. Ahem.) And I really am grateful for their candor and guidance, even a few months later.

  4. June 27, 2014 at 11:22 am

    That sounds really scary. I am a bit of a crier when pregnant so I would’ve been a teary mess..

    My daughter was recently chased by a (overly friendly) St Bernard that wanted to play. We were walking through the park in a ‘leash required’ area. My daughter was terrified! Unlike your neighbour, the owner was very nice – she apologized and even pointed out that her dog should have been on a leash. Fortunately there was no physical harm done but my kid, who was already nervous around dogs is now even more afraid.

    Whether it is obeying leash rules or picking up poop, people need to realize that full responsibility for the care and management of the animal is part of the deal when you get a pet!

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Same here on the crying! Only a huge adrenaline rush kept me from it here, especially following the talk-to-the-hand response I got from the dude who was agitated with me, the one left to single-handedly break up a dog issue that wouldn’t have existed with proper adherence to leash laws.

      I hope the dog owner you mentioned started keeping her dog on leash, but man, I see so few people who do. It’s as if they truly don’t understand that keeping their dogs on leash is of benefit to all, not just some arbitrary rule passed by people who like making the rules just for rules’ sake. That’s not it at all!

      Whether it is obeying leash rules or picking up poop, people need to realize that full responsibility for the care and management of the animal is part of the deal when you get a pet!

  5. June 27, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    And aggression ignored is aggression rewarded – and reinforced. Both so very wrong.

  6. June 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    I agree with you completely on this issue! My small dog has run out the front door and barked at a person who was simply on a walk. I grabbed my dog and apologized profusely to the walker. I have been told that other people dogs, “just LOVE to roam free!” At the risk of humans? My friend was bit by an off leash dog and had to have very serious hand surgery. Since when are humans below canines?

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      We had a like out-the-door issue with our dog a few months ago! It changed how we manage our dog, because we want our dog and passersby to be safe.

      Since when are humans below canines?
      Spot-on question! Many people seem to see canines as little people, but they’re not. They operate within their own canine framework for interaction, and that framework is: He who is the boss doss whatever he wants. Humans who cater to their dogs are telling their dogs that it is they, the dogs, who are the boss. That is an exceedingly dangerous thing in countless instances that could be easily avoided with a little care and understanding.

  7. June 27, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    I have seen this time and again. I am so happy you weren’t hurt and the fool with the stomper didn’t call to say your dog was the aggressor.

    I use to have two large dogs, both that were breed considered ‘dangerous’, both who were sweethearts but protective of me in particular. They were always on leash, always. It irks me when others do not do the same, putting their own dogs at risk and others.

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      I am so happy you weren’t hurt and the fool with the stomper didn’t call to say your dog was the aggressor.

      I have heard about this exact scenario so many times that I was prepared for its happening here! I was almost surprised it didn’t, but even more thankful.

      Your comment reminds me I need to link this to my best friend. She, too, has a large dog who’s always on leash, but who’s constantly challenged by off-leash dogs whose owners call, “Don’t worry, s/he’s friendly!”

      Um, yeah. If s/he’s running up to another dog of any size barking and snarling, no, s/he’s not.

      (And my dog? Protective of me, too, hence extra care on my part to ensure no one is harmed by his zealous desire to see me safe.)

  8. June 27, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    People need to take care of their dogs and really see them all clearly. Every dog owner has a responsibility to everyone in their vicinity.

    Glad you weren’t hurt.

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Exactly so! Thank you, too. With the baby so close to being born, I was terrified in the moments I could see exactly what was about to happen but was powerless to stop it without putting myself in harm’s way.

  9. June 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    “Don’t worry he’s friendly.” My least favorite phrase in the world. Not everyone is comfortable with any unleashed dog running up to them. Children often become very fearful. Great post.

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      Thank you. That phrase is just about my least favorite, too! Not only is it seldom correct, it attempts to force one stranger’s judgment over another person’s.

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but if someone’s dog is running around off leash due to anything other than unfortunate accident, I definitely am not included to trust their judgment, about dogs or otherwise!

  10. Rainy
    June 28, 2014 at 1:14 am

    We used to live in an area with a lot of pits and larger dogs. We walked a lot, and sometimes I worried about all the dogs. The one time my daughter got bitten was when a chihuahua ran out of a yard, ran across two lanes of traffic, leaped onto the sidewalk, and savaged her ankle. It required an Urgent Care visit and antibiotics. “Oh but he’s such a nice dog.” the owner said, as she refused to pay for the medical care. “He was just defending his yard.” Oy. We called animal control. They did nothing. As far as I know, the chihuahua is still defending his yard when children walk by.

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      “Oh but he’s such a nice dog.” the owner said, as she refused to pay for the medical care. “He was just defending his yard.”

      By running well away from it and attacking a child?! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH. Argh, argh, argh.

      I am so frustrated on your behalf, and on behalf of all other people potentially in harm’s way because that dog presumably continues to be left unchecked.

  11. June 28, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Thank you for this.
    I have been witness – and sometimes victim – to many instances of unleashed and uncontrolled small dogs in the neighborhood that I had lived in for the past 4 years. And yet it is as you have written : my neighbors think because their aggressive dog is small, therefore the dog poses no threat to anyone.
    I can identify with your frustration

    • June 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      Man, do I feel your frustration. Something I often wish is that I had a way to kindly, gently coax people to understand the myriad risks posed to the dog in question, other dogs, and all people around the dog in question. For now, the best thing I could think to do was write this post, though it sat in draft form for two months. I’m glad I posted it and hopeful it might be a seed that eventually inspires change in at least one yard. If only there were a way to inspire a more sweeping one!

  12. maurnas
    June 29, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I’ve never heard that theory about sizing being proportional to aggression. In humans or dogs. In my experience, it is the direct opposite. Also, that would make me the She-Hulk. I am a giant.

    And I feel the same way about tiny aggressive dogs as I do about women who hit their partners. Just because you aren’t hurting, doesn’t make the behavior okay. It’s never adorable.

  13. June 29, 2014 at 9:07 pm


  14. July 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Imagine the scene. I have my sixty-pound American Bull Terrier on a leash. A neighbor has her ten-pound Dachshund on one as well. My dog wags her tail at another person walking by, while the little doxie wants nothing more than to attack and would have pulled out of that leash if she could.

    I’m still wondering why I was the one on the receiving end of the glare.

  15. July 10, 2014 at 4:20 am

    Coming from someone with a huge fear of dogs, I love that umbrella tip. Thanks.

  1. October 11, 2014 at 11:12 am
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