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Why Animals Do The Thing

MANAGING AGGRESSIVE DOGS: NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY, SOMETIMES IT’S NOT ENOUGH.

Rachel Garner

Something happened tonight that was tragic, and it wasn’t preventable. Which, in and of itself is sort of a misnomer, because what do I always say? If you know you’ve got a problem your watchword is management. Management is prevention. People with dog- or human-aggressive dogs know this all too well. It’s the clock they schedule their lives by. It doesn’t always work. No matter how much you do in terms of prevention, there is always going to be a margin for error and at some point that’s going to bite you in the ass. For people who’ve been told as often as people who own those type of pets have been told ‘your animal’s safety and the safety of other living things is entirely on your shoulders’ this is utterly devastating. 

We imply too often that owners should be able to prevent everything, always, exactly every time. This is what they don’t tell you: at some point, you will have done everything you can, and it will still not be enough. You are going to mess up at some point, or someone else is, or a random nasty is going to screw up your carefully laid plans. Someone will get hurt or someone’s pet might die. It is horrible, it is traumatic, it is heartbreaking - and when you’ve been doing everything you can, it is not your fault. 

Of course you feel guilty. Things went wrong. Hopefully everyone involved escaped mostly unscathed, but that’s not always the case. Even the best laid plans can and will go awry. You feel like you failed your dog and your community and you might be questioning if you are even still the best home for your beloved pet. That is all understandable and reasonable and normal in your situation, and I empathize. But here is what you need to know:

Do not let the accusations of strangers and outsiders make you feel like you are any less than amazing for how much you bend over backwards for the sake of your dog. Do not let people who don’t understand how much you can’t do - can’t go on walks in public, can’t go to dog parks, can’t let your dogs be in the same goddamn room - make you feel even more guilty than you already do. You have already proven you will walk through fire for your animal(s). Hold your head high and work on moving forward. There will be time for figuring out how to prevent error from happening again, but first, remember that when you have done everything you possibly can you are not to blame if things still manage to fall apart. 

Tonight, a dog aggressive dog belonging to a friend of mine attacked the oldest dog (of four) in the household. This is a dog who has successfully lived for a long time in a rotational household with three other dogs, none of whom are particularly fond of other dogs. The rotational schedule this woman and her husband run is impressive, especially considering the changing dynamics of the group over time and more recently the varied medical needs of the dogs. It’s more than I could easily keep track of for a petsitting gig, much less live with. It wasn’t enough. Error happens. The wrong door still got opened at the wrong time. 

The old dog will survive, although the vet made it clear that one of the bites could have very easily been fatal. He’ll heal, and the rotational schedule will continue and the safety-checks and counting of tails before opening doors will be improved to prevent the same problem happening twice and life with go on. It’s not idea - because the best option would have been for the fight to never happen in the first place. But that’s not what always happens, no matter how careful you are. 

I just wanted this to be a thing that people heard. Those of us who are blessed with balanced, stable, well-socialized dogs have no idea how much the lives of people with reactive or aggressive animals are turned upside-down. They face so much prejudice just for walking their animals on a muzzle or avoiding dog parks and loose dogs. These people who keep these animals and devote their lives to managing their environment so that both their pups and everyone around them can have safe, fulfilling lives are pretty damn close to heroes. That’s a sacrifice a lot of people aren’t willing to make for their four-footed friends. So for everyone who doesn’t have dogs like that, keep it in mind and keep your dogs on a leash to make their lives easier. 

To those of you with dogs with issues, I see you. I know how hard you’re trying. Don’t blame yourself too much when things go wrong, hug your dog, and keep working on moving forward again.