When you have a reactive dog, you are more preoccupied about how your dog is going to react to the world around him than the contrary. On our walks, I am generally on the lookout for possible triggers and monitoring Spencer’s state to make sure he’s checking things out in a relaxed manner and not having his stress levels build to the point of a possible eruption. All the more reason we were caught off guard this morning by an attack from an unexpected source.
We were walking down a quiet, suburban street. I noticed someone puttering in the garden behind a fence on our side of the street, so I crossed the road to let Spencer see the man and deal with his presence from a safe distance. I heard a small dog start barking in the garden, but the gate was closed, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. Until I heard the shouting.
It turns out there was a second gate further along that was open because the fence was being painted, and the Chihuahua was looping around to come at us all guns blazing. When he reached Spencer, the dogs started to greet each other, so I thought it would all turn out fine. But the dog was a one-way greeter. He seemed to think it was OK to sniff Spencer’s butt, but definitely not OK the other way around. He growled and snapped. Spencer moved away, the Chihuahua calmed down, and then they tried again.
This happened a few times, and then Spencer had clearly had enough. We tried to move away, but the Chihuahua would not leave us alone. Since I could hear the frantic owners “running” up and (unsuccessfully) calling their dog, I was not optimistic about where this was going.
I kept trying to move Spencer away, to get the Chihuahua away from him and to keep myself between him and the owners, but none of it was going the way I wanted.
Spencer finally snapped and started reacting, mostly at the people since this now appeared to be a group attack in his eyes. He bucked against his harness by which I was trying to keep him away from the people and trying to move him away from the Chihuahua.
I finally managed to get him pinned against the fence, with my body shielding him. While he wasn’t exactly relaxed, this seemed to have the effect of communicating to him that I had control of the situation and was protecting him. He stopped struggling.
The man managed to get the Chihuahua and take it back to their house. The woman kept hovering, clearly feeling terrible and wanting to help. While still speaking to Spencer in as soothing a voice as I could, I begged her to please, just move away. She finally did.
I released Spencer, let him check that there was no imminent danger and then got him to focus on me enough that I could check there was no damage from the Chihuahua’s small but sharp teeth. I was proud that he was even calm enough for me to talk to the woman who was only about two metres away. That was hugely important, because I was more afraid of the psychological impact of this event than the physical one. I just kept thinking, “That damn Chihuahua is setting back the recovery program!” but this seemed to indicate that it might not have done as much harm as I thought.
By this time, we were both exhausted and ready to go home. We had no additional incidents on the way, and Spencer seemed calm and smiley, much to my relief.