Monday, August 9, 2010

Canine Chaos

Let me start this post off with a disclaimer: I'm a dog person.

Actually, that might be a bit of an understatement. I love my dog more than you probably think possible. I have more photos documenting that pup than I do of anything or anyone else in my life.

He's practically my shadow.
He makes me smile and laugh. And even at his wildest, misbehaving moments (yes, he still gets those rambunctious puppy moments - despite the fact that he just turned five), he's just plain awesome.

It's safe to say I don't have a fear of dogs, even big, stereotypically "scary" ones.
That is, until I experienced my first real "fear moment" the other day while on a bike ride in a nearby town.

I was riding along quite comfortably, enjoying the wind in my face and the smell of the fresh outdoors, when two black dogs came bounding out of the woods into the road ahead of me. They stopped right in my path - and the path of an oncoming car that was riding up alongside me.

The car's driver did a semi-screech to a stop. I managed to glide to a stand-still a little more gracefully.

One of the dogs - a black lab - quickly became distracted by something else. Perhaps a sound or a smell. Just something that he or she found infinitely more interesting than me and the car. The lab scampered off.

But its cohort, a black pitbull, stood firm. It lowered its head ever so slightly and stared at me. It let out a low growl and a few barks - not come-play-with-me barks, either.

I stood motionless, realizing at that moment that I wasn't quite sure what to do in this instance.

Up until now, I've been lucky with my canine encounters during my running and riding miles. I've been followed by more
than a handful of curious pups, and even have walked a few home to their owners.

Once, I recall a Rottweiler racing across its front yard as I ran by. I stopped instantly, recalling my own dog's love of the "chase me" game. (Somehow when it's your fuzzy baby, getting chased by a running dog isn't as scary.) The owner came out of the garage, quickly called off the dog without incident and apologized.

Back at the scene of my recent bike ride, the black pitbull trotted circles around the car, still giving a bit of a growl. As soon as the car's path was clear, the driver accelerated - leaving me, now alone, with this seemingly not-so-friendly companion.

The barking increased in intensity, and it was honestly the first time I'd ever actually been afraid of a dog. I might actually get attacked, I thought. The dog surely didn't like something about me - perhaps it had never seen a cyclist or a bike up close. Let's face it, those reflective sunglasses and helmet are a bit of a weird sight to anyone.

I talked to it in a calming voice, figuring it might realize I was actually human and back off a bit. After all, this was someone's pet - just like mine, right?

The growling continued, and it started to pace a line back and forth the length of my bike. I looked around, hoping its owner would be somewhere, ready to call it off. Unfortunately, I couldn't even see a house from where I was stopped, and al
though there were a couple of nearby driveways, I didn't see a soul.

I weighed my options. Surely, once I got up to speed, I'd be able to out-ride the dog - the key being, once I got up to speed. I was at a complete stop. It would take me a few moments to re-clip into my pedals and get started, precious seconds that might kick that dog's prey drive into overdrive.

So I waited. I tried to act "unafraid," although I'm sure the dog could sense my racing heart and breathing. Dogs can sense fear, can't they? (I've never understood the advice to "act like you're not afraid" anyway.)

Eventually - it seemed like a long time, but I'm sure it wasn't more than a minute or two - another car came along in the opposite direction. The driver yelled to the dog, more of a warning sound than any specific words I could understand, and the dog took off in the other direction.

I looked back. It was far enough back to give me a decent head-start, even if the dog decided to chase me. I was confident, even with my slow start-up and not-so-fast regular pace, that I could get well ahead of it. Clipped in and rolling, I waved and smiled to the driver. Relief.

In an attempt to preempt the standard anti- and pro-pitbull debate, let me share another tidbit of information. My cuddly, loving pup - my shadow - is a 115-pound German Shepherd.

I'm constantly confronted with the stereotypes associated with my German Shepherd, but I (unlike the owner of this dog, apparently) am acutely aware that people are afraid of my dog - at least they're afraid of the way he looks.

I admit he looks scary, which is actually ironic considering it's practically guaranteed that he'd probably lick you and snuggle with you in lieu of biting or growling. Of course, I know that. You, if you passed me on the street, do not.

My dog is most decidedly big, both in size and the attitude he gives off. He walks with authority, he's alert and always looking around. If I'm walking him and you're nearby, there's not a chance that he didn't see you. Bottom line, he's intimidating. (A positive trait when I have to do solo walks in the not-so-great neighborhood at night, by the way.)

Knowing that people get nervous, I take extra steps to make people as comfortable as possible around him. I always have. I've spent literally years and hundreds of dollars (perhaps more) in training classes. I made every effort to socialize him with every kind of person and dog I could get him in contact with.

He never goes unleashed (unless at a dog park - and even then, I don't take my eyes off him for a second). When we approach someone on the sidewalk (if they haven't already crossed the street to avoid my beast like they sometimes do), I hold him a bit closer so that his curious face doesn't end up rubbing up against them.

If I have my dog with me, I always ask permission to ride the elevator in our building if I encounter another person.

Needless to say, I'm not afraid of dogs that people are typically afraid of. In fact, I'm often more afraid of the "friendlier" breeds that people don't control as well as they should. But this pitbull was just a little too aggressive for my liking.

Let me be clear, I don't blame the dog or the breed.
I would have felt the same way if it were that black lab that was growling at me.

Instead, I blame the owner. The dog never should have been running around loose and unattended. Even discounting my encounter, there was a strong possibility the dog could have gotten hit by a car.

The unfortunate thing is, the owner - no where to be seen in this entire scenario - doesn't even know how much of an inconvenience (at best) and danger (at worst) his little friend was.

Here's a picture of my "little" guy - whom you'll never find running around without me.


  1. My wife and I had a similar situation yesterday. We stopped at a bathroom along the Van Fleet State trail during our 30 mile ride. While there we heard barking and assumed it was from a nearby house. Then we saw these two white dogs emerging from the woods along the trail. Both we what appeared to be hip high on me (and I'm 6') and about 150 lbs. Since they were about 50 feet down the trail we cut our break short and quickly got out of there. Thankfully, we didn't have any pursuers either.

  2. We just had a similar experience with dogs on a country road. The worse bit is I had my four year old with me and there were about 6 very aggressive dogs. I have found more from accident than real knowledge that being the alpha dog scares them away. I raised my voice and said no in a very serious way and all of them left. Still, it took about 15 minutes before I felt like I could breath. I often run with my dogs off leash but if there is a person around I call them back. I don't let them out alone at all. It is just not fair to other people. Glad you are safe.

  3. Great post! I have had my share of un-leashed encounters. Shame on the owners!

  4. I had a similar experience last week: 3 pit-bull mixes popped out of the woods & 1 circled behind me. I dismounted (since I was surrounded, I knew I couldn't out-ride them) lifted up my bike to look bigger and yelled at them to go away, with my pepper spray in hand just in case. I love dogs and would never want to spray one, but I ride more comfortably knowing I have it.


You can post a comment here by selecting any of the options below. If you do not have a gmail account, choose "Other User" or "Anonymous." All fields are optional.