Dear Vinny, The Off-Leash Chihuahua...
I'm sorry that your person didn't think it was necessary to have you on-leash today. That meant you were able to dart across the vet's parking lot to go after my nearly 75lb Doberman. I was trying to figure out what all the yelling was about and only had a few nanoseconds to process your small snarling body making a beeline for my dog. I barely had an opportunity to step in front of my boy and growl "HEY!" at you before you flattened on the ground as your very large person ran up and yelled at you. He swooped you up, chastised you for going after a dog that was so much larger than you are and apologized to me before walking off. Truly Vinny, I'm sorry.
"WHY ARE YOU SORRY?! THAT DOG IS A JERK!"
Don't get me wrong, I am not excusing Vinny's behavior in the slightest. He must have ran at least 20' or 30' at full speed in an attempt to attack my dog. That is not normal. That is unacceptable. That is not okay. I also doubt this is the first time he has done this sort of thing.
"See, the dog is a jerk!"
So is the owner.
Look, Vinny obviously doesn't have the skills to be out in public with other dogs. He doesn't make even remotely good choices. Let's not even consider my dog, let's just consider ME! If I had put my foot out in his direction as he ran at us, in an attempt to make space between him and my dog, he would have been seriously injured because Vinny is really small! Then consider the fact he was trying to take on a dog that was at least 7-8 times larger than he was...that simply doesn't make any sense.
Given his owner's reaction, I doubt this is the first time that Vinny has done this sort of thing. What a terrible thing, then, to set Vinny up to fail by having him off-leash in public where he COULD make this grave mistake again.
Remember, Vinny ran 20'-30' in a public parking lot, one that has lots of blind spots within it and is also directly off of a huge busy street. If I or my dog didn't seriously injure Vinny, the traffic would have. Truly, it is by pure dumb luck Vinny didn't die today. So yes, I feel bad for Vinny.
"But, aren't you upset?"
Oh, you have no idea.
All I could think of was my dog. The fact that he is so stable, so good with all dogs, all people and in all situations. And how it could be taken away from him in an instant because someone was too damn lazy to put their dog on-leash! It makes my blood boil.
It also gives me nightmares.
I remember distinctly what it was like to have a dog who was NOT good in any of those situations. Owning the loaded gun, being in constant fear he would hurt or maul someone...or worse. I loved my Zeus with all my heart and I owe him so much, but the thought of my sweet and lovable Valor morphing into even an ounce of what Zeus was in regard to other dogs or people makes me physically ill.
The worst part is, I was doing everything right. Everything that was within my control, I had ticked off.
We literally just wrapped up an appointment at the vet's office to check on how Valor was doing, sort out things here and there since he just turned six years old. Good owner point #1.
As we were leaving, he was on a 6' leash that I had shortened by half, holding him at my side so I could look out he door to "check for bears" as I like to call it. Basically, I don't want to have my dog rushing into another dog's face as they are trying to come into the vet's office. Good owner point #2.
Coast is clear, my dog is under control and with me. I have my treat pouch with me and am feeding him treats for walking nicely with me to the car. Good owner point #3.
Then it happens.
Immediately after, I felt as though I didn't do enough. I didn't understand what was happening quickly enough. I didn't make a magical bubble appear around my boy to protect him. I didn't chastise the owner enough. I, somehow, failed. When in reality, I and my dog did nothing wrong.
Look, there was no contact between the two dogs. As soon as Vinny, the little snarling, then quivering, terror was swooped up and contained, treats rain down from the sky to my bewildered boy. A testament to just how solid Valor truly is, he seemed completely fine.
Once in the car, we drove around the corner to his favorite pet boutique shop. He got lots of chews, had the opportunity to perform some tricks for other customers and schmooze extra treats from the shop owner, one of his favorite people.
Coming home, he found his newest squeaky toy and bounded around with it for a bit, chewed on his new bully stick and then took a nap.
As far as Valor was concerned, all was well.
I, on the other hand, was angry. Very angry. Irate even.
Angry at Vinny. Angry at his owner. Angry at myself. Angry at the situation. Angry at the potential harm that could have been done to my dog, physically and mentally.
What if Vinny had not been a 5 or 10lb Chihuahua? What if he had a been a 60lb Lab or Pittie or mix breed? What would have happened then? Would I have done enough to safeguard my boy? Would he have been physically injured and mentally traumatized? Would I have just ruined him...by going to the vet?!
I'm already adjusting our lives because of the potential for terrible things to happen.
I don't walk around the neighborhood since I do not want Valor to have negative experiences with dogs behind fences rushing at him or other dogs snarling or barking their heads off as they walk on the other side of the street.
I will not go to populated hiking parks or trails for fear that some off-leash dog will rush him.
But the vet....now I need to be concerned about taking my dog to the damn vet?!
Here is my plea: please, for the love of all that is righteous in this world, if your dog is out in public, have them on-leash. I don't want to listen to your excuses, none of them are valid or worth my time.
First of all, it is the law.
Second of all, it is the responsible thing to do. Don't care about me or my dog? Fine. Then care about yours. Again, Vinny got LUCKY today. He could have been injured by me, my dog or flattened by a car. Why are you taking that risk? There is no reason. You are being lazy. You are being irresponsible. You are being a jerk. So stop it and put your dog on-leash.
Because I am tired of accommodating for your bad behavior. I will not arrange to have the vet come to my home because there is a possibility that your irresponsible self will be out there with your poorly behaved dog off-leash. This is not my problem, it's yours. So fix it.
Practice What You Preach
To my fellow professionals: please, PLEASE, be good role models.
If you have your dog out in public, have them on-leash.
What leg do I have to stand on when I am trying to reason with a dog owner to put their dog on-leash when they can turn around and point to their instructor whose dog is running amok off-leash?!
All of this, "The rules do not apply to me" mentality has to come to an end.
I will not tolerate someone else ruining my dog. He is too good. Too sweet. Too good-natured. I won't do it.
Please, do your part as professionals and set a good example for your students, clients and other people who see you in public. I beg of you.
Final Words to Vinny
I am really sorry this happened today. I can only imagine how tormented you must be. To be that aggressive and that afraid all within a matter of seconds...my heart breaks for you.
I wish you were getting help. I wish your person truly grasped that you need help and better set you up to succeed. But they won't and you will make this mistake again. Only next time, you may not be so lucky.
I am so sorry Vinny.
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!
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