February 4, 2010

Tales by Triplett – Who Let the Dogs Out?

Triplett,PatrickBy Patrick Triplett

The story of the postman being bitten by a dog recently in Davenport brought to mind a similar experience I had not too long ago. I was going for my usual walk one evening when out of nowhere a fairly large sized dog came sprinting at me from across the street.

My first reaction was to yell at the dog in the hope of intimidating it and causing it to retreat. This tactic did not work, as the dog continued toward me and began attacking me. My only option at that point was to try and fend it off by kicking at it.

Meanwhile a woman, who I presumed to be the owner, stood in her front yard and called at the dog to come to her.

“Sam, get back here,” she kept repeating, while Sam paid no attention and continued to attempt to turn my left leg into its dinner.

I was finally able to convince the woman, in a rather loud voice, that instead of yelling at the dog to come to her, it might be better for her to come and get the dog. Eventually she did, pulling it off me and dragging it back to her yard.

“Sorry,” was her only response, as if that would make everything OK.

Not being too happy about what had just transpired, I told the woman that I walked the same route nearly every evening, and I didn’t appreciate the fact that it was interrupted by an attacking dog. I went on to say that if she didn’t keep her dog restrained from now on, I would have to carry something with me for protection, and would not hesitate to do whatever it took to defend myself.

This seemed to make her somewhat upset, and instead of apologizing and asking me if I was OK, she stared at me as if to imply that her dog was just doing its job.

I have nothing against dogs. I have owned four in my lifetime, and have loved every one of them. I believe in the adage that they are man’s best friend, and provide their owners with something only dogs can give – unconditional love.

But the incident from that night got me to thinking. What exactly do dogs think their job is, and what do owners think their dog’s job should be?

Obviously, there is an instinct in dogs where they feel it is their duty to protect their owners against harm. Most dogs will ward off a potential ‘threat’ by barking. Some will take it a step farther and growl and bare their teeth. And occasionally, as what happened in my case, they will attack.

I have had dogs run at me several times in my life. One I will never forget was when I was 11 or 12 and was walking down the street only to have a Boxer charge at me from its front yard. I stood there frozen as the dog drew closer.

“Don’t worry,” said a man calmly sitting in his lawn chair. “He won’t hurt you.” The dog proceeded to jump on me, knocking me down, and then hovering over me. The man actually found this to be humorous, and while chuckling, called his dog off me and back to his yard. After returning home, changing underwear, and waiting for my heart rate to return to normal, I decided to take a different route.

This seems to be the reaction of most dog owners. They think they know their dogs, but unless they have taken a course on How Dogs Think, they don’t have a clue.

One of the dogs we owned, Kirby, was a friendly, gentle animal who would greet most people by wagging its tail and wanting only to be petted. Once in a while it would bark at a stranger at the front door, but that was about as far as it ever got. Kirby never gave us any reason to think it would harm anyone.

But for some unknown reason, Kirby disliked one of our friends, Don. Each time Don would enter our house, even if he were among several other people, Kirby would single him out and growl at him, baring its teeth and acting as if it were going to attack him. Though Don was a nice guy, and swore he had never given Kirby any reason to dislike him, we had to restrain the dog each time Don was in the house. To this day we do not understand why Kirby felt the way it did toward Don.

I have often wondered why people choose to purchase dogs the size of Clydesdales, and then allow them to roam freely in their yards. Are they really buying these kinds of dogs for companionship, or to save a few hundred bucks on a home security system? (And don’t even get me started on Pit Bulls).

As I am walking and see a large dog running about freely in the yard, I tend to freeze in my tracks, only to have the owner come out of the house or from around back and say those words, “Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you.”

Ah, another graduate from the school of How Dogs Think.

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