Saturday, May 07, 2005

Dog day afternoon

Tenacious D does his best Gary Coleman impression

This guy's bark is much worse than his bite, and his deep hound bark has been known to scare the bejesus out of those who hear it. He has his share of problems, I was the second to adopt him after the first owner turned him in at almost 3 years old for being "too needy" - the SPCA provided limited information about his past: probably neglected, possibly abused by the original owner; the second owners returned him because he could not get along with the other dog they already had. The behavior I inherited from him (he is, I'm sad to say, the dog version of me) was marked fear aggression, dominance aggression (leading me to scream "I am the alpha here and you are my bitch"), separation anxiety and more. The first command he learned from me was "time out" (he pitches the same fit my friend's toddlers do when they get a time out too). He's a hound (known pack animals) that had never been socialized, that is the root to a majority of his problems. I've had him 3 years now, the first of which was spent schlepping him to therapy with a vet who specializes in animal behavior, canine good citizen classes and anti-depressants (for both of us).

The majority of dogs are turned over to shelters are turned in due to "behavior" or obedience issues, these issues usually come about because the original owners don't put the effort into training their dogs and understanding the basics of animal behavior. My guy could be better behaved, but I've been lax on some issues because I got extremely tired of constantly being in training and was more than willing to settle for a dog that's overcome most of his problems instead of the incredibly well behaved pup. Plus, every time I am ready to absolutely throttle him, he knows he can diffuse my anger by singing. I accept him for who he is because I took on the responsibility for his life when I chose to have a dog.

Why provide a brief overview of his story now? I do so to separate out the difference between aggression and viciousness. I do so to remind those who have dogs (or plan to get one) that having a pet is a greater responsibility than just remembering to feed & walk an animal. I do so because I am all too frequently reminded that not all people take their responsibilities seriously.

The D man weighs about 60 pounds and could easily do some major damage were he to attack (he's done some major inadvertent damage at play); he's not likely to do so unprovoked, but he could flip at another dog if he feels threatened (according to the guy at the kennel I board him when I travel, it may be more when he thinks I'm threatened). As a responsible dog owner, I pay close attention to The D man's behavior in public/with company - he loves children and plays well with them, but I'm always afraid that he could accidentally hurt someone with a nudge of his hard head or scratch and eye out due to his habit of using his front paw to get some attention.

I also try to keep a close eye on his behavior and any triggers for aggression; luckily he has a big heart and is not viscious in the least, but he has limits and I am morally, ethically and legally obligated to ensure he doesn't hurt anyone intentionally or otherwise. This is not only the responsibility of owners of dogs that people assume are viscious (bull terriers, dobermans, rotts, etc.) and larger breed dogs that could inflict substantial damage on a human being, it is also the responsibility of owners of small dogs which can be pretty nasty too (while they're unlikely to be able to inflict life-threatening damage to an adult, they could hurt a child pretty badly).

I only wish everyone with a pet could show the same respect for the responsibilities they have to their animal and their community.

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