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Dog Park Woes
What to do about an uncontrolled dog

This morning as I was walking with the dogs at Pt Isabel—one of the most popular off leash areas in the Bay Area—I was “approached” by a very large dog in a very threatening manner. This was a first for me, and I must say that it was frightening. The dogs and I were on the path walking back to the car, when I saw this Mastiff mix on the grassy area adjacent to the pathway—I noticed him because I know most of the early morning “shift” dogs, but he was unfamiliar so I wondered who he might be. He was a handsome dog, probably over a 100 lbs., very tall, with a brindle coat, but he was coming at us fast. His owner, a woman probably in her 30s, was calling to him by saying “heel” even though he was far from her. He didn’t pay any attention to her at all, he kept coming fast. I stopped walking, mostly concerned for Charlie who was close by my side (the other dogs were nearby but not that close), I thought the dog might be headed “for” him. I was trying to think of what I should do to protect Charlie. There was something extremely menacing about the way that dog held his body as he charged us. The woman did not change her pace at all, and simply yelled “heel” again. By the time he reached us I learned it was me, not Charlie, who had “piqued” his attention. I calmly and assertively, as I could muster, told him  “No,” and at the same time, called out to his owner, “Get your dog… Put him on a leash”, and then, when I saw that her pace had not quickened, “Run fast, get him.” By that time he had lunged up on to my shoulders, and was growling in my face.  She finally reached us, grabbed him off, and said something inane like, “I don’t know why he did that!”

I was extremely upset and told her that his behavior was totally unacceptable and he must be kept on a leash (she still hadn’t leashed him) she seemed mollified and contrite and mentioned that she was working with a trainer etc. I wish I had had my wits about me to point out that she committed two big mistakes, the first is that she never called him off, never said No or Off, Leave It or anything like that, “heel” doesn’t mean anything in such a situation, and she should have seen that. And, even more importantly, she should have run to us as soon as he did not respond to her, and certainly by the time he was “on” me.

Unfortunately, I have seen this time and time again, perhaps not in quite such a dramatic fashion as what happened this morning. But I don’t understand why if a dog is doing something wrong, is showing any aggression to a person or a dog, that some people seem loathe to rush over to leash up their dogs or say No to them. I’m sure you have seen this too, it is one thing to hold your ground when you are training your dog in recall, but in “real” life situations, what matters most is that you have control over your dog and if a dog isn’t responding to your verbal cues, then you must do everything within your power to divert him, to leash him, to remove him from the altercation.

I am curious to hear your thoughts. What would you have done/said to her? What do you think she should have done? Has something like that happened to you? I must admit that I am still rattled by this.

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and editor in chief. thebark.com


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Submitted by Don Willson | November 20 2012 |

That is the main reason I do not take my 11 year old pug to dog parks. Inconsiderate actions of other dog owners are the main reason. That woman should be in training on how to behave in public. She should be cited and pay a fine.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

Ah yes, one of the "he's never done that before" brigade! In my neck of the woods, it happens all the time on our beaches, parks, forests and any other area where people walk dogs. Even if a dog appears friendly, it's just not fair when owners have no idea if your dog is friendly/fearful/aggressive. It's even worse when your dog is on lead. Some people think that their dogs are socialising. They are not. They are out of control, and their owners are unthoughtful and selfish. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about these nuisance dogs and their owners.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

I have been fortunate to not have been attacked in a dog park, but I was bitten while walking in my neighborhood.

Sadly, the answer is a heavy stick and a stun.... the stick for the dog and the stun gun for the idiot owner of the unruly dog.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

Our town developed an aggressive animal law after doing a lot of research about what kind of law would keep people and pets the most safe. If the animal (it is not breed or species specific!) acts in an aggressive manner the owners can be ticketed for an aggressive animal. They must then, if convicted, put things in place to keep everyone safe. This could include training, leash, muzzle, stronger fence, etc. It doesn't matter if it is in an off-leash area or not.

It is so scary to be rushed by any dog but by a big dog like that is even scarier. The tragedy is that often the poor dog who is out of control ends up paying the ultimate price. I've taken to carrying a citronella spray that is in a canister much like a pepper spray. So far, it has worked. The owner of the dog is always incensed, but that's their problem.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

All to often we see this when we are out with our dogs hiking or walking the neighborhood. There is a great resource out there to help educate the public and dog owners about dogs and people that need space. I am not sure if you have heard of it, but it is called DINOS (Dogs in need of space), http://notesfromadogwalker.com/what-is-a-dinos/.

While this situation was slightly different, I feel that the public would benefit from learning more about this wonderful program. I wish there was a way to get people to understand that if they cannot not control their dogs off leash then those dogs should be on a leash or even a long line which allows them some freedom, and that if there dog is charging someone, they better be able to move quicker than their own dog(s) to get the situation remedied before someone gets hurt or killed. This is why there are leash laws.

Sorry that you had to experience this and I am sure now that it is over you are like me and all of the things that you could have said to try to educate this person are coming to mind. Which brings up a good point, we need to educate the general public about dog etiquette. Its a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

I recently told a friend whose dog got into a fight resulting in a number of stitches and a hefty bet bill that dog parks have become too popular for me and my dogs. I feel there is a certain threshold of energy that an area can sustain of both dogs and people. Fewer dogs there seems to be greater control over situations that arise. More dogs, more energy, less control. I go to dog parks when it's less than ideal for people to be out there unless they have northern breed dogs like I do. Thus I avoid the situation of a mass of out of control dogs and inattentive people more focused on socializing with people than appropriately socializing their dogs. Instead I head for a trail at a park less habituated by people and dogs where we can relax and find calm energy that allows my dogs to focus on their instinctual interests which exhausts their energy in a manner more in tune with their emotional needs. Do I feel like I'm sacrificing my right to a dog park? No I feel I'm protecting the well being of my dogs and myself and keeping everyone I care about safe, healthy and happy. How we behave at a dog park is a choice we make. I don't always agree with the choices some people make with their dogs and I have no control over that. But I maintain a high level of awareness of what's going on around me along with a safe distance so I can turn and walk away if a potential threat presents itself.

Submitted by Two Pitties in ... | November 20 2012 |

We live in a busy area in Chicago, and I'm always amazed how many people let their dogs run off-leash. Not everyone likes dogs, and I don't understand why people feel entitled to disregard leash laws when they are in place for the safety of the community (and the dog!). I carry a citronella spray in case I do have an encounter (I've never had to use it).
We are always aware of other people and we work hard to demonstrate responsible dog ownership. There is an unspoken code among responsible dog owners...we actually wrote about it this morning!

Submitted by Two Pitties in ... | November 20 2012 |

We live in a busy area in Chicago, and I'm always amazed how many people let their dogs run off-leash. Not everyone likes dogs, and I don't understand why people feel entitled to disregard leash laws when they are in place for the safety of the community (and the dog!). I carry a citronella spray in case I do have an encounter (I've never had to use it).
We are always aware of other people and we work hard to demonstrate responsible dog ownership. There is an unspoken code among responsible dog owners...we actually wrote about it this morning!

Submitted by Donna | November 20 2012 |

Grrrrrrr......... Irresponsible dog owner, just like the irresponsible mom. Her baby is too precious to reprimand.

I had a similar situation when I was walking my dogs out of town, near my hotel. Another dog broke loose from his owner and came charging at me and my 2 dogs, running in to bite them and backing back off, like a dance. He bit my smaller dog a few times.

I freaked out but then went into "Dog Whisperer" mode and got the dominant body posture, putting myself between the crazed dog and my "pack", showing ownership of the space the way Cesar says to do. The dog actually read my body posture and backed up. Then he ran to the side and tried it again and I stepped in and blocked him as before. I shouted at the dog to "LEAVE IT!" And I shouted to the slow owner to get over and get her dog.

She also did not reprimand her dog. She clearly had no control of it whatsoever. Pathetic.

Submitted by Crazy Greyhound Lady | November 20 2012 |

I always say "it's not the dogs it's the humans that are the problem." From people who sit at the dog park, talking on their cell phones without watching their dogs to those who can't think beyond the end of their ears and can only think about their dog when he's placid....harumph!...then we have the small dog owners at the big dog park (sign says '30 lbs. or over').....

Most municipalities put in dog parks on a "play at your own risk" policy, where self-policing is what they rely on. Unfortunately, the few times I've spoken up, when people are not in control of their dogs, no one else wants to back me up (most don't want to make waves) and I'm looked at as if I'm the problem (really folks, I try to say it politely but firmly).

I have no solution but I do look carefully at who's there before bringing my dogs in to my local dog parks. Better safe than sorry.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

I have one 13lb terrierx reactive dog and one 80lb, "friendly" houndx. Friendly except for the fact that when my terrierX reacts to other dogs he pounces on the little on which in turn further aggrevates the little dog. They are ALWAYS on leash (leash law or not). One of my favorite things to do is take them on long walks around the neighborhood. One sunday afternoon my sister and I were taking them for a stroll through the neighborhood streets - my 80lb pup was only 5 months old at the time. All of a sudden...my sister alerts me that there is a rather large Rottie in one of the yards in a "stalking" position....slowing moving our direction - you know that slouching/stalking slow crawl dogs do when they are very intense on attacking? THAT is what it was doing. We frantically yelled out (to no one in site mind you) "Get your dog!!! leash your dog!!" Finally....before the dog had the opportunity to leave its property....someone came out from the garage area and called the dog back...it took a few seconds before the dog responded but it finally went away. I don't care if your dog is on your property - if you are not around to supervise the dog, and you live in a populated suburban neighborhood - LEASH IT! I don't know WHAT i would have done if it has actually attacked. I did pick up my little dog - he is fearless - he would NOT have tried to run away - he would have gone right for the other dog - my sister said in the minute that went by (which seemed like an hour) she planned on how she would save Henry (the houndX pup) she said in her mind...if the dog had attacked she would have thrown herself over Henry to protect him (what a sis!). In that same neighbor hood -- there was a smaller dog that came barreling at us out of nowhere and came to a dead stop at the end of the lawn area which happened to be the sidewalk where we were walking - i suspect there was an invisible fence...however ....invisible fences only work on the dog at that property - NOTHING was prevent MY reactive dog from crossing that barrier and striking out - though i love walking my dogs - a lot of times it's very stressful worrying about everyone ELSE's dog!

Submitted by Spen | November 20 2012 |

I had been waling with my dog friends at the NCAA cross country meet. After our walk in the park I let the dogs off the leash towards our neiborhood. The larger dog Mocha ran around the neiborhood while Tazwell, the smaller of the two dogs, went back into our condo. I searched for Mocha and met back up with him about ten fifteen minutes later. I leaned down to pet him and was relived to see him. I walked back to our padio and Mocha wondered to the next neiborhood over so I followed. He was sniffing around in front of the houses. He was at the last house in the neiborhood and I yelled Mocha! he stopped once the doubled back and ran right into the busy traffic that drives like an expressway, West port Rd. the unessicarrily busy and carlessly fast traffic. He made it through two lanes the was struck by the speeding traffic on the other side. I ran to pick him up and he took his last deep breathes while i was holding him.
I only hope we can reduce unnecessary traffic, maybe walk or bike, and when we do drive we drive causiuos and allert. I wiil be forever sad with the loss of loved pets. Spencer

Submitted by ellie | November 20 2012 |

We live across the road from a full male American Bulldog who is NOT friendly. He has threatened several neighbors including me, and bitten as well - NOT me! I will NOT give up walking our two dogs, but I now carry 'HALT' in my pocket and a sturdy stick, just in case. Our smaller dog was attacked two summers ago when we walked by a house where the attacker was visiting, a white boxer who got our 25-lb. poodle on his back in the road and gave him a puncture wound in the neck. At least the owner ran out and corralled his dog, but I was livid. Our dogs are ALWAYS either in our fenced yard or on lead - for their safety, since neither is remotely aggressive. I cannot fathom why someone wouldn't run like crazy to call off his/her aggressive dog - many victims would see her in court, I'm sure. I can imagine how frightened you were, and I hope you won't blame yourself for not doing more to educate the owner - and give her a big piece of your mind!

Submitted by Carrol | November 20 2012 |

Same sort of situation happened to my husband and I. He ended up getting bit on the cheek by a friendly 80lb. pit bull. The owner never leashed him even after the bite. We got in a huge argument, with my husband's face bleeding while she continued to defend her dog. It was not a bite she said. Long story short....animal services quarantined her dog and gave us some schooling. Never, ever walk your dogs without pepper spray ready to go. The officer told us it won't harm the dog, and will probably make the other owner really mad but it's legal and necessary and the police will always defend you. It can save you and your dogs.

You can get a convenient tube for $9.99 at sporting good stores. I'm glad you're okay. That dog could have killed you.


Submitted by Kim-K9 Kompanion | November 24 2012 |

I was going to suggest the same thing, Carol. Even better...get Stop Shield. It's a citronella spray designed specifically for use on dogs. I would tell the owner that if they didn't get the dog under control immediately, It was going to get sprayed in the face! As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, this type of situation is totally unacceptable. Otherwise good dogs lose their lives over situations like this when their owners are too irresponsible or uneducated in dog behavior! So glad, Claudia that neither you nor your dogs were injured.

Submitted by Jolanta Benal | November 25 2012 |

I can't second the recommendation for pepper spray, because there's no way to predict whether it'll fend the dog off or whether the pain will elicit more intense aggression. Unfortunately there's no foolproof, risk-free way to stop aggressive behavior, and Claudia's response was probably as safe and wise as possible.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2012 |

I'm not sure I would have had the presence of mind to do this in the heat of the moment, but as a reader in a rational setting, my thoughts are that you should have gotten the owner's name and info and then contacted the police (or if she didn't give it freely, get a license plate, even a photo with your iPhone).

At the very least, Animal Control would want to know this info.

Someday this dog may go after a child or someone else who can't act as assertively as you did.

Submitted by Steph J | November 20 2012 |

I think maybe she didn't say anything along the lines of "I am sorry" because maybe she was embarrassed? My dog did something that embarrassed me and I forgot my manners BUT I was also very quick to RUN to go get my dog who had gotten out of our fence. I scolded my dog for their behavior but I forgot to follow it up with "excuse us - I sorry she go out and was barking at you" I guess I hope that the lady really didn't think the dogs behavior or hers is acceptable.

Submitted by Ravindra Rao | November 21 2012 |

Well, I have encountered a lot of Dog-Human pairs where the dog seemed more reasonable and sensible. In your position, I would have lodged a complaint with the local animal control officer and teach that lady a lesson.

Remember, it's not the dog's mistake. Dogs do what they need to do to control and protect their surroundings/themselves/their pack. If a human cannot control his/her dog or can't provide leadership, (s)he has no right to keep one.

Submitted by Anonymous in El... | November 21 2012 |

I would have been just as flustered as you were, Claudia.

If confronted frequently with that kind of situation (dog forbid), I think I'd carry a long-handled stun gun. I resorted to this when I lived near a drug dealer with a huge, aggressive guard dog who was frequently loose. I never had to use it and I don't know how it would have worked. I suppose that's not legal everywhere.

But thank heavens these incidents are so rare, really. In all the years you've been going to Point Isabel -- first time.

I'm guessing we all need to rehearse our, "You and your dog are a public menace" speeches so we can deliver them anytime, anywhere.

Submitted by Bruce | November 21 2012 |

Please don't mistake my question as "blaming the victim", but do you have any insights why the dog went off on you? I have seen dogs react aggressively to running, staring and other stimuli, and of course we should be able to do all these things safely.

Yes, it was a huge deal and if the owner did not do something immediately and drastic about it, then call the EBRPD cops (510-881-1121, put it in your phone, people!) and they will make her do something about it. If it happens again, there will be a previous report on file.

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | November 21 2012 |

HI Bruce
I don't know what set this dog off, his stalking behavior began about 100 feet or more away from me. I think he thought I was in his territory perhaps. I thought it might be my baseball cap, but his owner was wearing one as well. I really think it was a territorial issue. I did not ask her if this was her first time at the park, but I hadn't seen her or her dog before, so who knows. It truly was scary.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 22 2012 |

Like you, I would have been very frightened. The dog should have been on a leash. And what I would have said to the woman couldn't be put in print. Of course, ideally, that woman should never have a dog since she really has no concept of how to train/handle any dog, much less a giant breed.
I can say that when I lived in Ohio, I resorted to carrying pepper spray. Our Scotties are a vocal group when on lead. It is also the only time they are dog aggressive. But when an off leash dog comes "for" them, and no one is calling that dog off, I will not allow a fight to ensue. Better to send a little blast of mace or pepper spray that can be washed of than puncture wounds, ears torn etc.
We have great dog parks in Oregon, but for every park, there is a story to report on a dog mauled by another dog at a dog park.

Submitted by nancy | November 24 2012 |

I see this again and again-if she was "working with a trainer" the dog is not trained yet (as demonstrated) but owners like her don' realize that when you are working on issues or just training, your dog cannot be given freedom until you have the responding to you reliably and dogs don't get trained in training sessions. They get trained by having their freedom limited until earn it with reliable responses. to change behavior or get a dog trained the owner/handler has to commit to a program. I'll bet that trainer counseled her to keep the dog on leash and under control and, most likely, to avoid dog parks.

Submitted by k9mythbuster | November 25 2012 |

First, I would say that your response was confrontational(which, thanks to a certain TV show, is what calm & assertive means these days). Had you taken a less confrontational stance, using simple calming signals, such as turning slightly sideways and averting your gaze, the dog would have been less likely to charge. Instead, you escalated the level of your perceived threat, so he escalated his level of aggressive display.

Second, "No" doesn't have any more significance to dogs than "Heel." I would say that "No" is far, far less effective than a well-trained "Heel" (which this dog did NOT demonstrate). "Heel," when taught properly, can be as good as a recall - it tells the dog what to do and exactly where to go. "No" is not an instruction and leaves the dog without any clear direction.

This owner clearly had no business taking this dog to an off-leash area and was at fault, but in order to diffuse the situation, I would recommend a far less confrontational approach should you find yourself faced with such a threat in the future.

Submitted by Anonymous | November 26 2012 |

My dog will rush other dogs or did when he was younger and broke loose from his collar. Does not happen anymore. Even though I knew he did not hurt other dogs, I never walked over I always ran to catch him. This woman you encountered is obviously oblivious to the fact that dogs are animals and can be dangerous. Sounds like she had too much pride to take accountability for the situation. Totally unacceptable. She is not the right owner for the dog she has. Or maybe any dog. What would I have said or done? I probably would have been just as rattled as you were and just glad to get away safely. But I would certainly be on the look out for her on the next trip and maybe report her so the police could be on the look out for her as well.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 24 2013 |

I am up late searching for answers or comfort. I am a professional dog walker and go to Point Isabel Monday through Friday. I have been bringing my own dog Jack for the past few years. Jack got attacked this past Friday by a collar-less pit bull. The owner had no control of the dog and barely had a leash for it. I was able to kick and fight the dog off mine. I asked Bruce the park ranger to help me since I had lost my cell phone in the fight. I needed to round up my other dogs and take care of Jack. Bruce.reluctantly came and just told the owner "you can't bring your dog here" as I put Jack in the car I demanded the owner of the pit to stay. As I went back to retrieve my last dog and cell phone from a fellow dog walker the owner and pit took off! I found Bruce and he and asked where the guy went and he replied with "its your problem". Still in shock I took off running to find the guy but no luck and I needed to take care of Jack. Jack survived but his right eye had to be removed and he suffered bite wounds through the neck. I only hope his wounds are physical. He is wagging his tail and still a happy dog. I on the other hand am extremely heartbroken and angry. Any descent human being would have helped me and/or not taken off. Dog owners need to take more responsibility. I am forever changed.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 15 2013 |

I hope your dog Jack is doing okay now. Sorry to hear about your traumatic experience. Perhaps the park ranger could use a talking to from an authority figure? Have you contacted anyone else that might be in a management position to implement specific guidelines for how to effectively deal with those types of situations? Maybe put a flyer around the park with the dog & it's owners description with a WARNING for other people in the park? Take care!

Submitted by lynn | September 19 2013 |

Carry Spray Shield (Citronella spray)that you can spray in the on-coming dog's nose and a slip lead (learn how to use it first). The slip lead can be slipped over almost any dog's head and you can control the dog while waiting for the owner to stroll over to get their dog. I never walk my dog w/o either.


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