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Hey, Pal, Your Dog Needs Help
How to intervene when a dog needs an advocate?
Daisy captured at a particularly well-behaved moment.

It was a glorious Sunday afternoon in the park. My husband and I were having a lovely time at our friends’ impromptu baby shower, a picnic with lots of snacks, sangria and lawn games. Everyone was basking in the sun and celebrating the happy occasion.

Everyone except Sparky.

Sparky the Lab mix was tied to a nearby tree. He had a long lead and plenty of water, but he was clearly agitated. He seemed concerned about his “territory” from the get-go, barking warnings at newcomers to the party and pacing almost constantly. At one point, I refilled his water dish and when I bent down to put it on the ground, Sparky jumped at my face, snapping his jaws and headbutting me. It hurt.

Nobody seemed to see it. Sparky’s owners were the couple being feted, and I didn’t want to spoil the fun. I didn’t say anything.

As the park began to fill with weekend revelers—and their dogs and toddling children—Sparky’s protectiveness increased. He was on guard full-time now. More than once, passersby smiled and came closer to Sparky, attracted by his classic Labrador handsomeness. As soon as they crossed the invisible border of Sparky’s kingdom, he charged, barking ferociously. Hands that reached out to pet were swiftly retracted, and smiles turned into scowls.

“Sparky!” one of his owners would shout distractedly. Then, “Oh, Sparky,” with a sigh.

It happened over and over again. I started to worry that Sparky would go after a kid. But I never said anything.

I felt conflicted. What would I have said? This was a special day for Sparky’s parents. Should I have pointed out their dog’s anxiousness, basically forcing them to cut the party short to take Sparky home? But what if the dog actually hurt someone? I’d feel far worse about that.

It’s a tricky situation. Much like parents and their children, pointing out a dog’s behavioral issues can offend the owner. When it’s a good friend or a family member who’s got “The Bad Dog,” the touchiness factor is far higher. You don’t want to come off as critical of your friend, or ruin a precious moment, but you also don’t want anyone to get hurt. And in Sparky’s case, he was uncomfortable, too.

I’m not always a shrinking violet when it comes to misbehaving pooches. My husband and I essentially got a woman kicked out of our apartment building for refusing to leash her dog. The dog was dog-aggressive, and the owner either didn’t know or care to control her animal. It even tried to push its way into our apartment once to get at our dog.

After woman-to-woman pleas, gentle reminders and, eventually, confrontations, we finally had the guts to file formal complaints. She was evicted—just because she couldn’t find the wherewithal to consistently leash her dog. Despite verbal reports from other neighbors, we were the only ones who approached the management with the problem in writing.

But I barely knew that woman beyond her first name. It’s far different when a person you care about has a dog that’s potentially harmful.

It’s not like I think I’m a behavior expert. I know that my dog is sometimes The Bad Dog. She’s aggressive toward other dogs and not great on the leash. We’re working on it, though, and we try to be realistic about her bad behavior and our limitations. I just don’t know what to do when it’s someone else’s dog who’s lashing out.

Have you ever had to confront a friend or family member about their dog’s behavior? How did you do it, and how did it go over?

 

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Kathleen St. John is a freelance writer for target The Denver Post and The Onion's A.V. Club, and a lifelong dog lover. She lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband, John, and her dog, Daisy, who's a mix of just about everything. avclub.com
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