We met King on one of our first visits to the dog park with Our Best Friend. King is a huge malamute with squinty eyes, and he took an immediate dislike to OBF. “Yeah, that’s King,” his owner said. “He either loves or hates you. Better keep your dog away from him.” I detected a hint of pride in his voice at his dog’s snobbery, and I resented the idea that my dog was the one who needed to watch his step. By all means, let’s allow the bullies to make the rules.
Now, OBF definitely has social issues. He’s inept at play, and sometimes barks aggressively or inappropriately at other dogs. But he’s trying, and the other dogs will usually just leave him alone. Our friends at the park understand his issues, and try their best to help. If I feel he’s being really over the top, I grab him and make him sit with me. OBF knows “sit” and “stay,” and he obeys it, even at the park. He certainly never goes after another dog unprovoked. If he did, I’d be mortified. So would the Spouse. So would any responsible dog owner.
King’s owner doesn’t have a problem with his dog’s selective aggression; if King doesn’t like a dog, it’s the other dog’s problem. And King goes out of his way to make OBF feel threatened and unwelcome. He doesn’t attack, he doesn’t go head-to-head; he just sidles up next to OBF and emits this low, threatening growl. OBF stands there with a confused look on his face, but never reacts. If I call him, he’s more than happy to escape King and come to me. When OBF tries to play with another dog, King will come up and try to run OBF off. This all very annoying.
Fortunately, King doesn’t seem to come to the park very often anymore. Then, on our way to the park last week, I saw a woman walking a very large malamute. I thought, “What a huge dog! It’s as big as King…. but it can’t be him, that’s not his owner.”
We got to the park, and for some reason I had trouble removing OBF’s leash between the gates. Next thing I knew, King had his face pressed against the wire gate, growling at OBF.
Our Best Friend, trapped between two gates, leashed, and feeling hugely vulnerable, finally snapped. He started barking insanely at King; if there hadn’t been a gate between them, there would have been blood. I tried to get OBF calm, with zero affect whatsoever. Fortunately, King’s owner came running up, and for the first time I met the female half of the family.
I lost it a bit too. I told her that King always aggresses OBF, that this scene was entirely King’s fault. She apologized, then gently suggested I take OBF back out so she could distract King. I took OBF out the first gate until King was safely away, then led him back. His eyes were on King as I removed his leash and opened the gate, and he shot off straight at him. Fortunately, King was half-way across the park by then. I called OBF, he stopped to pee, and the moment of crisis passed.
I can’t help contrasting the difference between husband and wife. His “my dog can do no wrong” attitude is out of place in a park that prides itself on its safety and welcome for dogs of all sizes and breeds. He gets away with bringing King because King doesn’t attack– he just threatens. One day some other dog will not take kindly to King’s implied threats, and things will get ugly. I’m willing to bet King’s owner will blame the other dog.
The wife was more apologetic, and kept King on the other side of the park. At one point he did wander back and did his usual push-up-against OBF’s shoulder and growl. I held my breath, thinking OBF would remember the encounter at the gate and lose it, but he didn’t. He had his usual confused “I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I’m just going to ignore it” look on his face, and came the instant I called, glad for an excuse to get away from King without losing face. King’s owner came and grabbed him, and again she apologized. If King’s male owner showed as much disapproval of his dog’s actions, King might be a better dog.
Cesar Millan believes that dogs learn attitudes and behaviours from their owners. Calm assertive owners have calm obedient dogs, anxious uncertain owners have neurotic dogs. And I suppose men who think aggressive dogs make them seem more macho are going to have dogs like King– or worse. A dog, like a fancy car, can be an expression of the owner’s ego. We’re doing everything we can to make Our Best Friend a better dog, to improve his social skills, to lessen his anxiety. When someone approves of their dog’s aggressive and anti-social behaviour, it says more about the owner than it does about the dog.