Big Little Problem

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. —John Maxwell

A large dog owner's biggest fear.

A large dog owner’s biggest fear.

A couple years ago I was working with a foster of mine, Daisy.  Daisy was a small Boston/Beagle mix (annoying, hyper, but sweet little girl).  We were touching up on her leash manners in a local park in hopes of attracting the right adopter for her. She was doing beautifully. I had even brought my two small children with us to add to the natural chaos of things. She ignored them, and kept trucking along, slack leashed, right by my side.


All of a sudden, behind me, I hear the unmistakeable “jangle” sound of a dog running right at us. Here comes this Pomeranian mix, obviously coming to make sure that we were up to his par. He had decided (as was his right), that this was HIS park, and HE was going to determine who was acceptable. Not only was he on a retractable leash, but the owner wasn’t even holding on to the business end of the leash!  He was literally dragging it several feet behind him.

He pushed right up to Daisy, who, at only 15 pounds, had previously (gently) dominated my 100 lb. Rottie.  I hadn’t had too much opportunity yet to work with Daisy in socialization and manners outside of our pack, though.  There wasn’t much I could do as the Pom came charging towards us.  The two dogs went nose-to-nose before I could block the Pom.  The Pom gave exceptionally dominant body language.  Daisy pretty much rolled her eyes and started to walk with me again.  The Pom then dashed after my 5 year old who was a few feet from us.  Daisy let out a low growl.  I used my body language to “claim” my son.  The Pom took a few steps back from him.  By this time, his owner finally caught up to us.  Not a word was said to us by way of apology. She never made eye contact.  She merely had a dopey half-smile pasted to her lips, and for lack of a better description, a bovine look on her face.  She was clueless to the situation she had just placed her dog in.  She merely followed, like cattle, wherever her dog led her.

Her Pom soon found other quarry and ran after a jogger, still dragging his leash behind him.  Relieved that this scenario had played out with my foster, Daisy, instead of Sparta (who would have taken serious offense at a Pom trying to claim HER little boy), we shrugged it off and continued, with me positively radiant at Daisy’s behavior.

We walked on again for about another 5 minutes, when lo and behold, who comes running up to us again, retractable still dragging behind him, owner about 1/8 mile behind following.  Our Pom friend was at it again.  This time I was ANGRY.  I picked up the leash, walked Daisy and the Pom back to his moronic owner.  When I approached her, she still had that insipid smile pasted to her lips, eyes only on her dog.  I handed her the leash.

“This is the end you hold”, I said.  I was rewarded with an interesting variation on a famous swear word. I merely smiled and walked away.  She held on to the leash the rest of her walk, though.  Score one…okay, maybe 1/2 point.

Small dog syndrome usually has nothing to do with the dog.

Small dog syndrome usually has nothing to do with the dog.

A couple years ago a similar situation played out in more tragic way. describes the scene as follows:

A Palo Alto pit bull owner found herself in the headlines when her dog fatally injured a small dog during a routine on-leash walk. This tragedy played out in the media as a vicious pit bull attack on an innocent victim. The pit owner swears up and down that, although she called out several warnings to keep a distance, the small dog owner willingly, unwittingly, marched her tiny pet right within the reach of the offending dog, and right into a train wreck – so to speak.

While we’ll never really know exactly how/why this tragedy played out the way it did, many large dog owners are using the opportunity to confess: Poorly managed small dogs scare the crap out of us. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have shifted to a new society that thinks all dogs should be chummy with all other canines. The problem is, Mother Nature doesn’t agree. She’s written some pretty tough laws about predator/prey relationships, and try as we might to rebel against her motherly wisdom, she keeps reminding us that a dog is STILL a dog – That is, an animal with teeth and some 10,000 years of hardwired instincts; Hardly a small and saintly mini-human. Denial of this nuts and bolts reality has created a very untidy epidemic of dog owners who insist on rushed nose-to-nose greetings and forced kisses between pets that are strangers to each other, including the small dogs that look like prey and large dogs that might agree that they look like prey. Talk about setting our dogs up to fail!

Dogs are dogs.  As I’ve mentioned many times, dogs are binary.  Everything is “yes” or “no” to them.  Frequently the question is, “Is this other dog pack?”, as some strange dog comes running up.  No.  The next question is so very important:  ”Is this non-pack dog a threat?”  Well, that depends upon your point of view.  I always answer my dogs in a negative.  No, it isn’t a threat.  I put on a really good show, and they believe me, and will allow another dog to rudely come up from behind and sniff their derriere. However, truly, I don’t know if they are a threat.  All I do know is that if a Pom, weighing less than 10 lbs., comes up dominantly towards my 100 lb. Sparta, or threatens one of my children, unless I put on an Academy Award winning performance, she will answer “yes, this is a threat”.  And then Sparta will do what any dog does: defend her pack.  She will injure, and probably kill a dog that size for threatening her pack (just as I would kill any human who tried to injure my children).  Problem is, Sparta weighs 10 x as much as that Pom.  That automatically makes her the villain in this scenario. No matter that Sparta was on a leash.  No matter that I asked the owner to remove their dog, or at least pick up their leash.

Tomorrow’s blog will continue with the “Dealing with Offleash Dogs” theme.  Check back for ways to protect yourself and your pooch from nuisance dogs tomorrow!


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


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