September 27, 2022
The scariest dog that I’ve ever had the misfortune of being around was a Belgian Malinois. Even though he was owned by a professional trainer, and was clearly bonded to her, his whole vibe was dangerous. The reason I was around the dog was to photograph it, yet his owner warned me before she ever opened his crate by saying, “Don’t look him in the eyes.”
That’s harder to do than you think, folks.
It All Starts with Awareness
It also makes you hyper-aware of how often you do look a dog right in the eyes. I don’t know the details of the whole experience, but I do know that that fur missile later killed one of her other dogs. I wasn’t surprised.
The thing is some dogs are dangerous. As veterinarian Ira McCauley puts it, “They are like a gun with no safety.” In other words, they are going to go off at some point. When they do, the results are often devastating.
McCauley spends his fair share of time dealing with dog injuries at his practice, and also a fair amount of his time knocking ducks out of the sky, so he’s intimately familiar with dogs of all stripes. In his passion, he works with dogs that have the same job as yours and mine, but in his professional life he sees where the greater world of domestic canines intersects with our retrievers.
When this happens in an older dog mauling a younger dog scenario, it’s never good. “Sometimes it’s a bad introduction,” McCauley says, “and sometimes it’s just a character trait. But the ugly situation happens when a rambunctious puppy meets a low-tolerance, older dog.”
Corrections come in many forms, as anyone who trains dogs knows well, but we have the ability to start softly and work our way up as needed. Dogs aren’t always so linear in their thoughts, and when you mix the wrong dog with a relentless pup or younger retriever, you might see a correction that is full-blown nuclear, whereas a BB-gun level response would have sufficed.
By that time, it’s too late. Tales of lost eyes, mauled faces, and death aren’t all that uncommon amongst veterinarians. They see the worst of dog encounters, and they understand the severity of these one-sided fights.
I don’t know what it is about people and dogs, but we often think our dogs should meet strange dogs. We typically don’t have the same compulsion for ourselves, yet with dogs, we think a little circling and butt sniffing is just what the doctor ordered. It’s not.
But, not all maulings happen from strange dogs. Often, it’s the mixing of a trusted dog with a younger dog that leads to an unexpected explosion of canine rage. Dogs will tell you, or any other dogs, when they want to be left alone. And when they do, it’s up to us to listen, because a puppy won’t.
Obvious signs of snarling, growling, and raised hackles signal that the door to the octagon is about to close. Less obvious behavior, like stiff body posture and not looking the young dog in the eyes, or constantly moving to try to rid themselves of the pest, can signal that something might come to a head soon. Rarely do these happen without signs and rarely are these confrontations unavoidable. Often, they are the result of several poor choices stacked upon one-another, and results range from injuries to far worse.