Monday Mischief 21: How many dogs is too many? (aka: The Time I Got Bit By a Dog Named Cujo)

My neighbourhood is lucky to have a small off-leash area frequented by neighbourhood dogs and their owners.

Moses enjoying the scents of a February melt

Moses enjoying the scents of a February melt

Moses and I were enjoying a stroll through that very area this Saturday when we saw two guys approaching in the distance with a black lab off leash nearby.

I didn’t recognize them, which was unusual because after walking with Moses the past 5+ years I’ve come to recognize most neighbourhood canines. But in any case, nothing about the dog or the guys raised any red flags, so we kept on course and headed in their direction.

Shortly thereafter, a gorgeous husky appeared on the horizon, also with the guys. And then off to the right two adorable and nearly identical little staffordshire terriers frolicking in the grass. Finally, a fifth dog appeared – some sort of yellow lab/shepherd mix, attached to a thick rope long line that I noticed later.

This last dog was the only one whose name I’d eventually learn: Cujo.

(Side question: at what point does naming your dog Cujo become a self-fulfilling prophecy?)

We continue to approach and the dogs greet while the usual chit chat about Moses’ weight, age, and shedding ensues.

The dog greetings go quite well and the pups disperse a bit, while Moses and Cujo come over to where I’m answering the usual 20 questions that come with having a Newfoundland dog in your home.

At one point, Cujo takes some exception to Moses’ proximity and bears his teeth. The one I will designate Guy No. 1 scolds with a “Cujo!”, but it wasn’t a big deal – Moses takes the hint and backs off.

But it was only a few moments later when Cujo takes even further exception to Moses and snaps at him a little.

Now, a noisy little kerfuffle at the dog park doesn’t normally agitate me. If dogs want to hurt one another, they will. But a little noise and teeth is rarely anything to worry about, in my experience. It’s usually short lived and the dogs diffuse the situation naturally with no harm done to any party.

Also having a giant dog with a track record of not unduly escalating situations – but adequately standing up for himself – also affords me some confidence in these situations.

However, when humans intervene, things can usually go sideways, as was the case on Saturday.

I was perfectly content to let Moses and Cujo quickly sort their differences, but Guy No. 1 was not. Instead he grabbed Cujo’s long line and gave it a hard tug while scolding him once more.

Of course, Cujo did not see it that way. Dogs, as you should know, can redirect those kinds of things. So while in a kerfuffle with Moses, Cujo did not interpret the jerk on his chain as some sort of earned correction for rude behaviour. Instead, he felt the added tension and discomfort while interacting with Moses and thought “oh no you didn’t you sonofabitch” and escalated.

Moses stood up for himself, and some more noise ensued.

An artist rendering of the altercation

An artist rendering of the altercation

Unfortunately, this time the other dogs sensed the more serious intent and Cujo’s pack stepped in to defend him.

The lab stayed out of it, and the husky kept a close watch on the situation, but the two staffies got right in the mix to defend their buddy’s honour.

A accurate, dramatic reinactment:

Now, as dog owners, we all know our number one responsibility is to protect our dogs. And even though I might be content to let Moses resolve differences on his own most of the time, when he’s facing multiple sets of teeth, I don’t care how much bigger he is – it made me uncomfortable.

So while Guy No. 1 and Guy No. 2 stood idly by, I stepped in to protect my dog.

I inserted myself between Moses and one of the dogs, grabbed his collar, and hauled him out of there and away from the fray. As we gained distance, the other dogs started to back off. Eventually Guy No. 1 got a hold of Cujo’s long line and reigned him in, and Guy No. 2 picked up one of the staffies so it couldn’t follow. The whole thing was a few noisy seconds.

Once diffused, I put Moses in a sit, leashed him up, and inspected him for marks. Nothing – thankfully.

Then I inspected my jacket for punctures. At one point during the whole thing, Cujo chomped on my forearm. Hard. I noticed it, but was too preoccupied to react.

I’m certain he didn’t intentionally target me. Like how Tony in West Side Story (spoiler alert), consumed in the rumble between the Sharks and Jets, gets overcome and caught up in the moment and doesn’t think when he instinctively stabs Bernardo in revenge. (Okay, so broadway may have been touring here last week – I still can’t get America out of my head.)

But if that unfortunately-named dog had put holes in my Arc’teryx jacket, I would not have been impressed. Luckily, nothing but drool.

As Moses and I were composing ourselves, Guy No. 2 starts up with the most awkward chit chat ever. After he tries to reassure me that Moses “could’ve taken them” (I replied that I’d never want it to come to that), he starts nattering on about how one of the staffies is a super loud snorer and inquires if Moses is the same. I look up and he’s now carrying the staffie over his shoulder like it were a giant bag of flour. So weird. Behind him, Guy No. 1 apologized profusely whenever Guy No. 2 pauses to catch his breath.

I assure them we’re fine, tell Guy No. 2 that Moses does indeed snore loudly and often, and then we make our exit, while Guy No. 1 shouts apologies after us.

After getting home, further inspection shows Moses made it out better than I did. Through my jacket and a hoodie, Cujo managed to land a few good puncture marks and some decent bruising. How he didn’t rip the jacket is beyond me, but I’m still thankful.

But it made me think – if that’s the kind of force he was going after Moses with, I am incredibly happy I intervened. There’s no long-term damage, but still. Ouch. I don’t want Moses to experience that.

(And yes, if you step in to break up a dog fight, you are putting yourself at risk to get injured. I know this, but still didn’t hesitate. I’m a big girl; I’ll be fine.)



It also made me think of something else: is it wise to take 5 dogs to the off-leash park?

The most I’ve taken solo is two, and that’s about perfect for me if I want to be responsible about it.

2 guys, 5 dogs – seems out numbered (at least it turned out to be for those two guys). Seems difficult to keep an eye on all of the behaviour – and all of the poop scooping.

And considering Cujo was on a long line, obviously they knew he was some kind of liability. Maybe Cujo should get some one-on-one time. Or maybe be accompanied by a smaller pack. Sure we all take risks when letting our dogs off leash, but I don’t think they were setting anyone up for success when they left their home(s).

I know there are dog walkers out there who walk many more than a couple dogs at once. I’m not talking about that. They’re professionals who carefully choose the members of their packs and walk them regularly (the good companies, anyway). If these guys were pros, I wouldn’t hire them.

And I’m also not talking about maximum number of dogs per household. Calgary has no such regulation and I don’t think one is needed. A person so inclined can abuse or neglect one dog just as easily as they can many, and I personally know people with four dogs in their homes who take better care of all four than many other owners out there with just one-dog households.

But I’m talking about being honest with you and your dog’s skills and abilities. It’s okay to leave one dog at home while you walk the other. I do it frequently with Moses and Alma just for the practice and bonding time.

It’s also okay to not take your dog to the off-leash park. Ever, if you don’t want to or shouldn’t. Off-leash is neither a right nor a necessity; what is necessary is giving your dog positive experiences and properly socializing and training them.

Luckily, Moses and I swung through the same place again on Sunday (back on the horse, as they say), where he was able to gain some positive experiences with some neighbourhood regulars.


This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, click herehere, or here.


About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

32 Responses to Monday Mischief 21: How many dogs is too many? (aka: The Time I Got Bit By a Dog Named Cujo)

  1. kzemek says:

    Glad your dog was okay and hope your arm gets better soon! Our dog was not so lucky when she got attacked on her evening walk in the neighborhood by two Rotweilers. She had 15 bites all over her body, was bloody and an inch wide hole in her abdoman. We are so thankful she made a full recovery and is still a very sociable dog. She does not like the dog park though.

  2. With three dogs, I usually only take them to the dog park when someone else comes with me. But I’ve noticed that they tend to stick together in their own little pack and ignore the rest of the dogs. And if I noticed any misbehaving dog (or human), we leave–even if we’ve only been there a few minutes. (In fact, I’ll spend a few minutes before we even walk through the gate just watching to see who’s there and how they’re interacting.)

    I loved your story; you do everything right. And I would have stepped in, too. (Even knowing I’d get hurt.)

    BTW, your dog park looks awesome.

    –Woofs (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats.

    • ThatJenK says:

      I’m the same way – if I drive to the park, I sit and observe for a bit before getting Moses out of the car. If we walk up, I’m scanning the area for who’s doing what. You just never know. But I do consider us lucky to have that small space nearby that only the neighbours use.

  3. Lauranne says:

    And that is why I ensure BD is always muzzled when around other dogs. Although he very rarely starts anything, he has no bite inhibition and I do not want anyone (dog or human) to be bitten. I don’t like what it must do to him to feel he’s so helpless he has to bite either.

    I have stepped into a few dogs fights in my time. Whether you believe in the pack leader idea or not as far as I am concerned it is my job to look after my dogs. Glad nothing serious happened!

  4. I agree. people should know what they and their dogs can handle. These guys were obviously clueless. I’m glad it all turned out OK-ish though.

  5. I admit I get nervous about the possibility of dog park fights. That’s why we only visit the park when it’s empty, and leave whenever someone else shows up. I know my dogs, but I do not know their dogs, or how they react to certain situations. Better safe than sorry.

    • ThatJenK says:

      That’s an excellent policy to have! Our dog park use fluctuates – I’ll go on weekends until something dumb like that happens and then I won’t go for 6 months. It’s more based on my attitude than the dogs’ 😉

  6. FleaByte says:

    LOVE the Anchorman clip. Sounds like young, inexperienced guys. At least you got apologies. Still.

  7. Jessica says:

    I learned quickly that dogs who are on-leash at an off-leash park are TROUBLE. Their owners know that they have a problem, which usually means it’s a pretty bad problem. Or, if the dogs are okay, the owners are way too uptight and freak out over any little thing.

    I’m glad you’re okay! And that there are no holes in the Arcteryx. That stuff is expensive. Having to repurchase your parka would leave some pretty bad bruises of it’s own.

    • Kristine says:

      Agreed. At off leash parks, people who bring on-leash dogs always worry me. Usually means the dog does not belong there.

    • ThatJenK says:

      Completely agree. You’re right about the assessment you can make about leashes in parks – about both the dogs and the owners. Not to mention, they’re often a cause for tension and trouble, so I always try to steer Moses away from the on-leash dogs. Avoidance of that altogether is safest, if you ask me.

  8. Wow! I am so glad that you and Moses are okay! I am afraid that i would have done the same thing to protect my Bentley. It is important if you are going to take THAT many dogs out at one time that they are all under control. That could have turned wicked really fast.

  9. gvannini says:

    Wow, yikes! That would be scary. I know how much worse a fight can be within a pack of dogs than one on one. Sounds like that dog should not have been put in a situation like that. Glad you are all okay.

    I have taken all three of my dogs to the dog park before but I am confident in my ability to handle all of them and they are all quite used to the dog park and very easy. Usually my husband joins me though and I make sure I go on off times, sometimes it’s even just the three of them alone in the park. Luckily I have never had any of them get in a fight but I have seen a few happen at our dog park and I am glad they are able to be called away from a commotion when other dogs are getting involved. When two dogs start bickering in a large group of excited dogs, it can turn ugly fast, even for the dogs that weren’t originally involved.

  10. Gosh, so many thoughts while reading this… Hope I remember them all! First off, glad you were both ok in the end. If you see those guys again, you should tell them you were bit! It’s nice that they apologized, but geez, they need to know and take steps accordingly.

    Also, the artist’s rendering. Lol. Also love West Side Story, so love the allusions there. 🙂

    I definitely think people should not walk too many dogs at one time. It’s too much to keep track of, live you said… Even just the poop is a lot to keep an eye on!

    As you know from our crazy experience at the off leash park, we don’t go back anymore. Too many unknowns there, so we won’t go back unless I can finally get Rita to have a 100% reliable recall.

    And I do agree… Usually the dogs just sort it out. It’s almost always the humans who are the problem!

    • ThatJenK says:

      Yeah it was definitely one of those times where I spent the rest of the walk thinking about all the things I should have said! Not only just making sure they knew their dog was capable of biting a person, but also discussing with Guy No. 1 his role in escalating the whole thing in the first place. I know he had good intentions, but you know what they say about those…

  11. Ouch! Those guys are lucky that you’re so understanding.

  12. Glad you’re both OK. At one dog park, a bigger dog pinned Mr. N down (Mr. N was yelping) and I had to go pull him off Mr. N. And the owner didn’t even apologize or leave!

    I think at our dog parks, three dogs is the limit you can bring in.

  13. Kristine says:

    Good on you for jumping right in there. I hope I would do the same in that scenario.

    I agree that it is important to judge your abilities before you take on extra responsibility. After temporarily caring for a dog twice Shiva’s body weight I now don’t see myself adopting a larger dog it the future. I know I am probably not capable of handling a dog that size in difficult situations.

    I am very sorry you got hurt but am glad it wasn’t much worse! With so many dogs in the fray, it could have been dire for everyone. I hope Guy 1 has reflected on this as well. Guy 2 sounds hopeless.

  14. Ouch and yikes…glad you are okay. 5 dogs, 2 guys…not a good combination. My motto is like kids, if you don’t have enough hands to hold onto them, then it’s too many!

  15. 2browndawgs says:

    The punctures were just marks and not broken skin right? I worry about rabies.

    OK so we named Storm…Storm. Her breeder warned us…

    We often walk all three dogs together and off lead (up north not in our neighborhood). But two are on e-collar and have good recall and obedience. I think the long line is a good option. We have used it ourselves. But maybe a dog park is not. We do not take brown dawgs to dog parks and if other dogs show up when we are walking up north, they are leashed. Or at least put in a sit stay until the other dogs pass. We do not let brown dawgs mix with unknown dogs. You just never know.

  16. Jodi says:

    Holy smokes. I don’t even like to bring two dogs to the vet. Generally (like you) I let the dogs sort it out. When Delilah got attacked by the two bulldogs I dropped her leash and let her go for it. When the other owner got there, I let him grab his dogs and risk the bite. Had I thought they could really do damage I would have intervened. I do carry pepper spray now even when I walk around the block.

    I’m glad it turned out you weren’t too badly bitten. But they weren’t very responsible dog owners if you ask me. (Which you didn’t.) 😉

  17. lexy3587 says:

    I’m glad you’re ok (and your jacket, lol), and that the owners understood just how bad the situation was. Not cool of them to bring an on-leash dog (i agree with all mentions of it being an indication that the dog shouldn’t be in the dog park), but at least they didn’t try to shrug the situation off as ‘just dogs being dogs’. That type of person is the kind that makes me frustrated. I like to let the dogs sort things out when it’s one on one, and not getting really violent, but when they get into that pack-mode, they all build on each other’s energy and do things they wouldn’t normally do. Even without the dog being ‘trouble’ enough to warrant being on-leash.

    I think that you should have whatever number of dogs that you can be in control of. I’ve only ever had two dogs with me in an off-leash area, and even that had me constantly switching focus trying to make sure that neither was sneak-pooping or causing trouble/in trouble. Sounds like these guys could have done with a few fewer dogs.

  18. Wow, just wow. I’m glad that you both are ok. You handle this so much more calm than I would of.
    I I learned early on that I can only safely handle one of the dogs when we go out to public places. I can walk both of them, but as far as visiting a store or something I only feel comfortable with one if It is just me.

  19. I’m glad Moses is ok and I’m sure 1 Donna is all I can handle at the dog run! 🙂

  20. Pingback: What To Do If You Get Bit by a Strange Dog | Back Alley Soapbox

  21. Nailah Bone says:

    Cujo? Really?

    I personally couldn’t handle more than 3 dogs at a time, and it really depends on the dogs. I never get why people can’t just walk their many dogs separately, dogs love getting individual attention. I know it takes more time and effort but isn’t it better than having something bad happen?

    By the way, glad you and Moses are ok 🙂

  22. Donna O. says:

    Oh my, how scary. I’m glad it wasn’t a lot worse. As I was reading, I was just envisioning the entire pack of five jumping on Moses and you. 😦

    I totally agree about leaving some dogs home. I do it all the time. And, I wouldn’t bring a reactive dog somewhere that I might run into off leash dogs. So sorry this happened, but again, glad it was not a lot worse.

    As for the name, it might not have been a self-filling prophecy. If the dog started to become an issue, which he obviously was since he was the only one leashed, they “might” have started using it as a nickname and it kind of stuck. Maybe?

  23. snoopys@snoopysdogblog says:

    I’m so glad you’re ok and didn’t get badly hurt and also that Moses came out unscathed!

    I’m like him and avoid fights and always back off, but I’m sure my Mum would have protected me too! My Mum takes Cosmo and I to the park, but not off the lead and will not usually take us both to the dog park unless dad comes too, so I usually just go on my own….

    I hope you’re having a fun day,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

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