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.)

Moses

Moses

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.

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

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