Monday, May 16, 2011

Dog fight versus posturing

You know, I've discovered that most people have no idea what a dog fight looks like. One guy who poses as some kind of expert on the web stated once that a normal dog fight is just a bunch of snarling and snapping, and only pitbulls grab and hold on to another dog.


In that case, my dog is a pitbull, and that doesn't explain how she's a champion, daughter, mother and grandmother of champions, and all of them as shiba inu and not pitbull. Got all them judges fooled for generations!

No, seriously though, all dogs fight the same way: attack, grab something (preferrably the jugular), hold on until death or the other guy says "uncle".

I know this because when Tinky-Winky came to live with me, her breeder told me that this is a breed renowned for being agressive to other dogs, that the bitches are especially agressive, and that this is the most agressive shiba bitch she, the breeder, has ever seen in her life. In fact, the conditions of getting her at all were that I wouldn't let her get fat, and I'd work on her behaviour.

In the beginning, obviously, I never let her off the leash. Other dogs running off leash would come running up to us and I'd tell the other owner "call off your dog" and they'd say "oh don't worry, he's friendly!"

Right. Actually, your dog isn't friendly, he's rude; but that's not even what I'm worried about.

Tinky-Winky would attack so fast you didn't have time to blink. Unlike other dogs who go into a frenzy of barking, she wouldn't make a sound. If I had looked at her rather than the oncoming dog, I suppose her body posture would have been threatening, but she never barked, just attacked. I'd always think "next time I'll pick her up before she can attack"; but the next time she'd still always be too fast for me. She was fast and she was deadly accurate, too. She would hit right at the jugular, no matter how small or large a dog. And she attacked some pretty large dogs. She's always had a special hatred of retrievers, for some reason, but she's also fought Belgian shepherds, boxers, an Am Staff terrier, two Doberman pinschers at once, and some malamute-like crosses we have in town. Always the same: strike for the jugular. The only way she would miss is if the other dog had a very heavy coat. More often, before you could even react, the other dog would be on the ground screaming in terror with this insane little creature clamped to its throat (except the Dobermans - they just screamed and ran). So believe me when I tell you, shibas do clamp their jaws and hang on. I've had to pry her jaws open a few times, and got bit twice doing it. If she had been any bigger, she'd probably have been put down as a vicious dog.

Six years later, you'd never know it. We walk past all kinds of dogs on the trail and she never says boo. Even with crazy little barking dogs. There is a pug who blows his top every time he sees an oncoming dog, and she totally ignores him. And yesterday something like a large chihuahua tried to attack us, and she ignored that too. Off leash, she's even better... 99% of the time. Almost always, if another dog is blocking her path, she'll come back to me, wait to leash up, and then walk calmly past the other dog. Over the winter, I got in the habit of carrying cheese in my pocket in a Ziploc bag; she recalls to the rustling of the Ziploc much better than to her name, let me tell you. Well one time a dog passed by and she started to stalk it with agressive body posture; I rustled the Ziploc and she came running back to me. So I can actually recall her from a fight she was about to start. You wouldn't know that's the same dog I had six years ago.

That being said, she's still not a "friendly" dog. First of all, that 1% of the time, or actually, more like 0.25% of the time, she'll attack a little dog. Just for the sake of attacking a little dog. She'll spot one from a distance and just go after it. She's done it twice in the last two years, but not in the last year. Maybe she's over it; maybe my strategy of not bringing her out when little foofy dogs are afoot has more to do with it. I just know I can't trust her with little dogs. (Actually, one of them is bigger than her, but he's got that little-dog behaviour.)

The other thing is, when she meets another dog, she doesn't tolerate bad manners. Normally she prefers to go around them and smell their wake after they're past her. If she actually interacts with another dog and the other dog approaches politely, she'll sniff noses, then butts, and then ignore it. If the other dog is "friendly", as people call it, that is, jumping all over her, she snaps at it. And that is where you can see that people have no idea what a dog fight looks like. Tinky-Winky will snap at their dog and clearly miss, so that there is literally a loud "snap" as her jaws shut. This isn't a miss. Tinky-Winky does not miss. In fact when she does this, she doesn't even lunge at the other dog. Just a snarl and a snap, and normally the other dog will back off. Occasionally, if the other dog is slow, it gets its nose nipped, but it's not her intention to bite another dog's nose. If it was, she'd have it by the nose every time and not let go. No, this is just a warning snap. And people get all freaked out and think she "attacked" their dog. Which is all the more unfair since their dog is the one being rude, and most of the time they've insisted on bringing it close to her so it can be extra, extra annoying.

So before you freak out thinking that dogs are "fighting", see if anyone's actually biting. When they're circling each other snapping and snarling, that's just trash talk. If they're actually fighting, it's a contact sport. There will be one angry trashing pile of biting dogs, not two or more separate dogs.

It's funny that we've had dogs for tens of thousands of years and people don't even know that.


Julie M. said...

"Don't worry! S/he's friendly!" are the four magic words that make me stabby.

Mongoose said...

After Tinky-Winky snaps at them and they walk away in a huff, I tell her "good dog, I'd have done the same thing." Dealing with her agression doesn't mean she needs to tolerate rudeness from other dogs.