Dog trains man

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The fearful dog owner

this new policy doesn't seem to work
Despite Kenzo's excellent reputation with small fearful dogs, he does not have that same therapeutic effect on some fearful dog owners.

There is one person and his dog, we call them "Big and Little Kurt", and both are terrified of Kenzo. Big Kurt was already afraid of Kenzo before he got Little Kurt. He send killer looks our way when we met on a walk. Polite greetings were not returned. I never thought that to be a problem, as not all people like dogs and even more people do not like big dogs like Hovawarts. So I just made sure to be polite and didn't give Kenzo the opportunity to greet him.

To my surprise Big Kurt was a dog person after all. I met him on a walk where he just got "Little Kurt". The cutest puppy, a terrier mix. With Kenzo on leash and approaching with a smile to break the ice, Big Kurt was not happy at all to see us. Big Kurt took Little Kurt up in his arms and walked right passed us with the usual killer look. He repeated this a couple of times, I tried to stop for a conversation, but Big Kurt would just mumble something in response and continued on his path, with Little Kurt in his arms.

What if...

I started avoiding them because this couldn't end well. What would Little Kurt think of us? We must be something horrible when my dad doesn't let me meet them? When Little Kurt grew up to adolescence the local dog drums already talked about him as not very well socialized. Especially with larger dogs. This didn't surprise me, but what really did surprise me was that Big Kurt now had decided to always walk Little Kurt off-leash.

Our first meeting with Little Kurt off-leash was a disaster. I don't blame him, he was setup to fail. We were on a narrow path and approaching the next corner when Little Kurt appeared. I made a quick turn with Kenzo. Also Big Kurt appeared around the corner. But he didn't put Little Kurt on a leash. I was stunned he continued walking towards us with Little Kurt ahead of him. After a few more moments Little Kurt decided to close the remaining gap and launched at Kenzo. Barking, hysterical, snapping at his face and legs.

Normally my reaction is to drop the leash, but my instinct didn't let me do that in this case. Kenzo could break Little Kurt in half with one bite. Using the leash to keep Kenzo's head away from Little Kurt I thereby sealed their faith forever as mortal enemies. And in addition it was the start of Kenzo's uncomfortable relationship with the leash. I should have dropped the leash and let Kenzo defuse the situation, but Little Kurt's fierceness made me choose otherwise.

Big Kurt was chasing Little Kurt in a circle around us. And finally stopped the spectacle by kicking Little Kurt so hard the little fellow squealed in pain while he was launched in the air and fell down a couple of feet away. Now I have had it with Big Kurt and to put it short we finally had our first conversation. Just not the intelligent kind.

Locked in battle

We still regularly meet, I always make a turn and recall Kenzo when he is off-leash. Big Kurt never makes any attempt trying to avoid us and keeps on coming head-on with Little Kurt off-leash. I don't know what he is thinking, but he is not helping. Kenzo is bracing himself for an incoming attack, he has no calming signals for Little Kurt as he would have for other small fearful dogs. Neither does Big Kurt seem to pick that up.

I am so worried. This will end wrong. We are heading towards the next confrontation. Even worse, I also had Viva with me on some of the walks where we meet, and she will show no mercy. Little Kurt doesn't stand a chance and I don't want him to get hurt. Neither do I want Kenzo and Viva to end in dog fight with all the consequences for their behavior towards other dogs. When something would happen to Little Kurt all fingers will point at us, fed by prejudice around larger dogs and Hovawarts in particular. With the current razzia-like situation in Denmark against dog bites and trigger happy authorities I worry for Kenzo and Viva's safety too.

What can I do? Nobody seems to know where the Kurt's live. As it turns out, nobody actually talks with them that could pass the word. I started to make small walks by myself trying to find both Kurt's and have a talk. At least we should be able to establish some common rules, like stop coming towards us and always put Little Kurt on leash as soon as they see us coming. So far I have not met them yet. It is such a shame all of this happened, Kenzo would have been an excellent therapist for both Kurt's.

I hope some owners of smaller dogs read this that are afraid of larger dogs. I understand how you must feel meeting larger dogs that can possibly harm your dog. Please leave a comment if you read this and tell me what we, as larger dog owners, can do to help Big and Little Kurt.


  1. Oh my gosh. What a NIGHTMARE. That owner is so ignorant. I honestly don't know what I would do in your situation. We are not allowed to walk our dogs off leash here, except in designated parks.

    I have little dogs and neither have any fear of other dogs, big or small. In fact, my female always wants to play with the biggest dog she sees. Her first "best friend" was a French Mastiff and she fell in love with a Leonberger at one of our training classes. I guess it does help that I am not afraid of big dogs myself.

    I hope you can find a way to come to an agreement with "Big Kurt". What a tough position to be in!

  2. A guy who would instill fear in his dog by picking him up without even trying to assess the situation -- i.e., Kenzo had done nothing, ever, to indicate he was aggressive -- and who would kick his dog for behaving like a fearful dog is beyond reasonable behavior on your part. Honestly, it has nothing to do with large or small dogs.

    Frankie is afraid of most dogs, large and small, but if he is left alone he's fine to sit quietly if I talk to someone. So I can only tell owners that he doesn't want to play. If they don't pay attention and let their dogs harass him I just leave. But it's different in your situation because the owner is clearly mentally disturbed -- and he has made his dog crazy.

    Is there any way you can avoid them altogether? There is no coping with irrational people like that. And you're right, it can only end badly.

  3. Dear Kenzo,

    I could feel myself getting more and more cross and frustrated as I read your story. You know very well why my blog is called what it is. And if there's one thing even worse than that, it's the ones WITHOUT leashes at all. There are some of those idiots here too. Just last week, a lady with 2 off-leash maltesers walked up our road. (This is illegal on the streets here.) I happened to be outside and warned her that she was coming up to a big dog just on the other side of the gate. But did she put the dogs back on the leash, or even try to get them onto the other side of the road? NO. Georgia predictably started yowling as they passed by, close enough to touch noses. ARGH. As you said, a bad experience for all dogs concerned. Hate it.

    It really is unfortunate that Big Kurt is such a !!666!!*^! It's always the big dogs that get into trouble in this sort of situation. I wonder whether it'd be useful to have someone videotape your meetings so you at least have proof of his bad behavior if something awful did happen.

    My heart just goes out to you. I hope you find someone who can talk some
    sense into the man. If it's illegal for Little Kurt to be off-leash, perhaps you could complain to a ranger?

  4. While I do my best to "read" dogs, my 18 lb. Molly is a whiz at it and, if she is concerned, I go the other way. She is never off-leash on a walk though, knows how to sit while I talk with a person, knows how to walk on by if I ask her to. In other words, we've been to class and put in the work. I'm fine with big dogs (had a GSD once); I'm not fine with wild, fearful, untrained... and most certainly not fine with kicking.

  5. @Lulu and Wally
    What a nice story that your female fell in love with a Leonberger. Thats how we all love our dogs to grow up: be nice and polite to all dogs.

    It is illegal in the area we met the Kurt's to have your dogs off-leash. It is a large park, forrest area, and I admit also to have Kenzo off-leash when I can see there is nobody around. I always put him back on the leash again when I can see someone coming, or when I cannot see what lays ahead (like the time the Kurt's came around the corner where I had him on the leash)

    You are a great observer. Also in the neighbourhood there is talk if Big Kurt could be mentally disturbed. He acts irrationally at the least.

    I hate to give up this area because it gives me so many possibilities to look ahead which is important walking with Viva. And we avoid the narrow path's where we had our first encounter with the Kurt's and only walk the open spaces. But in the end you are absolutely right. If I don't get in contact with him and can come to some kind of agreement, we have to drop this area. It will unevitably go wrong.

    What a story ... and what ARE people thinking makes me wonder again and again.

    Love your tips of the cam and the police. Maybe I should do that, they will not take it seriously, but at least I will have on record we tried to do something about it.

  6. I don't think that Big Kurt is suited to be a dog owner. KICKING his dog to get him away from Kenzo ?!?! That's got responsible dog owner written all over it :O

    Funny enough, I have the same problem in my nieghborhood, but with people. The majority of people in my neighborhood are TERRIFIED of dogs. Some freeze in place, some run away, some yell at Jersey. Jersey can be on leash, off leash, it doesn't matter. So I try to walk her when it's quiet, like around 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

    I find small dogs, especially Terriers or Terrier mixes to be very miserable towards other dogs. For your own sanity, and Kenzo's, maybe try another place to walk the dogs. I don't see this situation resolving itself any time soon :(

  7. Awww. I have no helpful advice, I'm afraid, but isn't it strange how "alike" we are to our dogs? The Kurts act like one another... and Kenzo has your same mild manner. I guess that's why I'm so embarrassed when my puppy acts "bad"; I feel like she's a reflection of me!

  8. oh man, tough situation. I think your doing the right thing by calling your pup and walking in a different direction. We have a few people in my neighbourhood who do that for Wilson if he starts barking at their dogs, and if he doesn't then they come up for a chat and let the dogs sniff each other. But anyways I'm no help lol, hope that things get better between you and the Kurts!

  9. @Karen
    Wow that does not sounds like a dog-friendly neighborhood. And towards a Viszla? It doesn't get crazier than that. We both need a new area to walk the dogs :(

    That made me laugh. You might be right about that. It is good we have Viva over here to spice things up a little :)

    @Chelsea and Wilson
    Sure you are, and thanks for stopping by!

  10. That is a tough one! The person seems not very in tune to his dogs actions and maybe he is just not educated enough, there are far too many people out there who are not.
    I have had a lot of encounters with little dogs while walking the Newfs, sometimes I am just amazed that they let their little ones come right up to us. They will see me struggling trying to settle the boys down and they just laugh, neither of the dogs have ever done anything which I am thankful for, and I am trying to get them to work on sitting when a another dog approaches or I just turn around and walk the other way, but sometimes I just wish they would pick their little one up:)

  11. Big Kurt sounds absolutely terrible. I feel horrible for Little Kurt... as you pointed out, he's definitely been set up to fail with an owner like that. What a horrible situation - I'm so sorry you have to deal with this.

  12. WOW. Not only that this is completely wrong, but it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. If you're afraid of big dogs, the first thing you'd do is to put your dog on the leash to protect him, not the opposite ...


    I don't know if talking to Big Kurt (short of breaking his nose) would do any good.

    Question: what was Kenzo's body language saying when his happened? Jasmine has encountered similar dogs few times, her strategy was clearly avoidance = ignore the nasty little dog long enough for it to go away.

    My strategy in such cases is to put myself between the dogs and protect mine by separating them. (It is also a generally understood signal in dog world). Not sure if it will work with Little Kurt, but it might.

    By protecting your dog you'd be protecting the nasty one at the same time.

    Once I was walking with J.D. (he was quite little then yet) and this big dog suddenly broke out of one of the fenced yards (the gate wasn't closed properly) and went after J.D.

    I was half angry and half afraid but I channeled all that into anger and literally scared the dog back into his yard, just using voice and body language. So that worked too.

  13. @Jen
    That is something I can relate to. It is a nuisance people behave that way.

    @Pup Fan
    Poor Little Kurt indeed. The little fellow could have a much better life if he had a different owner.

    I was as stunned as you when they kept on approaching. Not much of what Big Kurt does seems to make any sense.

    On your question, in the moment before Little Kurt attacked he stood still and looked the other way. It always helps but not for Little Kurt.

  14. By asking about the body language I was trying to figure Kenzo's attitude. Ear, tail position, hackles ... those help to figure whether he was calm or upset with the situation.

    Another thing is that normally dogs have inhibition towards small dogs, meaning they would not be likely to hurt them.

    At the friend's farm they adopted this little fart of a mutt. She can get quite nasty, she'll throw herself at J.D. nipping and carrying on. He is totally aloof to that.

  15. Really sorry to hear of your problem with this guy. I don't have any great help to offer, but I have struggled with some of the same problems with people who let their dogs run loose in their yards and then come running towards my dogs. It makes it very difficult to know what to do, even when we HAVE talked to the owners, they still haven't done anything about it.

    I wish I had an answer for you, because it sounds like talking to this guy might still not change anything.

    Good luck! I hope you find an answer.

  16. @24pawsoflove
    Agree that the chances a talk would change anything are slim. I have a little hope that, as he surprised me to be a dog person, maybe he will surprise me again and actually is looking for help for Little Kurt. I know that is surely overly optimistic :)

  17. I second Edie's advice to change your walking habits to make future encounters unlikely.

    Do you use food in your work with Kenzo and Viva? If so, you might want to add some yummy treats to your pocket on walks. When you first spot the Kurts, give a nice cheery "dogs!" or "Kurts" or whatever cue word you want to use and when the dogs look back at you, pop treats in their mouths.

    That may work to diffuse some of the tension from the negative encounter so that your dogs are relaxed when they encounter the Kurts.

    I used this method to desensitize my dog Shadow to all other dogs and it really helped.

    And if Kenzo can recover his calm, it might help little Kurt too.

    I think you're expressing a lot of compassion to your neighbor and his dog which I'd encourage you to continue. Except for kicking the dog (which is never acceptable), Kurt is just being ignorant and fearful. And who among us hasn't been both of those things?

  18. That's one of the things where I can see Kenzo is outside his normal behavior with "Little Kurt", no interest for treats (at least when he continues to come closer).

    I agree absolutely no reason to scold, but to educate :)

    Latest is I just had an interesting conversation with Big Kurt ... I will update my blog soon with the info.

  19. I was so frustrated reading your post because I know that both Kenzo, Viva and Little Kurt could have had a very different meeting if not for the irresponsible owner.

    I have two ideas for you:

    1) Report the guy to the authorities (if you have leash laws that require a dog to be on a leash).

    2) Videotape it. When Big Kurt and Little Kurt approach, follow them the whole time with the camera. When he asks you what you are doing videotaping him and his dog, tell him that you are collecting evidence in case his off-leash dog starts something that leads to trouble. Let him know that you don't want his dog to be put in danger, but if he continues to let him walk off-leash then you will continue to videotape to protect your dogs from whatever might happen. Now you've got him, his dog and your warning to him on tape. He might get mad, but it also might protect Kenzo and Viva if something does happen.

    Of course, Edie and Pamela's advice was much less confrontational, so that might be best.

    I am so sorry Leo. That sucks. I have a client who has 2 Akitas and she has often come across similar situations. She has warned people in her townhome complex to leash their dogs, but the idiots still allow them to run free. She knows that if one gets too close and her dog attacks it that she and her dogs will be blamed. Pisses me off. People need to be more responsible.

  20. @mel
    That's clever. Didn't think about that. I will also have me warning him on tape.

    Latest news is that I had a conversation with "Big Kurt". He agreed in doing some setups with Kenzo and "Little Kurt". Maybe there is still hope. I update my blog soon, the story continues.

    Can relate with your Akita client :( It is the faith of the big dog: found guilty ... in advance.

  21. I'm obviously late to this post but really enjoyed reading all the comments! I am so sorry to read about Little Kurt and Kenzo's confrontation. I'm a nervous dog parent, but try very hard to never judge a dog when I have no reason to question their behavior. It makes no sense to me that Big Kurt didn't have Little Kurt on a leash!

    Looking forward to reading more about your update. I'm happy to hear that there's still hope!

  22. @Lori
    Thanks for stopping by Lori, and you are never too late :) I agree there are a lot of great comments with some real good advice on this post!

    Glad to know you never judge a dog when there is no reason to question their behavior, there should be more like you out there.


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