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— January 14, 2014 —

The Momentary Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I recently had a client who signed up for training. After 4 lessons, they wanted to quit without warning. I was taken kind of by surprise. We had really just started and things were going well, as far as I could tell. He had only one setback with me. On his fourth lesson, he bit me while I was getting him ready to go home.

I wrote an article a few months back about asking your dog trainer how many time they had been bitten by the dogs they trained. How they answered that question would tell you a lot about their experience and skill level. It was intended to be a slightly funny, but also somewhat serious article. I mentioned in that article that I had been bitten a few times, but it doesn’t happen all that often any more … two weeks later I get bit. That’ll teach me to be cocky, won’t it?

Sparky, the dog that bit me is a houndy mixed breed that came in for fear based aggression in the first place. His aggression was obvious, but the bites were pretty minor. He would grab but slip off. He didn’t bear down or puncture the people he bit, so I felt comfortable accepting him as a client. (DISCLAIMER: Please do see a professional if you have an aggressive dog. Every aggression case is unique. There are aggression cases that even I couldn’t take on.)

After 4 lessons, Sparky and I had gotten to be pretty good friends and he actually barked for attention when he saw me come into work. He has 2 dads, Bob and John (not their real names of course). John does most of the pick ups and I work mostly with him directly. Due to scheduling issues, Bob has only been to Bark Avenue twice.

John and Bob, by their own admission have coddled Sparky a little. I think that a big part of his issue is from that and we have discussed it and his dads are working on being less “coddly.”

The day Sparky bit me, he was being picked up by Bob. This was Bob’s second time at Bark Avenue. I had been working Sparky on a slip lead, which is usually how I start new dogs. We did our lesson and I brought him over to Bob. As we were both working on swapping Sparky’s slip lead for his personal equipment, I saw him stiffen. In my head I thought, “He tensed up, we’re both hovering over him....Oh, he won’t bite me. We’re buddies now.” At about that time, he bit me. It was a typical bite for him. Scratching but no punctures. I pulled him back, got him away from his dad, finished switching the equipment and sent him home.

That was the last time I saw him for a while. John and Bob decided that Sparky must had gotten scared by being at Bark Avenue all day which was why he bit me, which means he shouldn’t come back. I followed up with them after a bit and got their side of it. I’m really glad I did.

I read a statement once that went like this. “Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you went in there? Well, your dog lives his whole life that way.” I don’t know who came up with that, but it’s brilliant.

What I mean by the title, “The Momentary Dog” is exactly that. Your dog lives moment to moment and is reacting to whatever he sees, feels, hears right then and there. How he reacts to those stimuli is dictated by his genetics first and foremost, then guided by his training or lack of it. Sparky did not bite me because of ANYTHING from earlier in the day. He didn’t care about last week or anything before that moment. In all honesty, I made a mistake. I saw the bite coming, but made the incorrect assumption that he would not bite because he was generally fine with me.

The real reason Sparky bit me was the hovering. Bob and I were both crowding him and that made him uncomfortable. Another point that needs to be made is this. If you have a concern with your trainer. Talk to them. John and Bob were uncomfortable with a situation, but if I had not followed up, we would have no idea why. The bite scared them and rightly so. If your trainer is a true professional, they will discuss your concerns. If they refuse to talk or belittle you, find a new trainer. I know that Bob and John may read this. Since we have discussed all of this, I think they will understand why I chose to write about their story. Hopefully it will help someone who may not understand why their dog can be one dog one moment and a completely different dog the next.

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