Dealing with dogs
Having spent most of their lives around two rambunctious black labs, my boys have a pretty good understanding of how to deal with dogs.
On our recent adventure to a wilderness area, however, we found ourselves in a situation that shook their confidence pretty badly.
We were walking along a dirt road, with fenced-in lawns on either side of us. By lawns, I don’t mean the well-manicured St. Augustine sodded things they’re used to seeing in the suburbs. These were country lawns, big and barely tamed, with scattered bushes and wildflowers, and the occasional decrepit shed. They also had fences along them, and each one had a “Beware of Dog” sign.
It was the signs that got them talking.
How dangerous were the dogs? Did everyone out here own a killer dog? What if the dogs dug under the fences?
So, I had the dog-talk with them, about how you only run from a dog if you’re absolutely convinced it’s going to attack you. Otherwise, you stand your ground. If you’re scared, you make commanding noises like “stay” and “sit” and “please don’t eat me you horrible beast.” Okay, maybe not that last one.
We talked about instincts like hunting and protecting, and how important it was to not look either like prey nor like a threat. That naturally led into the reassurance that dog-fighting was Daddy’s job, and that if a big dog did attack, they should let me handle it.
On the way back from the wilderness area, one of those lawns I mentioned revealed its guardians: three huge mastiffs.
The kids jumped when they saw the beasts. Actually, so did I. Easily as tall as my nine-year old, they stared at us through the fence without making any noises, then followed us along the fence line as we walked.
After a dozen paces or so, we saw that the gate ahead of us was open.
All three of us stopped. The dogs did too.
“Daddy,” my youngest said. “The gate’s open.”
“I know.” I licked my lips. “But they don’t seem to know it.”
“What do we do?”
Another dog, this one only about the size of a lab, stuck his head out of the gate, then stepped through it and walked toward us. The mastiffs saw him, barked, and loped for the opening in the fence.
Both kids moved behind me.
I don’t blame them. These dogs were crazy big.
“That’s a good boy,” I said in my most playful dog voice. The littler dog stopped and tilted his head at me. The mastiffs kept coming.
“Wow, you guys sure are big.” I said, still hoping I wasn’t about to become a chew toy.
A girl, maybe ten years old, appeared behind them. “It’s okay! It’s okay! They’re friendly.” She grabbed one of their collars, but really had no hope of even slowing it down.
I put my hand out and down in the univeral “please sniff my hand instead of eating me” gesture.
“That’s a good dog,” I said again. I’ve always believed in the power of positive thinking.
The mastiff in front glanced at my hand, snorted, and sniffed my chest. I stayed really, really still. He snorted again and I gave him a pat. His tail wagged twice.
I know because I counted.
“They’re huge,” my oldest son said, stepping out from behind me. His little brother followed, and they were quickly surrounded by sniffing dogs.
Reassured by the girl, the boys petted and hugged them. She told us their names, and talked about how they were related. The boys told her about our two labs, and how much smaller they were.
As they were chatting, one of the mastiffs barked right in my ear. I mean, right in my ear. The monster had snuck around behind me, raised up on his back legs, and barked in my ear.
I jumped, of course, which startled all four of the dogs. Their heads swung to stare at me. Their tails stiffened.
“No,” the girl shouted. “Be good. Be good!”
Actually, I’m not sure that’s what she said, because at that exact same moment, my kids started to run away. The dogs’ attention shifted from me to the boys, and one raised its head and whoofed.
“Stop!” I shouted.
It was my Daddy voice, and it had a bit more juice than usual. Both kids froze. The little girl looked at me, too, clearly startled. Even the dogs seem surprised.
I smiled as friendly a smile as I could manage. “Well,” I said. “We better get going.” I patted the dog that had barked at me. “You be a good dog.”
“Thanks,” my oldest said to the girl.
“Yeah,” my youngest said. “Great dogs!”
Once we were out of earshot, nudged my oldest.”You were running away,” I said. “Weren’t you?”
“Nah. We were just startled. That’s all.”
“Heh. Sure you were. Good thing he barked in my ear and not yours.”
“Oh yeah.” He shook his head. “I would have been gone.”
“Me too,” his little brother said. “They were huge!” He paused. “Can we get one?”
Heh, heh, heh. That’s the way to deal with dogs: find the biggest scariest one you can, and then make it your pet.