Thursday, 28 June 2012

The good and the bad

I have thought long and hard about whether or not I should write this post, but in the end, I decided that without it, I wouldn’t be telling the whole story about my adventures in Greyhound-ownership. As the owner of any pet will know, you take the good with the bad with your pets – and sometimes the bad is very expensive and will teach you a lesson that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

On Friday morning, at just before 7 am, I left my house to take the dogs for their morning walk. Mila and Tommy were attached to their brand new splitter and rugged up in their raincoats against the cold and the wet, and away we went. We got ¾ of the way around our normal route, and were walking up-hill when around the corner came a man and his little black curly dog on their morning walk, coming directly towards us. We were about to reach the corner ourselves and it was pitch black, so by the time we saw them, it was too late to cross the road or turn around before we crossed paths.

So, I decided to keep walking. I was already holding the dogs’ lead tightly and quite short to keep the dogs close to me. I did my best to radiate calmness and we continued on our way. As the man and his dog walked past us, we said ‘hello’ to each other and the hounds didn’t appear to react at all. On our walks, it is usually Mila that gets excited in the presence of other dogs/cats/rabbits etc. She will bounce about – and sometimes bark, which is one of the reasons she wears a Gentle Leader head collar. Tommy is not usually one to react at all. He will look at the dog for a moment (ears up), look at me, and then go back to what he was doing before. For that reason, and the fact that we had had him with us for over a month without any issue, he was walking that morning without a muzzle on.

But Friday morning was different. As I said, the man and his dog walked past us and we seemed to have coped very well with it all. I was just starting to think about how good everyone had been when Tommy decided that he wanted to explore this whole thing a bit further. He whipped around, pulling me off-balance and Mila along with him and lunged at the little dog, latching on to it somewhere near its rump and refusing to let go. As you can imagine, the other dog (and its owner) cried out in pain.

I somehow managed to extricate Tommy from the other dog, with a combination of tugs on the lead and stern words. Hearts pumping at a million miles an hour, we stood back to assess the damage and catch our breaths. The man asked me for my details as he thought that he would need to take his dog to the vet. Holding Tommy and Mila very close to me, while trying my best to radiate calm, I began to give him my phone number when I felt Tommy tense up again beside me. I told the man that I needed to put a bit more distance between us and him when Tommy lowered himself and started to walk backwards, wiggling out of his collar (and away from me). He was free and was in such a state that all he could think about was catching the lure. He lunged again, and connected again, and this time the damage was more severe. I grabbed at his raincoat, which tore at the seams and fell off him and then attempted to grab him up in a big bear hug – but me against a 33 kg ball of power was never going to be a permanent solution to this problem. By that stage, I had dropped the lead, leaving Mila standing beside me, powerless to help. Thankfully, she stayed where she was and didn’t do anything to aggravate the problem or cause me more concern.  The man and I eventually managed to get Tommy (with the help of an amazing passerby) away from the other dog, under control and back on the lead.  We suffered cuts, scratches and possible bites in doing so – more the result of getting physically involved in the scuffle than anything else. I finally gave the man my details and we went, battered and bruised, on our separate ways.

Later on that day (which I took off work), the man called me and told me that his dog would be okay but that Tommy had done some significant damage, tearing skin from its shoulder and throat, in addition to biting its rump. The vet bill later came in at $980 – a huge bill, but something that we are arranging to pay in full to the owner.

We also had a visit from the Council, and an Animal Control Officer took a statement from me regarding what happened. I was told that we would be allowed to keep Tommy (he would not be taken away from us) and that I would be slapped with a $200 fine for failing to keep my dog under control. Tommy also faces the prospect of being placed on the “Dangerous Dog” list, a classification that I do not agree with and intend to object to.

I still feel sick about the whole thing. That horrible feeling of knowing that you are ultimately responsible for causing someone else (and their pet) pain and suffering is something that will stay with me for a long, long time. To say that this week has been a particularly long and stressful one for me is an understatement. Tommy is now back on his muzzle (for the foreseeable future) and we have bought a walking harness to prevent the collar slip in future. He is enrolled in the next Canine Good Citizen course, which I am hoping will assist us in socialisation. However, our daily walks (at least at the moment) are not the fun, relaxing experiences they usually are. My own nerves are shot (what’s going to come around that corner at us? What will I do if….?) and the dogs are acting more jittery and nervous than usual too. It was a stressful experience for all of us, and one that will take a long time to get over completely.

So, why am I telling this story? It is obviously not a great advertisement for the joys of Greyhound ownership and doesn’t sound like much of an “adventure” either…

I am telling this story because I honestly believe that this whole thing is not Tommy’s fault. He is a wonderful dog and a fantastic pet - very gentle, very patient, very loving and very eager to please. And when it comes down to it, I let him down. I let him down by putting him in a position that he did not have the skills, training, or understanding to deal with properly – he was after all, just doing what comes naturally to him and, while he has met and socialised with a couple of other dogs in his time with us, he is not yet at a stage where he is able to cope in all situations. And I let him down by failing to have contingencies in place to get him out of trouble when he needed it. Basically, I made a terrible mistake and he is copping the flak for it.

So, this week is about going back to basics – walking one hound at a time, until we all feel confident and relaxed again – and about reassessing the way that we do things. It is also about spending some time, letting Tommy and Mila know that they are safe, okay, and most importantly, loved (pats, treats and games all round!!). And with a bit of luck, we will get back to where we were before, a little wiser and a little stronger for the experience. 

Here is Tom, mid-yawn, demonstrating just how snuggly his new GAP PJ's are - he loves them!


  1. OH Rachel :( Must have been tough to write this :( I do hope, just like you, that the little black doggie recovers well and quickly.
    I took your Tommy to Canine Good Citizen demo just before I delivered him to you. I will find pics for you -he was in the church and the church yard with all sorts of dogs, big and small (right down to a small maltese puppy of only 6 months old). And he was amazing with all of them. At one stage he was handled by a small old lady -he was that good. :)
    From what i read above, i agree with you that of course it is not his fault.
    My opinion -and opinion of many other dog trainers -is that the dogs’ lead should NEVER be tight. Tight and short lead, for me, spells disaster :( It stresses the dog and literaly sends the message to the dog that something is VERY wrong, even life threatening. MANY dogs (of all breeds) then think they need to protect their owner who is tightening his/her lead. :( And they snarl and attack whateevr is nearby :(
    For me personally, when I have ANY dog on lead, i keep the lead as loose as possible. LEAD is never ever tightened. As i foster so many greyhounds i literally walk around the park and streets and our dog club with them LOOKING for small dogs on lead and offlead. :) I NEVER miss an opportunity to see a small dog! I cross the road to get to the small dog with my foster greyhounds. I always ask the owner whether it is ok to meet etc -and I ALWAYS have very very relaxed lead. I pet the other dog and pet my foster dog and am all happy when they meet. IF another owner does not like dogs to meet (due to his dog being agressive, scred, timid , sick etc), I NEVER EVER pull my greyhound away . We try to make them come with us, follow the LOOSE lead. I make myself MORE exciting, more interesting, so that with a gentle tug of a lose lead, greyhound follows me (ok, sometimes i do use treats too :)))
    Knowing your Tommy - and from my own experience - i dont think Tommy saw the dog as a 'lure' at all. He saw him as something that needed to be elliminated due to tightening of the short lead and stress. It is like -remove the culprit, so stress goes away. I see it a lot with leash-reactive dogs of all breeds too.
    If it would help -do email me if you have any questions or need any help. CGC class is a great way to start tho! :)

  2. One more thing: when you 'stood back to assess the damage and catch our breaths...and when you held Tommy and Mila very close to you" and when you say " I felt Tommy tense up again beside me". Yes, i would expect that. :( He would have been freaking out as you were upset (dont blame you), while holding him on even tighter lead :( It would have been all out of control from then on :(
    No point in talking about it now i guess...but yes, dogs would have freaked :(
    I guess what has happened has happened, and it is upwards from here. Again, as above, socilaization is the key. I would get rid of any short lead and tight lead stuff asap too. And of course, please fell free to call/email me if i can help in any way. I dont even mind coming over and going to CGC class with you myself :)

  3. Hey Fatima! Thanks for your messages - very helpful stuff!

    Regarding our on-lead walks, probably my use of the word "tight" wasn't quite right. I usually walk with the lead relaxed, but relatively short - by "tight" I meant that I had a good grip out it, not that I was tugging the dogs along. I keep the lead short because Mila likes to walk ahead of me and can pull. A Dog Behaviourist friend of mine recommended the short relaxed lead as a good way of keeping the dog walking at your side. To be honest, the shorter lead makes me feel like I have better control over the situation...apparently not. How do you get around the issue of a dog that wants to pull you along??

    The other issue we have is that the people of Karori seem to be very nervous about allowing us to meet their little dogs. They cross the road, walk in the other direction - whatever - very frustrating. I am also a bit wary about meeting dogs that are off-lead when the Greyhounds are on-lead. Mila in particular doesn't seem to be a big fan of doggies coming up to us unannounced and free to move as they please.

    Will keep up our efforts - I think CGC will be very good for us all. Any other hints and tips, much appreciated.

  4. Very brave of you to write this, Rach. It's a terrible thing to have to go through and work out a solution. I'll leave the hints and tips to Fatima:) Just want to say you have my support and I feel for you.

    Have fun at the CGC classes:) They're very good. I'm sure it won't be long before the 3 of you are enjoying your walks again.

  5. Thanks Sue, I really appreciate that :) A bit of a reality check for us I think - we will get through! We are going to spend our Saturday morning hanging out with some doggie friends and having a run around the dog park to keep the spirits up. Looking forward to it!

  6. Rachel -I just sent you a video that we used when we were just learning how to deal with dogs etc :) We use this technique to stop dogs pulling - and it works great :)

  7. Firstly, it takes guts to post something like this that reflects badly on you in order for people to learn from your experiences.

    You are very lucky in a way, because here it's pretty much an automatic death sentence for a dog who attacks another dog unprovoked and does significant damage. The org I got Barbie from does do testing with small dogs before the greyhound gets a chance to be adopted and if they don't pass, they aren't suitable for adoption. While I think this is a bit unfair because the greyhounds can be trained to be more appropriate with smaller animals and rehomed with experienced owners, I can understand why they do it because they have many 100s of dogs that are waiting for homes, and they don't want things like this to happen, which will be counterproductive to all their PR work.

    Barbie came with a wide leather collar when I adopted her which she could easily get out of. She only wears martingale collars now, which tighten as she pulls away backwards. I thought it was poor form for the adoption organisation not to advise me to get her a martingale. I tried walking her in harnesses but she hates them.

    Also I often walk my two dogs together but I would never use a splitter. They always react differently to situations on the walk - I want to be able to control them separately.

    Good luck with Tommy. I think your aim is going to have to be no response at all to small dogs. That little ear tweak that greyhounds do is a dead giveaway, and in the case of your boy he gets hyperstimulated very quickly from that point with the sounds of it.

    1. Thanks for your message! You are right, we are lucky - the Council and/or the other owner could have taken a pretty hard line on this...but they have been very reasonable.

      Greyhounds As Pets here are fantastic when it comes to rehoming the hounds - they do small dog/animal testing before the dogs are adopted. Tommy passed his tests and I know he has been very good with little dogs in other situations, so it is something that he has picked up from us here. We walk them with martingale collars too but Tommy seems to be doing pretty well with his harness at the moment. I think classes will definitely be a good thing for us (me) getting back on track.