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My dog is afraid of people who are afraid of dogs
February 5, 2013 11:36 AM   Subscribe

My shy 4 year old rescue pit bull/shepherd mix and I live in a large apartment building. A couple recently moved in next door to me, and they are terrified of dogs.

Since my new neighbours have moved in, I've seen them duck into their apartment when they see me coming out of mine with the dog, or avoid getting on the elevator with me. That's fine. I understand that people are afraid of dogs, and I go out of my way to make these people comfortable by not crossing their paths if I don't have to.

My dog is a submissive rescue who is occasionally shy at first with new people, but very friendly. The only time she's ever wary of people is when they give off strange body language. For instance, she's suspicious of and sometimes growls at sketchy people outside at night, drunk homeless guys yelling profanities on the street, creepy pervy guys who try to talk to me while we're on a walk... basically anyone who would make me uncomfortable if I were walking somewhere alone. I'm happy she does this, as I'm a female who lives downtown in a bit of a sketchy area. However, whenever we cross paths with a non-sketchy person who's giving off unusual body language because they're afraid of dogs, she reacts the same way. She's never been violent. Not once. Ever.

My apartment is at the end of a VERY long, straight hallway. Yesterday, when we were coming back from our morning walk, I turned into the hallway from the elevators and saw one of my new neighbours leaving his apartment and walking towards the elevators. I was already halfway down the hallway, and I knew that if he just ignored the dog as he walked past, she would ignore him, too... the way she ignores most every one we cross when we're out (unless they stop to pet her, or they have a dog too). So I kept walking. Then as we were about 10 feet from each other, he stopped in his tracks and was started intense eye contact with my dog, I suppose to try to get a feel for whether or not she was going to "attack". He was talking heatedly on his cell phone, so I couldn't really say anything like "it's okay, she's friendly" or "just ignore her" or "don't worry, I've got her", Then he started slowly walking backwards, out of fear. I started to feel a little tense at this point because it was kind of awkward. Maybe the dog sensed my trepidation, I don't know. He glued himself up against the wall, and I held her on a short leash as we walked past, but then he kind of jumped and she reacted by growling suddenly, at which point he literally screamed at the top of his lungs and took off running down the rest of the hallway. Of course, when he started running, she kind of set off after him, but couldn't chase after him because of course, she was on-leash.

I know that my dog’s reacting to their body language, and that even though not all dogs respond this way, that it's a normal dog thing and likely breed related. Yesterday morning, she growled, but that was absolutely not an “attack” (and I’m actually kind of afraid that in his fearful state, the guy might have perceived that it was).

I'm afraid that constantly avoiding people who exhibit the kind of body language that a person does when they're afraid of dogs makes my dog's wariness of them worse. This is a vicious cycle of person scaring dog, dog reacting, dog scaring person...heightening the fear for both of them during the next encounter.

I’m sensitive to other people’s phobias, and I’m a reasonable person, so I really wish I could fix this situation. The trouble is that unlike most encounters we have with people who are afraid of dogs, which normally happen outside where it’s easy for us to avoid each other, this always seems to happen in the hallway where unless they duck back into their apartment, or I run back to the end of the hall by the elevators to let them pass, we will inevitably have to cross paths. We also seem to be, unfortunately, on the same schedule. So I encounter them a LOT. If these people were friends of mine, it would be easier to try to overcome the fear together by slowly introducing them to my dog and giving them time to relax and feel more comfortable in her presence. These people, however, are not my friends, and they make that quite clear by glaring at me, or avoiding me even when I’m without dog. They’re frequently on their cell phones and avoiding eye contact, effectively putting up a wall on any form of communication whatsoever. I tried to speak with them once but they ignored me as if I hadn’t said anything at all and I’m not sure if it’s because they can’t bear to speak with the disgusting person with the scary looking dog, or if it’s because they don’t speak English. Or both.

Sigh, anyway. I’m sensitive and I feel really rattled about what happened yesterday morning. I’ve never seen such an extreme reaction before. I’m not the type of person who expects to be pals with my neighbours, but the icy relationship as it is now makes me uncomfortable. I’ve never had any dog related issue with anyone else in my building. I’m thinking that it would be a good thing if I could somehow do something to minimize the way my dog reacts to people who are afraid, but I’m not sure how to do that because people who are afraid of dogs aren’t exactly going to volunteer to be part of this teaching moment.

I'm also confused about what the right balance of compromise is here in this situation. I try to avoid them as much as possible because I know they're afraid. But is the onus on me to always be the one avoiding? I mean, I know being a dog owner comes with a huge set of responsibilities and being accountable for your dog is one of them... but I'm also allowed to have a dog, especially one that doesn't have serious behavioural issues and that gets along with everyone else in our huge apartment complex. For example, if we meet halfway down the hallway and they haven't gone back into their apartment, is it because I am supposed to turn around and walk back to the elevators/lobby area where they can easily avoid us? Is that my responsibility as a dog owner? I would like to do what society expects me to do, but I don't know what that is.

Advice, anyone?
posted by ohmy to Pets & Animals (59 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just go over there, sans dog, and explain that she's not aggressive or scary and that if they ignore her, she'll ignore them. I'm not particularly afraid of dogs, but would probably be wary of a large pit bull mix who behaved as you said your dog did yesterday. Unless they are weirdos, I think they will appreciate your attempt to reach out and explain.
posted by something something at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Can you talk to them? Knock on the door or leave a note saying "My dog and I ran into you this morning, and I'm afraid we all wrong-footed each other - she is a nice, safe dog but a little nervous. I would love to take a few minutes to meet you and talk about how we can all feel good about living next to each other. Is there a time I could drop by? My number is ...."

They may not want to meet your dog or have anything to do with her, but maybe you can establish a few dog-safety points (such as hello, not making lots of intense eye contact with dogs!!!!) that would help them feel better and freak your dog out less when you do pass each other by.

I think the only solution is really going to be to talk to them and see where they are at. If they have unreasonable expectations (your dog never goes outside except after 10pm or something) you don't have to follow them.
posted by Frowner at 11:42 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your dog feeds off of you. So give off good vibes and ignore the neighbors and your dog will do the same.

You've tried to engage your neighbors and they're not interested in meeting your dog, that's okay.

Don't let your dog fixate. If you see the neighbor frozen in fear or doing something weird, just tap your dog, on the hind quarters, and say, "Come on sweetie, it's okay." She'll pick up that it's okay, and that will be that.

If you protect HER (not the other way around) she'll relax around all strangers, and take her cues from you.

If others are scared, just smile and nod at them as you and your pup walk by, all the while soothing your dog. After awhile it will be a non-event.

Unless the neighbors say anything to you, you have no obligation to make them comfy with your dog. Your obligation is to see that your dog doesn't rip anyone's face off. And since she's a sweet, well-trained girl, that's not a concern.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:44 AM on February 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


Could you put a muzzle on your dog as you enter and leave the building. I'm a dog person, but I have an extremely dog-phobic child so I get both sides. The relationship with the neighbours is awful for you. A visible muzzle, and maybe a note under their door explaining what you've done to reassure them could help. Or just signal that you'd like to talk, and wait till they're off the phone. Not while you're holding the dog.

Dog phobics do not want to hear that a a 1/2 pitbull dog is a kind, sweet dog. They want to hear that your dog will never ever ever be able to hurt them and that you're aware of the potential for any dog to hurt someone. (Just as a note of interest....in Australia, pitbulls are a banned breed.)

I'm so sorry for you, your dog, and your neighbours. This is hard.
posted by taff at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


One thing that has worked really well with our dog is having her sit and look at me while the distraction passes. I give her the command "Sit" when we first see the freaky thing. Then I step in front of her and tell her to "look", gesturing with the treat towards my face. This gives her a chance to refocus and calm down without it being a massive power struggle. I also make an effort to put myself between the weird thing (squirrel, other dog, freaky evil kid on a skateboard) and make her have to go through me to lunge or be aggressive. This makes her pause and realize that there isn't a real threat and sit down and be cool.

It's also a good idea to talk to the neighbors and let them know that she's a rescue and you are still actively training her. A simple "I know she looks scary and she acted poorly, but I'm working on training her. It'd be awesome if you guys could just pass on by and ignore her."

Also, take cookies.
posted by teleri025 at 11:54 AM on February 5, 2013 [21 favorites]


Are you absolutely sure that it's a phobia of dogs in general? I love dogs and have owned dogs, but I avoid any contact with pit bulls because they are tense and capable of great damage if they suddenly act outside of what their owners consider to be their normal character. It's not my intention here to have the pit bulls are angels pit bulls are monsters argument, but rather to say there are people like me who love dogs and don't have dog phobias at all but will always avoid being anywhere near a pit bull (or any dog that looks like or similar to a pit bull) because we simply think it's prudent for our own personal safety to stay clear of them. I'd also like to say that the way you describe the cycle is not entirely correct. The first part of the cycle is people being scared of the dog (rightly or wrongly, rationally or irrationally).
posted by Dansaman at 11:55 AM on February 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


If you'd rather not admit that your dog is aggressive, you can use the currently fashionable term "reactive". What if she took off chasing someone across a busy street? What would have happened if this were a child running away screaming and you accidentally dropped your dog's leash? Growling at people absolutely indicates fear aggression – she's just never had the opportunity to get to the next stages, snapping and biting. Many fear aggressive dogs skip the snapping and go straight to biting.

Stop making excuses, admit it to yourself that your dog has a problem and start fixing it. You are being incredibly irresponsible, and I realize you love your dog and you are in denial but this needs your attention now. Get a professional trainer involved if you can. My own dog-reactive pit bull had success with BAT, and the reactive dog book is excellent enough that you could perhaps skip the trainer if you can't afford one. The good news is that you know exactly what your dog's triggers are (strange body language, etc.) so you don't need to waste any time and can start getting her to tolerate those behaviors and feel calmer and more secure in their presence. Enlist some friends as "sketchy pervy" decoys and invest a few months of training at least a couple of times a week until her tolerance builds up. Don't be discouraged if it takes a long time to see results and expect to perhaps have to manage that behavior to some extent for the rest of your dog's life.

Until you read the book, here's something you can do: get your dog used to clicker training (tons of free resources for that online), start bringing treats – not cookies but hot dogs, string cheese cut up into small pieces, something that will make her wonder "what did I do to earn this? – and click and treat every time she even spots a stranger in the street so she starts associating it with good things.

...it's a normal dog thing and likely breed related.

It's certainly not normal for pit bulls, but more indicative of German Shepherd behavior. The longer you are with your dog, the more protective she will become of you so unless you do something to correct the behavior now, expect it to only get worse.
posted by halogen at 12:03 PM on February 5, 2013 [22 favorites]


We live in a neighborhood filled with Chinese immigrants and Hasidic Jews- both of these groups have a very high occurance of dog phobia and almost every day someone litterally runs away from our twenty pound puggle. This can scare the shit out of my little dog, so I've tried to mitigate the problem. I've had some luck going straight at it- I've asked our petrified downstairs neighbors if they would like me pick her up or if they would prefer me to take her around the corner while they pass. The girls that wait for the bus? I say hello every morning and warn them that if they don't want her to go near them, they shouldn't scream or run because she thinks they want to play.

I agree with going over there and explaining about how freaking out in front of dogs scare them, and them off a few options for them to more easily avoid dog- run-ins. "If I'm coming down the hall, would it make you feel better if I take her around the courner? Or would you like me to have her lay down while you pass?"
posted by Blisterlips at 12:05 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a 9 month old pit mix and we are still working really hard on leash training. He still wants to jump up and play with people from time to time, but all they see is big lunging dog. Like yours, if people just go about their business, he mostly just trots on by without issue.

Our trainer suggested exactly what teleri025 said. I'm supposed to bring super high value treats and have him pay attention to me for the duration of passing the screaming child, yapping terrier, terrifying scooter, what have you. We use the same "Look" command, where you hold the treat up at eye level until they connect with you and calm down. This was for all dogs, by the way, not just pits.

Good for you for wanting to make this a more comfortable situation for everyone.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:05 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


explain that she's not aggressive or scary

Your dog IS aggressive and scary. Or at least acts scary and aggressive in certain situations. She certainly hasn't acted friendly to these people, so saying "she's friendly" is demonstrably untrue: she growled at, and attempted to chase this person. (Also sometimes people use that line with dogs that will just jump on you or lick you in a friendly fashion... which isn't as terrible as biting but isn't a whole lot worse either). It will not help to tell them that it was their fault and if they just stop being scared and act differently it wouldn't happen.

If you're walking by them, hold the dog as close as possible (very, very short leash, or even the collar), stop if necessary and have your dog sit or something else you've trained them to do, and train your dog better to not react like that, to anything. To me (as someone who is... let's go with "not fond of" dogs), it is your responsibility as a dog owner to keep your dog from acting aggressively towards anyone (or actually even approaching someone in a friendly manner unless explicitly invited to do so) and whatever you need to do to make that happen, whether it's training, a muzzle, or keeping your dog away from other people by returning to your apartment if necessary, is your responsibility.

Your goal should be to the point that you can say to someone "don't worry, she's extraordinarily obedient and well-trained" instead of "she's friendly" or "I've got her" to someone who is apprehensive.
posted by brainmouse at 12:06 PM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


My dog is part chow and she looks pretty tough despite mostly being a slobbering sweetie. I try to be very sensitive to people we pass on the street because I know what it is to be afraid of dogs.

Whenever we pass people within a few feet (the radius of the leash), I grab the leash much lower down (sometimes even at the base, or near the collar) so that she doesn't have enough slack to lunge or get to them. This is mostly theatrical, because she won't lunge at them unless they have a dog that smells particularly lunge-worthy, but I want people to feel that she's under control when they're passing me, so I do this every time.

If I am in a narrow area with little room to pass (like you describe), I would probably stop walking entirely, grab her collar, and hold her still. I might even kneel down to use both arms to hold her. And then I would let the neighbor pass us while we're motionless. Ideally, the neighbor would feel that the dog is totally within my control.

Please do talk to your neighbor and explain the situation (maybe with a plate of cookies?), but it's unlikely to do much. It's your responsibility to put on a show that the dog is under control even if you think the dog would never attack your neighbor.
posted by aabbbiee at 12:08 PM on February 5, 2013


I live in an apartment complex with two dogs who aren't afraid of people at all. But there are people in my building who are afraid of my dogs. Some of them have the quiet, nervous, shifty fear. Others are the "if I believe a third party is watching I'll toss my hands in the air, scream and jump back" type of afraid.

I believe that the onus is on me to keep my dogs away from both types of these people. (Type one for their comfort, type two for my dogs' comfort.) I will duck into another hallway when they come by. I will not board an elevator with my dogs if these people are on it. (However, I will not get off the elevator if we're all on it first and the frightened person wants on. I'm polite, not a doormat.)

But sometimes there's nowhere to duck into and I just have my dogs sit and pet them until the frightened person goes by. I'm chill and they're chill. If the frightened person starts acting overly frightened or starts becoming dramatic, I smile and tell them that my dogs are fine and under control, please keep walking. I'm not going to muzzle them because they don't lunge, growl, or bark. They just sit there, smiling and drooly.

Which brings me to the tough part: If your dog is growling and lunging, you have a problem. It's unfair to expect your dog to have a "sketch-meter" and tell between drunken people and dramatically-frightened people. But you can use the excellent suggestions above to train her not to react to strangers. Trust me, your dog's the type that can intimidate just by sitting there.

Best of luck!
posted by kimberussell at 12:14 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


A muzzle really doesn't sound like a good idea (UNLESS suggested by an animal behaviorist or postive reinforcement-only trainer that you're working with directly and who can give you advice for using it correctly) - something like that could be pretty scary to your dog and exacerbate her fearful behavior, while simultaneously confirming in your neighbor's mind that she is A Dangerous Dog who can only be controlled with a muzzle.

I think teleri025 is right in that working on some sort of "look" or "watch me" command could help here. Train it up in your own home first, and work on it in lower-pressure situations like when the two of you are out walking together, and over time you should be able to get it reliable enough that she'll focus on you even as you're passing the neighbors who are scaring her.

However. I'd only suggest this as something to try IN ADDITION TO reaching out to a dog behaviorist or a trainer who uses only positive reinforcement techniques, and who can help you work on your dog's fearful reactions. It's not fair, but pit bulls evoke hostility in some folks, and you want to be sure that you're doing everything you can to help keep your dog safe by helping her feel more comfortable (and therefore less likely to behave in a way that alarms your neighbors or other passersby).

Finally, I think we're all being cheated of adorable dog pictures here, OP ...
posted by DingoMutt at 12:15 PM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


You aren't going to be able to make someone with a dog phobia feel better about it, just by going over and telling them your dog is nice. That's not how phobias work, but I'm sure you are aware of that. Also, there is no particular reason for your neighbor to believe you, because you don't meet a lot of people who say, "Sorry about my dog, she's a killing machine", even if their dog is aggressive or temperamental.

Speaking as someone who has been through therapy to deal with a sudden onset fear of animals (due to a traumatic incident): IN GENERAL, if your dog is well-behaved, then your neighbors are the ones who are going to have to deal with their fear of your dog. Your responsibility is to make sure your dog doesn't ever come in physical contact with them (jesus god, I cannot handle it when people think it's cute to let their pets trample me, I am not ready for that shit yet). However, your pup appears to have some serious behavior issues. I would not have been able to handle it if a dog had acted toward me, the way it did toward your neighbor. I think that nonphobic people would have been taken aback, as well. She needs some serious intervention.

You aren't doing anything untoward by walking your dog. I can handle people walking their dogs just fine. But your dog is doing things that are objectively scary, and you want her to -- like you want her to growl at scary guys. She doesn't need to do that to be effective as a deterrant. I had a friend with God's own angelic pit bull, and walking her virtuous ass down the street was all it took to make people keep their distance. The fact she was a pit bull was enough, she didn't have to be aggressive or growly. (Good thing too, because she was a big butterball of love and would have been truly flummoxed if she had had to defend us.)

I feel for your pup, she's had a hard time. Hope this situation improves for you both.
posted by Coatlicue at 12:15 PM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Definitely teach your dog "look" or "touch" or some other "pay attention to me and not the scared guy" command, and make sure you carry treats when you're out to reinforce the training. Bonus: dog learns that when scared guy comes by, she gets to do a trick and get a treat. Also work on how you're reacting to scared guy, and what signals your dog is picking up from you.

I would talk to the neighbors, but maybe don't get your hopes up about them coming to love your dog. People who are scared of dogs are scared of dogs, and they don't really have an obligation to get to know how your dog is a sweet girl who's just a little shy. That's okay. But what you need to focus on is how to make this work out for both parties. Maybe that means one of you or the other steps into a doorway, or goes back to the elevator bank. Maybe it'll be okay if they can just see that you have a good grip on the leash/collar/harness, or that the dog is sitting and looking at you when they walk past.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2013


Yes, it's your responsibility to make everyone else safe and comfortable.

Safe? Absolutely. "Comfortable," however, is not something the OP can in any way guarantee. Absolutely try to make the neighbors comfortable, OP, but some people just are plain scared shitless of dogs, regardless of the size, breed or disposition, and neither you nor the dog can change that.

Also, a muzzle is almost certainly going to make things worse, as far as your dog's comfort level is concerned.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I’m sensitive to other people’s phobias, and I’m a reasonable person,

Here's the thing: it is not reasonable to re-arrange your life around people with dog-phobias who voluntarily live in a building where dogs are allowed. It is reasonable to expect that you will ensure your neighbors' safety. Beyond that-- well, dogs are extremely common. It is reasonable to expect that you will encounter dogs on a day to day basis. If your neighbors had a phobia of red shirts, would you feel obligated, as a reasonable person, never to wear red for fear of making them uncomfortable if you ran into each other in your building? Obviously not.
posted by deanc at 12:24 PM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pit Bulls are natural guarders....this dog is (in her eyes) keeping her owner safe. They will growl and guard what they see as theirs.....makes them a good breed for protection. I do believe the OP has a responsibility to be sure the dog is trained properly and kept on leash....maybe even to reach out to the neighbors, try and make them get to know each other....to an extent.... but a dude who runs screaming down a hall, away from a leashed animal???...... huh. There may not be much you can do.... I think you sound very responsible and aware of taking care of your pet. Keep it up.
posted by pearlybob at 12:25 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


but a dude who runs screaming down a hall, away from a leashed animal???.

Men, too, are allowed to have debilitating animal phobias.
posted by Coatlicue at 12:28 PM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have to side with those that are telling you that your pup's behavior is not "normal", but would rephrase that as not "acceptable". The statement upstream about "what if you had dropped the leash" is the question you need to ask.

You have a responsibility to train your pup to not respond to people by growling and lunging, no matter WHAT they are doing. You are trying to have both a guard dog that is "reactive" and a dog over which you have no control that you can take out in public.
posted by HuronBob at 12:28 PM on February 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


Let me add that my wife's step mother is dog phobic, I absolutely know that there is nothing I can say or do to change this. She doesn't come to our house unless the dog is visiting someplace else. Talking to your neighbors to convince them it is "OK" is not appropriate.
posted by HuronBob at 12:30 PM on February 5, 2013



but a dude who runs screaming down a hall, away from a leashed animal???.

Men, too, are allowed to have debilitating animal phobias.



Absolutely.... but that seems like an extreme reaction, and one that wouldn't help foster a relationship with the animal. (I'm a dog person). The OP had the dog under control.... It seems like said neighbor may have over reacted....no judgement about his sex or gender. The OP has a right to her animal, she is controlling it. The neighbor needs to be OK with that.
posted by pearlybob at 12:34 PM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Men, too, are allowed to have debilitating animal phobias.

Of course they are. That is why we have pet-free buildings. People are allowed to have animal phobias, but they can't expect pet owners in a shared space to re-arrange their lives for the phobic.

You have to train your dog to pay attention to you rather than the fearful people the dog encounters. They have to accept that society values pet ownership over their eccentric phobias, and they need to find a way to rearrange their lives to accommodate the reality of everyone else's pets.

And I don't even own a pet, nor am I a "pet person."
posted by deanc at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a dog person, and if any dog growled at me or my kid while in tight quarters, and then tried to run after us, I'd give it the stink eye too. Agree with others that you have some more training to do.

As for the neighbors... they're just not going to be comfortable around you, and that's their problem. What you can and should do is make sure your dog's behavior is above reproach, and hope that they'll eventually relax. If I were your neighbor, I'd be documenting this incident and looking for patterns. Don't give them ammunition.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If a dog growled at me and then lunged when I ran away, I certainly would not in any way feel that its owner was "controlling it". One dropped leash away from being attacked by a dog is not controlling said dog. And I like dogs.

You need to train your dog to not do this. No growling. Certainly no RUNNING AFTER PEOPLE. Get thee to a trainer.
posted by lydhre at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


As you are the owner of an aggressive dog whose breed composition is popularly associated with aggressive behavior (whether or not statistics back up that association), yes--the onus is on you to make sure that your dog is well-trained and well-behaved at all times. Even if one of your neighbors makes eye contact with it. Shifting the responsibility for this incident onto your neighbor is inappropriate. It would be reasonable to apologize to your neighbor for your dog's aggressive behavior, and to ask how you could make him comfortable in the future. It would also be reasonable to seek some help for your dog's behavior issues ASAP.
posted by anonnymoose at 12:41 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pit Bulls are natural guarders....this dog is (in her eyes) keeping her owner safe. They will growl and guard what they see as theirs.....makes them a good breed for protection.

This is false. A true-to-breed pit bull actually makes a terrible guard dog because they tend to have no loyalty for their owners whatsoever and are just happy and excited to be around people. Pit bulls have been bred to adore people to such an extent that even an intruder in your house is likely to just get his face licked. Of course that doesn't apply to dogs who have been raised to be vicious, and dogs like the one described in the question above, and pit bulls and their mixes can be rather difficult as far as dog ownership goes.

The OP's dogs clearly has issues with certain kinds of people (has it always been men that she growled at? that's a hint – maybe she was abused by a man before she was rescued and cannot control her fear around some of them; either way you'll most likely never know for sure why she is the way she is). The way dogs typically deal with fear is acting out aggressively. It's not a matter of being a guard dog at all.

I adore my pit bull and dogs in general, and would still be terrified and screaming at the top of my lungs if another dog growled and lunged at me (and yes, I have, and it took me a full day to truly calm down afterwards and I still react very poorly to seeing certain dogs). Not only that but I'd report the incident to building management and perhaps even animal control so it goes on the record (and yes, as a proponent of responsible dog ownership I have done that in the past as well).
posted by halogen at 12:45 PM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


[Folks, this really, really needs to not turn into an extended side-argument about Pit Bulls: Pro Or Con. Please focus on the asker's specific situation.]
posted by cortex at 12:49 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't let your dog fixate. If you see the neighbor frozen in fear or doing something weird, just tap your dog, on the hind quarters, and say, "Come on sweetie, it's okay." She'll pick up that it's okay, and that will be that.

I want to reiterate what Ruthless Bunny said. I have a Presa Canario, which looks like a pitbull on steroids. He's friendly and has never growled at anyone but I know some people are automatically afraid of him when they see him. If I see people reacting nervously, I make sure his attention is focused on me and not them. Dogs pick up your body language. You should watch a few episodes of The Dog Whisperer. Regardless of what many people think of him, I think he is spot on when talking about the energy the people give off to their dogs and the importance of redirecting.

High value treats are also good redirects. My dog loves squeaky toys. Consider working with a trainer. It was expensive for me but worth every penny. I have a giant, powerful dog and I care about the people and pets in my community. I didn't want a dog that is likely to harm someone so I've worked very hard to socialize him and make sure he is obedient. He is not perfect but he is a well behaved dog. Consider participating in the Canine Good Citizen program and teach your dog how to behave.

I lived in a high rise in San Francisco and my dog and I were on the elevator A LOT, at least three round trips a day. Some people would not get on if we were on. I was fine with that. And some would get off if we got on. I was fine with that too. But I didn't get on crowded elevators. He's too big. I didn't try to make people comfortable with him but I was always courteous. No sniffing the butt of the person standing in front of him; no rubbing against people going to work and getting dog hair on them. Absolutely no jumping on anyone ever.

I did move out of the way first in narrow hallways. I did sometimes put him in a sit and let others go by comfortably, nobody with a kid in a stroller wants my dog sniffing him/her. And when necessary we walked purposefully to where we were going and I didn't slow down or allow distractions. I lived next to a music venue that would have people lined up for events, which was between my apartment and the park. Occasionally, I would get the dramatic yelpers, "oh my God, oh my God, look a that huge dog", I didn't slow down or bat an eye. My dog didn't pay them any attention and they're left looking a bit ridiculous as we quickly pass, minding our own business.
posted by shoesietart at 12:54 PM on February 5, 2013


There's a fair bit of good advice above. Teleri025 has it right -- train your dog to focus on you and give her an action to do -- a sit, a down, a bridge -- when people approach. Do not allow her to make sustained eye contact with people who stare at her. Do NOT encourage her in any way whatsoever to continue acting protective toward you when there are "sketchy" people around. Her presence is plenty deterrence enough without reinforcing that behavior, and dogs generalize -- do not ever expect your dog to be able to tell the difference between neighbor and drunk stranger.

Owning large dogs myself, I am very aware that we make some dog-fearful people uncomfortable just by being. But I see the relief in those people when my dogs turn away from them and toward me and politely sit, totally focused on me. Train, carry excellent treats and if you need more support, a good trainer can make a world of difference.
posted by vers at 12:55 PM on February 5, 2013


My dog is like your dog and looks like a pit, so she gets a lot of the same freaked out reactions. She has growled at people with sketch body language.

I treated this as an emergency and got her to an animal trainer, because growling is a strong warning sign and NEVER an acceptable dog behavior. She is much better now, and I'm glad I did the training.
posted by zug at 12:59 PM on February 5, 2013


Hmm, certainly a lot of food for thought here. I see what some of you are saying about it being inconsistent for the dog that it's okay to growl at a sketchy person on the street, but not at someone with fearful body language. I don't intend to encourage her to growl at people on the street, but I guess she is being encouraged by my not correcting her. I definitely "get" that there's an issue with that, now. Total eye opener. I'm thinking about how I might react to this particular situation in the future, and I think it might be very difficult for me to correct her in times like these when I'm being aggressed. How should I go about correcting this behaviour if I myself am scared? And since she is probably feeding off of my own energy, I'm wondering how realistic it is for me to not be afraid in these situations and not pass off this negative energy to her. By the way, I did not adopt her because I wanted a guard dog or because she was a pit bull mix. This is just something I observed once we'd spent time together.

I wasn't shifting the responsibility to my neighbour, I'm sorry if I came across that way. I meant to just point out that I realize that the trigger for the inappropriate behaviour is the fearful body language and eye contact, and I perhaps worded this wrong in my original post, but he made very intense challenging eye contact with her, followed by a very sudden and abrupt motion towards the wall, which is when she growled, and then he screamed very loudly and sharply and took off, which didn't set well with her either. I'm not saying it's his responsibility to not act this way, I'm just saying that this was the trigger. I don't believe this is an "okay" behaviour, but I just want to make it clear that she didn't react this way to some random guy calmly walking by. There was a definite, and rare trigger.

So yes, my dog needs training in coping with this particular trigger and as I mentioned in my original post, "I’m thinking that it would be a good thing if I could somehow do something to minimize the way my dog reacts to people who are afraid, but I’m not sure how to do that because people who are afraid of dogs aren’t exactly going to volunteer to be part of this teaching moment. "

I just don't know how to recreate this situation so that I can try to help her chill out a bit when she encounters it. I have not actually tried it yet, but I'm assuming, based on how I've observed her behaving over the past four years with most people we encounter, and with people we know, I can't imagine her reacting the same way in a simulation of the other person isn't legitimately giving off fear vibes. I'll give it a try tonight to see what happens.

Perhaps a trainer is indeed the way to go.
posted by ohmy at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2013


How should I go about correcting this behaviour if I myself am scared?

This is definitely a situation where you want to get a trainer simply because the good answers to this question require someone to see the behavioral dynamic between you and your dog (which we cannot.) Your vet should have a recommendation.

Anyway, you're dealing with a person who has absolutely no idea how to behave around a dog -- the combination of quick darting motions, direct eye contact and yelling will make just about any dog nervous -- and, whatever, some people do not and you can't train them. Your best bet is to avoid the hell out of your neighbor. Not just for their comfort, but to keep your dog away from a person who shouldn't be around dogs. It's a shitty situation certainly, but it's best for the both of them to not encounter one another if you can help it.
posted by griphus at 1:23 PM on February 5, 2013


IANYL. TINLA. Please research what the laws are in your jurisdiction governing vicious animal behavior and the liabilities that are associated. In a few jurisdictions in the U.S., pets get what is colloquially called "one free bite," meaning they're assumed to be not dangerous until they bite someone, and after that they're considered dangerous and the owner's responsibilities (and liability for negligence) vastly increase.

But in many U.S. jurisdictions, dogs do not get one free bite. They're considered dangerous animals, period, and the same liabilities accrue to a dog owner as would accrue to a leopard owner. This is due to the extraordinarily high number of dogs perceived of as docile, loving, friendly, who then went on to seriously injure someone.

Your legal responsibilities will depend on your jurisdiction, but regardless of the one-free-bite rule, your dog has growled and lunged at a neighbor, and thus your dog will almost certainly be considered by the courts to be dangerous.

Blaming the victim is not likely to be a legal defense, particularly if that blame constitutes "he looked at my dog in a way that provoked him." It would take something more like "he repeatedly lunged at me and my dog with a big stick," and even then it's unlikely to fly. This is simply the law, fair or not.

When you throw in the fact that it's a pit-bull hybrid, you're in even stickier territory, because some jurisdictions specifically call out those dogs (and other breeds) as being dangerous and requiring different actions by their owners under the law.

Finally, several people have stated that the neighbors are somewhat to blame for living in an apartment building that allows dogs. Actually, if I were their lawyer, I'd consider a suit against the landlord for failure to warn them of a dangerous condition in their building, and if they sued and I were the landlord's lawyer, I'd consider joining you in the suit to indemnify the landlord for having introduced a dangerous condition, even if you disclosed the breed to the landlord. This could be very messy and expensive.

I don't mean that it will or should go that route. I'm a lawyer, so this is the way I see things. I'm just suggesting that you should determine your legal liability here, and act accordingly.

Your profile says your location is Lalaland, which I assume refers to L.A. California is particularly touchy about dog attacks in apartment buildings by breeds known to be dangerous. In my personal opinion, you should tread very carefully. I strongly recommend speaking to an attorney who specializes in personal injury lawsuits (i.e. the kind who would represent your neighbors, because that's the one who'll see all the ways you could be held liable).

(Regarding the assertion that pit bulls are known to be dangerous, I believe, but am not sure, that the facts are that they attack quite rarely, but that when they do they have a seriously high incidence of causing fatal injuries due to their jaw structure, strength, and size. This is the source of the general public fear. Whereas chihuahuas bite far more often, they kill or maim almost never. The same cannot be said for pit bulls. For this reason, certain jurisdictions treat pit bills differently.)
posted by Capri at 1:26 PM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would say perhaps isn't the word. I'd say definitely a trainer is the way to go.
posted by taff at 1:27 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just don't know how to recreate this situation so that I can try to help her chill out a bit when she encounters it. I have not actually tried it yet, but I'm assuming, based on how I've observed her behaving over the past four years with most people we encounter, and with people we know, I can't imagine her reacting the same way in a simulation of the other person isn't legitimately giving off fear vibes.

The nice thing about the suggestion above to train her to focus on you on command is that it doesn't have to be trained only when she's scared. You can work on training her to sit, look at you, and focus exclusively on your face anytime she's aroused--whether that's excitement or fear. I trained my dog to focus on me by starting to insist she sit and look at me until released even though her dinner bowl was RIGHT THERE FOR THE EATING. For her, that's a very aroused state--she's hungry and excited! We also do this before taking her out on her morning run, which is another thing she gets excited about. We were able to pretty successfully transition that over to sitting and focusing on me when I saw the mailman or FedEx guy come up the front walk, which has in the past been a trigger for her to explode with barking through the window. It's actually been pretty amazing to see that if I catch her *before* she gets herself worked up and instead make her sit and stay (feeding her high-value treats every 15 seconds or so if it's a very hard situation for her to hold), she doesn't bark at all and instead focuses on me with crazy laser-like intent.

That said, trainers--like therapists for people!--are never a bad way to go if you want to change behavior but aren't sure of the mechanics for how to get from Point A to Point B.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:27 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


We started our "look" training with no distractions, just me and the dog. Then we did it with my husband bouncing up and down and waving a toy about, and me telling her to sit and look with the treat. It took a good long while to work, but when it did it really sunk in. It's still a little dodgy with squirrels, but she gets better every time.

As to the wanting her to protect you, the look and being calm around people should undermine that. You're telling her in this situation, the one where I've told you to sit and look, you shouldn't stress about that freaky thing. However, when someone is being threatening or there is something she needs to stress about, you don't say sit/look and she is allowed to respond her way.

You can have a dog that is protective and well-trained, as long as there are clear rules about when to be protective and when people are okay. A trainer can go a long way with this, but this is something you can start working on by yourself. Our girl is a pit mix and can look intimidating, but in the four years I've been around she's gotten so much better on the leash that you can't imagine. We still cross the street when we see another dog approaching, because it's better to not beg for failure.
posted by teleri025 at 1:33 PM on February 5, 2013


Get the dog to sit or look at you when ever the fearful people are around. Keep the dogs attention on you. A simple Look at Me command is great for this and easy to teach. Also walking confidently past the people with a sharp "leave it" or "lets go" command could work too. It would help your neighbours feel like you had control of the dog, which should help their nervousness. Maybe go and visit and explain the situation and ask them what would make them feel the most comfortable when you meet in the hall would probably save a lot of tension on their part, but also on your part which in turn will help your dog to relax. The fact your idiot neighbour innocently did every single thing they could to make the dog react unfortunately doesn't help at all but not everyone is a dog person but hopefully some sort of compromise can be reached.
posted by wwax at 1:37 PM on February 5, 2013


Training is an excellent idea.

If you google Pit Bull Training Los Angeles, you'll get a Van Nuys Responsible Pit Bull Owners meet up and they offer training. You might want to check that out.

Pit Bulls can be lovely dogs, but you must be vigilent. They have an intense prey drive and need an assertive owner.

As for being afraid, don't take your dog places where you don't feel safe. Even if you have to fake it, do it, you are the leader, your dog is a member of your pack, (yes, I love the Dog Whisperer!) Would you act scared in front of your child? It's the exact same thing.

Also, portraying yourself as someone who is strong and confident is an excellent way to keep sketchoids at bay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hi there!

I'm someone who is nervous around some dogs.

My co-worker has a dog who she brings to our shared office space. (boxer)

What really helped me make this work for us was she trained me in what to do with the dog, and also told me the details about what training the dog has had. I now have a good relationship with the dog and kind of like having her around She does what I need her to do because my colleague taught me how to do it properly. I am also able to help other people who arrive and seem nervous by taking control of the situation.

Pit bulls are scary to lots of people, including me. I don't know whether the owners are good at training their dog, or managing it's behaviour.

If my neighbours had a pit bull, I would appreciate a visit (sans dog) with an offer to talk about it.

"I notice you are nervous around my dog. A lot of people are, I understand that. I thought I should check in with you and let you know what I am doing to make sure you are safe, and also let you know what works and doesn't work around my dog so you are confident around her." This would be useful, and it would also show me you are a responsible owner and that alone would improve my ability to cope.

I would want to know what behaviours I should use to avoid triggering the dog (i.e. no eye contact, move calmly). I would like to be able to tell you I am scared, and to tell you if I don't know how to relax in front of your dog. I would like to hear what you will do if I cannot relax or cannot do what I should because I am too scared to move, etc.

i.e. if neighbour says "I'm afraid I won't be able to relax around your dog and she will get angry at me" you could say "Ok, when I see you, I will hold the dog close on the leash, and stop. I'll putt myself between her and you, and calm her down. I will tell you when she is calm so you can pass us safely." I want to know that actual behaviours, not reassurances about "it will be fine".

Even better, a plan to work up to the dog trusting them, and them knowing how to manage the dog, is the best.

I know boxers aren't the same in people's imaginations (or in behaviour?) but going through this with my co-worker has been a good experience. I now enjoy having the dog around, and am glad she is there because I see she makes the work life of my co-worker happier.

Your neighbours may never feel better around pit bulls, but they may feel a lot better around other dogs, or their house, or more comfortable with you.
posted by chapps at 2:05 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this is an important detail, perhaps it is, but I think it might be partly a cultural issue. I'm trying not to make any grossly ignorant assumptions here, but I have a feeling they are from a culture that does not keep dogs as pets for whatever reason.
posted by ohmy at 2:19 PM on February 5, 2013


Check your Me-mail.
posted by whowearsthepants at 2:43 PM on February 5, 2013


I really think the point is that you can't control your neighbors' behavior, or any strangers' behavior, so you need to train your dog. For neighborly relations sake, you can attempt to talk with them (lots of good suggestions above), but you are always going to encounter unpredictable behavior in public and you need to have your dog learn to not react. The reasons for said unpredictable behavior in people don't matter, really.
posted by JenMarie at 2:44 PM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


ohmy - I just bought the recommended BAT book, I want to do some more working on my own dog with it. I'll let you know if it looks like it's worth purchasing. The kindle version was $7 on amazon, so we aren't talking big money.
posted by zug at 2:52 PM on February 5, 2013


Why would your neighbors' culture matter? The guy is totally freaked out by your dog! Period. If you won't go to talk to your neighbors, and if you're reluctant to train your dog not to have reactive responses to human body language, then I guess the very least you could do would be to turn around and move very quickly away from the neighbor to a place where he won't have to pass your dog.

And I feel your pain, I do, because my current foster is a dog-reactive bully mix. When I'm out walking him, I regularly turn around and walk away from anyone else walking a dog. I do this just to avoid a huge scene with my dog barking and lunging, but I also just bought the BAT book which includes walking away from triggers as a reward for the dog.

There is a huge amount of free dog training tips and videos on the internet. I'm working with my foster on "look" and "touch" (my hand with his nose) right now in hopes we can expand this to him having options for interacting with me when he seems a trigger.

Since you feel your dog's reactivity protects you on the street, an interesting idea might be to train her to bark on a cue from you.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:52 PM on February 5, 2013


Talk to the neighbor. Apologize, explain about the dog's nervousness and detail what training you're giving her to help her out. Explain about how direct, staring type eye contact with any dog is not good. Ask him to speak and say hello dog, everything's cool.

Perhaps you can reassure him that when you meet in the hallway, from now on you will either turn around and keep your dog as far away from him as possible, or maybe you can sit down with the dog, with your back against the wall, and hold the dog with both hands on the collar. Talk to her and get her full attention while you love on her.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:28 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a very large chocolate Lab. She's a complete teddy bear, but her size is very intimidating and we constantly encounter people who are afraid of her. She's a BIG girl. Talking and explaining to these people that she's harmless absolutely does not work. But she is very well trained, and whenever we have an encounter like this I turn her back to the approaching people, make her sit, stay, and focus on me until the person or dog passes. It works great for us, and really gives the other parties much more assurance that your dog is ok than just saying so.
posted by raisingsand at 3:58 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking about how I might react to this particular situation in the future, and I think it might be very difficult for me to correct her in times like these when I'm being aggressed. How should I go about correcting this behaviour if I myself am scared? And since she is probably feeding off of my own energy, I'm wondering how realistic it is for me to not be afraid in these situations and not pass off this negative energy to her.

The trick here is to make yourself not scared. Sounds impossible, right? But I had to both train my dogs to not be reactive after they were attacked, and train myself to not be afraid walking them. It took doing, since we were all quite shellshocked. But for my dogs to feel confident, I had to be confident. Your dog will be much more peaceful if she knows you're both in control of situations and protecting her if ever you need to. She will follow your lead, as long as you lead.

A good read on body language that we use unconsciously, but can use with intention, with canines is Patricia McConnell's book The Other End of the Leash. Worth its weight in gold.

Oh, and wwax was correct -- if you're training to proof against distractions, start with no or little distraction and build on success. If you're wanting your dog's attention when there is a person approaching, start the training with a lower threat person at a much greater distance. Don't start by trying to recreate the same situation that set your dog off even if you can.
posted by vers at 4:22 PM on February 5, 2013


One easy trick is to carry high value treats (hot dog pieces, cheese) on your walks and just give your dog a treat every time you see a stranger. This should associate strangers with good stuff in her mind. Definitely absolutely do it with the neighbors. Make sure you don't give her the treat in response to the reaction or she'll think she is getting the treat for growling and lunging - rather hand her the treat just as you see the person before there is reaction.

Also seconding the other commands you need to teach her "look", "touch", etc. Clicker training is very quick and you'll be surprised how effective it will be.

If you see your neighbor again and he is making intense eye contact with her just physically get between them and break the eye contact. As you know, dogs view eye contact like that as a threat and it sounds like he was doing everything possible wrong. Just get her attention away from it any way you can, don't passively let it happen.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:29 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but I think your title is kind of misleading.

He glued himself up against the wall, and I held her on a short leash as we walked past, but then he kind of jumped and she reacted by growling suddenly, at which point he literally screamed at the top of his lungs and took off running down the rest of the hallway. Of course, when he started running, she kind of set off after him, but couldn't chase after him because of course, she was on-leash.

Your dog is not 'afraid of people who are afraid of dogs', your dog gets overexcited and/or aggressive around people who are afraid of dogs. From the title, I was expecting you to say that she reacted by cringeing against your legs and whimpering for the next hour.

Look, I adore dogs. I'm that person who will try to stop you and ask permission to pat your dog and want to know its breed and its name and try to find the sweet spot behind its ears. Your dog can kick sand all over me at the beach, and I'll probably just laugh. Dogs, the world's a better place for having them in it.

BUT: I would be freaking scared of a growling pitbull. I don't care whether they are or are not inherently sweet dogs who are no more naturally vicious than other dogs, yadda yadda. Like most people who do not have time to extensively research the nuances of different breeds of dogs, I only know that because of what I've seen reported, I'm WAY more scared of a pitbull getting hold of me, than of a chihuaha or a daschund. Whether this situation is right or wrong, fair or unfair to a pittie and its owner, is a side issue from your point of view. Neighbours are scared, they're going to keep being scared if the dog keeps exhibiting these behaviours.

Please, get thee to a trainer. All the best to you and your dog, and bless you for rescuing.
posted by Salamander at 8:02 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I see what some of you are saying about it being inconsistent for the dog that it's okay to growl at a sketchy person on the street, but not at someone with fearful body language. I don't intend to encourage her to growl at people on the street, but I guess she is being encouraged by my not correcting her. I definitely "get" that there's an issue with that, now. Total eye opener. I'm thinking about how I might react to this particular situation in the future, and I think it might be very difficult for me to correct her in times like these when I'm being aggressed. How should I go about correcting this behaviour if I myself am scared? And since she is probably feeding off of my own energy, I'm wondering how realistic it is for me to not be afraid in these situations and not pass off this negative energy to her.

Your dog should exhibit aggressive behavior only on your specific command, not just when she senses that you're nervous or that something weird is going on. She should be under your control. Currently she's not.

It sounds like you don't really want to take responsibility for your dog, but expect her to be taking care of you and to know on her own when it's okay to growl and snarl and people and when its not. That's not how it works. Having a dog that snarls and growls and scares people is essentially like having a weapon. I see that you appreciate the protection that affords you, but you also need to control the weapon. Anything less is very unfair to other people and dogs in the vicinity.
posted by alms at 8:25 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Absolutely.... but that seems like an extreme reaction, and one that wouldn't help foster a relationship with the animal.

Of course he had an extreme reaction - that's part of what a phobia is. (assuming the man was phobic).

Here is something that dog owners have trouble understanding about some of us: we are not fond of your dog, so we are not interested in "fostering a relationship" with your dog. We don't want your dog bursting out your front door and chasing us while on a morning walk while you explain that "he just wants to play". We certainly don't want your dog roaming the neighborhood and coming to growl and snap at our three-year-old daughters. (this incident made me instantly stop caring about "humane" pepper spray for dogs) What we want is for you to make sure that your dog will never hurt us.

To this point, OP, you seem to want your dog to "feed off your energy" and psychically understand how you want it to behave. That is not going to happen. As others have said, you need to take responsibility for your dog and its behavior by taking an active role in modifying it with a trainer. If having your pit bull mix growling at people is a behavior you find desirable (it must be, since you have never corrected it), you need to learn how to make your dog growl only at your command or not at all. Train it *never* to chase anyone.

FWIW, while I would not have reacted as your neighbor did, I certainly would have been watching your dog like a hawk as you approached. The reason is because I have had too many experiences with bad dog owners who couldn't control their animals.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:55 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Knock on the door or leave a note saying "My dog and I ran into you this morning, and I'm afraid we all wrong-footed each other - she is a nice, safe dog but a little nervous. I would love to take a few minutes to meet you and talk about how we can all feel good about living next to each other.

I'm no expert on dog trainers, but I enthusiastically second this. There's probably nothing you could have said in that particular moment that would even have truly registered, let alone soothed his fears. Your neighbor, you, and your dog were in a narrow space with ALL of you giving off defensive, nervous body language. It's really, really easy to misinterpret this in other people out of frustration, e.g. while you were trying to keep your dog in close check and were watching him with concern, maybe what he saw was you stiffly glaring at him or something.

> Yesterday, when we were coming back from our morning walk, I turned into the hallway from the elevators and saw one of my new neighbours leaving his apartment and walking towards the elevators. I was already halfway down the hallway, and I knew that if he just ignored the dog as he walked past, she would ignore him, too... the way she ignores most every one we cross when we're out (unless they stop to pet her, or they have a dog too). So I kept walking.

This is hopefully so very easy to fix with a little prior communication. Let him know that him ignoring the dog will make him pretty much invisible in your experience, but that you are doing more training because the growling isn't cool and your neighbor isn't crazy for being nervous about it. Let him know what time you're coming back with the dog so that he can just avoid if possible. Maybe work out some traffic signals, so to speak. "You stay there, I'lll go." "I'll turn around and back up so you can go." "You go, I'll wait for you to get past."
posted by desuetude at 11:09 PM on February 5, 2013


Yes, you should be protecting your dog rather than the other way around, and you need to make it clear to your dog that's how it is and you are the one in control. I know that it it feels good to have a dog who is ready to protect you. I think you should give that up. My dog gets the urge to protect me too (although he has also never attacked anyone), and we once had this really scary episode where he decided to "protect" me from two police officers I was talking to, while he was in an off-leash zone. He suddenly got between them and me and his body language changed, and I had this really tense moment where everything slowed down in my brain and I realized he could get shot right in front of me, and I grabbed him to get his leash on in slow-mo. After that I realized his guarding behavior had to change ASAP.

Now I have a 35 lb ball of fluff and you have a pit bull, so unfortunately you are even more behind the 8 ball here. Don't get me wrong because I love them, but about the balance of compromise, you have to realize that behavior other dogs might get away with, and norms that other dog owners comply to, have a massively higher chance of causing your dog to pay with her life. Unfortunately you have to play by different rules.
posted by cairdeas at 12:13 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another pit bull hater chiming in from neighbour's perspective:

Your dog may be the sweetest sook on the planet, you might be the most responsible dog owner that ever lived. Unfortunately this has not been my personal experience of this bred. Out on the street I don't have all your credentials in front of me, I have to assess risk based on past experience. Unfortunately for you my past experience has only been of those irresponsible dog owners and nothing you can do to change that. Sorry.

You wont always know why people freak out about your dog, they could just as easily have been bitten by a golden retriever as a child, but please respect that even if it seems irrational and actually counter productive neighbour is just trying to stay safe.

Its not coming from you, but a lot if advice given is suggesting your neighbour needs a relationship with your dog. He so does not need this.

Just focus on the advice on continuing to be a responsible owner. Respect that even if my prejudice is unfair I am responsible for calculating risks in my life to do what I need to to feel safe.

And yeah maybe I'm a bit of an asshole for hating your dog. But I'm also an asshole for being scared of men in dark lonely streets who are 99% of the time just going about their day with no ill intent. Its so not fair but from past experience its deemed necessary. Same applies to your dog I'm afraid.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:09 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do the same as cairdeas: I encourage my dog in every way to to always assume that I'm the one in control, the one who protects her (not vice versa), and I'm the one who protects the pack. " Basically, "I've got this" is my constant message. And I do agree that you need to do all you can to rehabilitate this tendency in your pal as quickly and thoroughly as possible, for many, many reasons.

I'm especially worried that she has shown aggressive behavior at all toward any human who was not explicitly threatening, especially since she's in a setting where she's going to be exposed to many, many people who act strange, or are afraid, or stand too close, or walk up too fast, or look weird, or smell weird, etc. What if someone reaches out to grab you to say, oh hey you dropped your wallet? And of course, many of the humans who are the most afraid, and apt to act the weirdest, are children.

I'm also worried that she may view the hall as her territory, as well as perhaps the elevator, or even the whole building (or will grow to feel this way), and if she has any instinct about protecting/defending her territory, this will be a big problem. I'd be extremely concerned that while off-leash in the apartment, if you open your apartment door momentarily (to go check your mail, answer the door, whatever) and the neighbor happens to be in the hall at that moment or leaving their apartment at that moment, she may rush out and attack this person she's already shown aggression towards, who she sees as "bad juju" and who is in "her" territory / too near you. This could also happen in response to any random, startling, unexpected stranger. Please be very, very careful about this.

I don't want to catastrophize, but it's good to think through the possibilities very seriously and carefully rather than assume she wouldn't ever attack; growling is a precursor to attack, or at least a warning that it's on the books, and lunging at a human is, to me, is a pretty clear indication that she would attack, so I would definitely see a recommended specialist dog trainer to help you train her out of this behavior, and follow their advice absolutely to the letter and consistently (consistency being so very, very key in dog training).

As to how to react to the neighbor, I do think it's on you to back up and go to an area that is (or feels) safer to your neighbor. As some have mentioned above, I do many things that I know are not necessary to reassure people who are afraid of my dog for whatever reason. I will back up, or cross the street, or move to a side street, stop and hold her, or get a short grasp on the leash, put myself between them. She's a fluffy cute dog, and never aggressive toward people in the slightest, but some people are still very frightened, and I do feel like it's on me to ease that in every way I can.
posted by taz at 2:10 AM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


With regards to your neighbour, were I in his shoes, I would appreciate a written note apologizing, admitting that the way the dog reacted was inappropriate and outlining exactly what you are doing to ensure--guarantee--that it won't happen again. I would not want to talk to you in person, I would certainly not want to buddy up to your dog, and anything less than a very specific plan of action on your part would ring hollow to me. Any advice from you about how I should act to make your dog feel more safe would fan whatever flames of anger I already had burning towards you. As others have said above, I would also document the incident, or, depending on how frightening it was, have already contacted building management.
posted by looli at 9:21 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree with everything looli just said.
posted by Jairus at 10:27 AM on February 6, 2013


While I think looli is probably totally right about what your neighbor would appreciate vs. what would rub them the wrong way -- I do not think you should admit, in writing, to your dog having done anything inappropriate. Even if your dog never ever does anything violent, if someone goes on a campaign to get your dog taken and destroyed (which happens), and claims your dog has been violent, the benefit of the doubt is not going to be with your dog as a pit bull. A letter like that in existence is not going to help.
posted by cairdeas at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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