I am walking with someone ahead of me on a path through an open area towards woods. Suddenly Benji and a black dog are charging full speed to the left through the field, towards a small yard where several children are playing. The children jump up on a small table for safety. But only the black dog is there. Behind them to the right is a fence, with Benji on the far side of it. (The side the dogs approached is open, but hey, this is a dream.)
I yell to Benji, and he runs back towards the right. Just at the point he has cleared the fence, and I think he is about to turn toward me, a large white horse appears, running beside him, between us. The horse abruptly drops to the ground on its left side. I think it must have landed on Benji, but then see him, also on his side or back on the ground. I don’t know what they do next, sniffing or rolling around, but they are completely preoccupied with one another.
I took the dogs to the country for horse-desensitizing on Monday, three days ago. I got talking with our neighbor Mariana. Mariana is a veterinarian, and boards dogs there. I told her how Benji had attacked Mocha suddenly that morning, a few feet from my desk chair. I worried what might have happened had I not been right there at the time. I did not see what led up to it, but they had been doing their usual rough play before. I have heard a couple of little shrieks from Mocha recently. This time it was sustained terror shrieking. Benji showed no sign of letting up.
Tuesday morning we took all three – including our Shih Tzu Bandido – to the country. They had a great time running around (Bandido is a hoot to see running full-bore in foot-high grass). Mariana saw my wife, so walked over to chat; it’s been a while. Bandido early on escaped his harness, and when Mariana came to the gate he found a way to get out through the side where there’s no dog fencing. No big deal. Mariana handed him back, we put him on the grass. All the dogs had been running like crazy and now settled down near us. I went to the car to get Bandido’s halter. I asked Mariana to adjust it tighter, than crouched down to put it on Bandido.
And Benji attacked Bandido viciously. Benji missed the neck, but was starting to shake Bandido like a rabbit. (Bandido has a puncture on his leg, one stitch; he’ll be OK.) Benji had a harness, so I could grab him easily. I’m 6’3″, 195 pounds, and pretty strong for 64 years. I could immediately restrain a strong 70 pound dog. My wife or Mariana – five months pregnant and outside the gate – would have been helpless. Had I been even ten feet away I doubt Bandido would have survived.
Since this happened right in front of her, Mariana saw that there was no provocation and no warning. She asked me if this was typical. I said yes, there’s never any warning. When he meets other dogs he sniffs like a regular dog for a few seconds but then attacks without warning: no growl, no hackles. It’s been getting worse over time; I no longer dared let him off leash around other dogs.
I said that in the US, by now we would probably have had him put down, but vets here won’t put down a healthy dog.
She – Uruguayan vet – said she would do it. She said this is a dangerous dog. We arranged for that afternoon.
I had to wait a few minutes for Mariana, and a neighbor I haven’t met stopped by on his motorcycle. Country Uruguayans speak very garbled Spanish. He was saying something about a dog. I explained what we were doing. He kept saying what a beautiful dog, and wondering if someone he knew might take it. Mariana arrived, talked with him, and said absolutely no. Dangerous dog. A shame, but a dangerous dog.
It’s done. He went peacefully and quickly with my hands on him. Mocha was there.
The quiet yesterday in the house felt sad. Today it feels more like peace. A background anxiety has been building in me for months because of Benji. It is now beginning to fade.
Benji was getting better on walks, much calmer. I wish I’d known about theonlinedogtrainer.com when we got him at 7-8 months. But at that age I walked with him off leash, and he played with other dogs he met on the beach. He was under four years old.
For a couple years I’ve walked with Syd and his dogs in a large piece of undeveloped land near his house in Villa Argentina. I’ve blogged many times about our finds there. (Tag: dog walk.)
We’ve stopped now. Benji’s aggression toward other dogs has been getting progressively worse. After a hiatus because of Mocha’s broken leg, we resumed walking together, and Benji attacked Jordan, Syd’s only male dog, three days in a row, despite our changing walking and meeting/sniffing protocol (latter for the dogs only, just to be clear here).
At this point I don’t dare let Benji off-leash around any dog but Mocha. So I’ve been taking them to our Uruguay “mini-farm” every couple days, where I can walk the property and they can run around like beheaded chickens. It’s about 1.2 km — 3/4 mile for me, only half the Villa Argentina walk, but the dogs make up for it by chasing imaginary rabbits.
About Villa Argentina: though usually we have had the place to ourselves, you can imagine that those sandy trails appeal to horseback riders, motorcyclists, and four-wheeler enthusiasts, all of whom Benji likes to chase. And in fact, during one of our recent visits to the campo, neighbor’s horses were grazing near the house adjacent to the dog-fenced area (thanks to Burkhard the Model A-and-now-T guy). Benji went batshit crazy. I tried to restrain him with force and yelling, to absolutely no avail.
So today we arrive, ready to walk out of the dog-fenced area, and I see five horses between us and the stream that runs through the middle of the property — the stream we need to cross to go to the back of the property. From the start, I’ve allowed the neighbor access for his cows (I can pretend I’m rich when I arrive and see “my” cattle). But today it’s a gift: a dog training opportunity! I tie Benji to the fence, go back to the car, get the key to the barn, retrieve a 20-foot piece of rope, attach it to the leash, and head toward the horses. Mocha runs over and says hello to the horses; he’s no problem. But Benji….
As we head in, the horses start to head toward us, because I’m being deliberately as calm as possible — don’t think I’ve had horses walk towards me before! I ask them not to come too close: don’t want to push it. Benji is calm, occasionally looking to me for guidance. When the closest is about 5 meters away, I turn my back to it (signaling “no threat/no interest” to Benji), and crouch down to investigate a fallen leaf that is suddenly fascinating. We continue toward the stream, horses following. Across the stream, before the horses have crossed, I drop the lead and let Benji run ahead, dragging it behind him. Halfway to the back fence, I take it off. Later, halfway back to the stream, I put it back on, because the horses have now followed us into the “back 40.” Mocha runs over to them, and Benji makes a couple of tentative tugs on the loose 20-foot lead. Does a shake, meaning he’s relaxed. We get past the horses, 100 meters past the stream, and I let Benji off the lead.
Back in the dog-fenced area, a horse is tethered outside on the road (roughly near the arrowhead above). I put Benji back on the lead, and we walk toward it. Mocha runs over to it a couple times; Benji is content, even lies down in the grass with the horse not far away.
Which brings me to the other gift, why the horses are a gift: theonlinedogtrainer.com (if you’re just remembering it, note “the” at the beginning; without is a bogus site). I don’t remember what led me to it; Universe tends to work that way, but if you are a dog lover, with any concerns – aggression, behavior, separation anxiety – Doggy Dan is simply amazing. One dollar for three day’s access, during which you can easily learn the basics. I’ve upped for a month, and will probably do more: this stuff is simply amazing!
I can’t say for sure I’ve reversed Benji’s behavior toward horses in a half hour. But I know why he acted the way he did, in response to the change in our relationship in one week. I’m now encouraged to expand the training to cows (yeah, those were a problem in Villa Argentina as well), chickens. And strange dogs as well. Since the neighbor’s daughter is a vet and boards dogs, they have stranger-dogs, plus cattle and fowl, all easy to arrange.
It was the most amazing rabbit chase to date. And seeing as we’ve had a rabbit bounce off our legs and escape at a 90° angle (honest!), that’s saying something.
We were in an open area, with woods about 50 meters ahead, when suddenly one of the dogs burst out of the woods, chasing a young rabbit straight down the path towards us. Had the dog been Benji or Jordan, the rabbit would already be dead, but the dog chasing it wasn’t one of the faster ones.
And the little rabbit wasn’t fast at all.
Syd and I immediately stood on the path in the way of the dog and shouted. No time to think, but with the other dogs behind us, in a completely open area, the little rabbit was seconds away from being torn to shreds.
But then something amazing happened.
We didn’t scare the dog, which continued running. But the rabbit abruptly turned around and ran (as fast as it could, but not real fast) straight back on the trail it had just come down, into the woods. All by itself.
Dogs? No, they were running furiously in the opposite direction. They made a wide arc onto the sand road nearby and reversed direction, and it looked like they still had a good chance to intercept the rabbit.
And then they were running everywhere – could the rabbit possibly escape?
Which gave an amazing chase a particularly happy ending.