Wake Up Time

Posted by Paula Erba, ALDF's Executive Assistant on August 11, 2008

I think I’ve just had a little taste of what mothers of juvenile delinquents must feel like.

While on a regular noontime walk with his doggie friend Eve, my canine “child,” Connor, became a little too exuberant with his herding dog behavior. Connor and Eve’s normal M.O. is the following: her dad throws a stick for her, and Connor herds Eve as she runs after it. This includes chasing her, getting up along side her and lightly nipping at her rear end. Occasionally, she has barked at him when he gets a little too rough, but as far as I can remember (although I do admit to living in a cloud of denial), there has never been any bloodshed.

That is, until last week. On this particular day, he was running at top speed, and nipped at her side as he flew past her. The problem this time? It seems his tooth caught on her skin, ripping a hole in her side as the force of his speed took part of her skin with him. Her injury required immediate veterinary attention, including four staples and antibiotics.

Talk about being mortified beyond belief. And oh, did I mention that Eve is our Executive Director’s companion animal? Oops.

Yes it was kind of a fluke, in a way. But I also think it was bound to happen. I have allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, Connor’s herding behavior for the last few years, thinking it was “cute.” The last couple weeks (or has it been even longer?) I noticed he seemed a lot rougher with Eve. And now, the guilt is pretty much eating me alive. I saw the warning signs and yet, I didn’t do anything.

I feel badly for Eve, first and foremost. She braved her veterinary treatment with only local anesthesia and reportedly handled it like a trooper (her dad didn’t want to risk putting her under general anesthesia, a wise choice). However, her first night was a rough one due to her discomfort. The next day, she chewed on one of the staples, so her dad had to take her back to the vet to have that fixed. Now she must wear an Elizabethan collar (E-collar for short, or as many people call it, a lampshade), so she won’t disturb the wound. She looks completely pathetic with it on, which only adds to my guilt.

I also feel terrible for her dad. Being his assistant, I know all about his incredibly tight and busy schedule, and I know he does not have even one minute to be running to the vet clinic or dealing with wound care. My guilt was somewhat assuaged when he let me pay for the first vet visit, and when he said I could bring her back to the vet to have her staples removed in a couple weeks. However, I know that his time is a precious commodity, and time spent worrying about her and keeping her from further injuring herself is unpleasant, to say the least.

Additionally, I feel I have done a huge disservice to my dog. Connor is an intense member of the canine community, and his intensity caused a lot of problems (too many to mention here) when we first adopted him. We took him to numerous dog training classes, had many behavior consultations at the shelter where we adopted him, and in general, worked very hard to help him become a relatively well-adjusted, (mostly) polite member of doggie society. He probably would have been returned to the shelter and euthanized if he had gone with most other people. The problem is, I took great pride in that fact, to the point where I became too relaxed. Now, Eve is suffering for it, and I also worry about how unfair I’ve been to Connor, encouraging an instinctual behavior that has now gotten him into trouble. This isn’t even a little bit his fault; it’s all on me.

A coworker said that these things sometimes happen, and I should look at it as a learning experience, make adjustments so it never happens again, and move on. The “moving on” part has proved to be a bit of a challenge, psychologically speaking, but I am trying to take her other advice. Connor and Eve will no longer play together off leash, as it is now crystal clear that his herding instinct is too ingrained in him when he is with her. (Interestingly, he doesn’t try to herd any other dogs, probably because he senses they’re not as tolerant as Eve.) We have also decided to sign Connor up for a refresher training class. Dogs like him become bored easily and will create a job for themselves if one isn’t provided for them. Training can help relieve some of that boredom and appropriately channel their busy energy, and has the added benefit of improving the human-canine relationship.

And most important of all, I will stop congratulating myself that I turned his life around, and instead focus on becoming more vigilant. He still has behavioral tendencies that must be closely managed, and it took this experience to wake me up out of my complacency. I’m only glad Eve’s injury isn’t worse, and that her guardian is an incredibly understanding and forgiving person. 

So, here’s to our “juvenile delinquents” becoming good canine citizens…and to us parents, as we (painfully) learn from our mistakes.

For those of you who have been unlucky enough to have your dog seriously injure a human or animal and are now faced with civil or criminal action, ALDF’s website has some good advice; click on the following links:

What to Do if Your Dog is in Danger of Being Declared Vicious or If Your Dog Has Bitten Someone Who is Now Suing You

How to Find an Attorney to Help You With Your Animal-related Issues

Also, the following link provides an excellent summary of herding dog behavior and the unique challenges one potentially faces when living with such a dog: Herding Dog Heritage