Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Who's Got the Reins?

Back in the days of yore, when my old creaky self was still active in the show pen, I watched a young man trying to deal with a wound up, fractious young colt.

He was in the hole, and waited in the alleyway for his turn in the arena. The class was the reining portion of an  open NRCHA derby, in the stadium arena, at the National Western Center in Denver.
This was not a slouch class.

Jim Cook, an established trainer and fellow competitor, walked his filly past the agitated colt, who squealed, dropped and started to buck.

"Watch out, he's a stud!" The young man said.

"Son, from where I sit, you're the one holding the reins," Jim said and held his steady, relaxed course.

I don't know if the young man took it to heart, but I sure did. I understood, to the bottom of my boots, my horse's behavior was my responsibility and absolutely nobody else. It didn't matter if there were blaring horns, screaming studs or grabbing children. I needed to control my horse in any and all situations. It changed the way I trained forever.

Flash forward to my current situation.

My good dog Brockle failed miserably as a protection dog. He doesn't want to bite. Not a person, a dog, a rabbit or a horse. I had let him off the hook, but we continued with obedience training, because he loves it and because, just because he doesn't want to bite, he'd still like to bully.

Once Brockle quit worrying about who to bite he sharpened his focus on me. As my symptoms increased, so did Brockle's determination to become my assistant. He has advanced to a solid working Service Dog (SD) and is invaluable to me. More stories coming on that stuff, believe me.

Because I am self-conscious by nature and the enormous controversy perking away about what a legit SD is, I started perusing every SD related  FB, website, you-tube, blog, and of course book, I could find.

I have learned a few things, but I've also come up with a lot of questions. The one I'm chewing on today is the blame game.

I read post after post about stupid people trying to pet SD's, kids tormenting them, people trying to feed them, distract them and on and on.

I read post after post about loose dogs, dogs on extend-o leashes, bad dogs, good dogs, and the people who owned them attacking, tangling, running over, biting and slobbering on expensive, extensively trained, perfect SD's and ruining them forever after one happenstance.

All I could think of was, who's got the leash here?

I kept my trap shut, but kept reading and learning.

What exactly were the SD's doing after the attacks by the moronic general public?

The biggest problems seemed to be fear and leash aggression.

Since Brockle has entered the SD world he has been petted by passerby, jumped by a dog, grabbed by kids, barked at and so on.

I have two points to make here.
1.He has basic obedience training. He understands "Leave it!" and "Watch me."
2. I have no problem, what so ever, protecting my dog.

I'll start with point two.

If somebody approaches us, I stand straight, glare and tell them, "Stop. Don't pet the dog."

If a child comes running, I step in front of Brockle, point at their sticky little faces, glare, and say, "Stop. Don't pet the dog."

If a dog approaches, leashed or unleashed, I do the same, with one exception. Instead, I say "No!"

In all situations I start in a firm, but reasonable tone. I have no problem shouting at people and dogs who ignore me. I'm telling you, it works wonders.

Brockle knows to sit and stay behind me while I do these things. He does it because he's a good dog. He shakes off the occasional human grabbers without issue. The single time a dog bulled past me and attacked him, I let go of the leash, stepped back and let them rip. Brockle tore the shit out of that dog.

When the breathless owner came running up and started screaming over her chewed up dog, I picked up the leash, told my dog to heel, and glared at her.

"Shame on you," I said. Your dog attacked my SD. He knocked me down and jumped my dog. You're lucky he (Brockle) didn't kill him."

Brockle recovered. We spent a few days doing some OUTSIDE the dog park fence exercises to get him over a bit of hyper-awareness, and everything was fine. He knows every dog isn't out to get him, because, well, he's a dog for goodness sake. They communicate with each other.

I'll end with point one. My dog is obedient. He understands his job. I work hard to stay calm and think through tough situations. We work hard together.

It could be his breeding (whatever the hell that is)  created his helpful, thinking self. I don't dismiss it. He has the temperament for this job. He will protect me, but he doesn't want to bite. He thinks. He communicates. It's all good.

I started looking at the breeds of SD behind the most vocal of the owner/handlers who complained so bitterly. The extremely expensive SD dog, ruined by an attack from an outside dog, was a Doberman.
Another was a Cane Corso mix and a third, a Rottie. All three of these breeds can be lovely. They are also bred to protect their owner/handler from danger with aggression.

The dogs who became timid after being traumatized were two border collies, an Aussie and a Standard Poodle. These three breeds are intelligent and sensitive. They can also become shy and skittish in the wrong situation.

Are people no longer considering the instinctive behavior of the breed when they choose a SD? There's a reason Goldendoodles were invented folks.

People are people. Whether it's ignorant goodwill or deliberate menace, they're going to make mistakes around my dog. I find no reason to expect the entire world to know how to behave around my SD. It's my job to know Brockle and his reactions and to protect him from as many tough situations as possible. Of course, I'm the one holding the leash.


  1. Good on ya for sticking up for Brockle. I hear way too many stories of people whining about someone harassing their service dog, or non-SD pet, while they stood by and let it happen. They ought to read this piece. There's no crime in telling someone "no", and they shouldn't be afraid to offend someone who lacks the self-control of most ten-year-olds.

  2. Oh,and good boy, Brockle, for taking care of Mugs.

  3. What a good boy Brockle is. So glad you found each other.

  4. Thanks for your article, insightful as ever.

  5. It's so good to see you posting again.

  6. I swear I saw Brockles twin in town a while back. We are just close enough, 4 hours?, that it's possible. Denver is our nearest big city, there's lots of back and forth. I didn't get a picture and haven't been able to find him again. It's a small town you would think peering into enough back yards he'd turn up :( I thought maybe there would be some answers to the question of breed.
    Glad your back.

  7. Glad you are back Mugs!!!!

  8. Glad to see you back! I always enjoy reading your pieces. I think your experience adds emphasis that breed and temperate really have to be taken into consideration for the type of service dog. A guide dog for someone who is visually impaired is going to be more "on their own" because an owner may not see a problem situation coming A child's service dog may also be more on their own because a child may not be able to stand up to an adult or other children who are interfering with their dog. Thank you for posting your experiences!