Apparently, mild-mannered This American Life host Ira Glass owns an attack dog, and you can hear all about it on this episode.
It’s a humorous story, though one that seems all too familiar. We’re talking about owners who go to great lengths to give their dogs the best care possible — in this case, that means importing kangaroo meat for the dog’s food — but probably causing the dog great anxiety in the meantime.
Piney, the Glass’s adopted pitbull, has a number of health issues as well as behavioral issues. He’s a fear biter and has auto-immune issues, and basically sounds like a neurotic mess. And whenever I hear about a dog like this — an anxious dog — I assume the owners are behind it. In this case, they got Piney as a puppy.
I’ve been around a lot of fear-biters thanks to my days as a shelter volunteer. There was one dog in particular that I adored but he was unpredictable. He’d been adopted twice and returned twice for biting. And even when he was being affectionate and licking your face, he would often then nip your jaw. It was weird but not aggressive. It seemed to me to be very similar to the way my cat used to bite me in the mornings if I didn’t get up and feed her in a timely enough manner. But when I started thinking about adopting my own dog, I knew this dog wasn’t for me…if for no other reason than I couldn’t trust him around my cats. I knew he wasn’t a bad dog, that someone with the right lifestyle could give him a good home. But fear-biting is a tough thing to curb, because you never know what will scare the dog.
In the TAL story about Piney, Ira talks about how when he brings the dog out to the bathroom and then back into the house — where his wife is sleeping — the dog will often begin to turn on him. He will distract the dog with a toy, usually a tug-toy. This is the part of the story that seems insane to me — and all I can picture is an episode of The Dog Whisperer where a Pomeranian or a Chihuahua or something keeps the husband out of bed.
I grew up with German Shepherds, and they definitely had rules about who could and could not enter a bedroom when someone was sleeping. Once my dog was with me at my grandparents’ house, and my grandfather tried to come into my room to turn off the TV after I fell asleep. He was quickly turned back by Duke. But my mom could have easily entered the room. And even when my grandfather entered the room, the dog did not lunge and snap — he would simply growl. The idea that the dog is protecting one owner from the other in such an aggressive fashion seems nuts to me.
Ira himself says the dog says he feels trapped in the situation, not necessarily aggressive. This seems like a dog who is looking for someone else to take charge. And when Ira suggests to his wife that they board the dog for a night to have a dinner party, she balks. I’m no trainer, but I’ve had animals my whole life, and I’ve been around more shelter dogs than I can count. I may not know how to correct a problem but I can easily put my finger on the source of it. And this seems to me like a dog who needs a strong leader, to stop being coddled, and a quieter life. And then there’s this snippet of an article Ira wrote about the dog for The Daily Beast:
I don’t think it’s necessarily a good quality that somehow I respond to neediness and vulnerability more than I respond to open shows of affection, but it’s very possible that that’s how I am all the time.
It sounds a little like a mother who enables her child justifying herself on an episode of Intervention.
This is a dog known for fear-biting. He needs to wear a muzzle outside of the house. The dog’s issues first surfaced while at a wedding, and there is mention of the dog visiting the office. He also lives in an apartment in the city. This sounds to me like a dog that would benefit from living in a quieter environment where there isn’t so much pressure put on him.
Just before Thanksgiving my friend and I took the dogs to a “dog park” that is really more of a training area for hunting dogs. it’s a wide open meadow along the Farmington River. Maybelle had done well there this summer. She’d trot up to a dog, sniff it, and then be off again — usually flushing pheasant out of the brush. She had a great time and when she finally encountered a dog she felt the need to herd I was able to grab her harness, leash her up and walk her away, and then let her go again once we were clear of the dog. But this last time was a disaster. The first dog she met was exactly the kind that set her off — a rambunctious, out of control male. The enormous lab mix nearly took me out at the knees on multiple occasions and when it came time to move on, May was far more interested in chasing him than sticking with our group. This led to multiple problems, and the day only spiraled when just about every dog we met up with was the same nutty personality. Eventually we crossed a bridge to an area where there weren’t other dogs, and she and her buddy were able to run and frolic on their own.
But when that same friend asked me if I’d like to go to go back to the dog park last week, I said I didn’t think it was a good place for her. Clearly she’s not at a place yet where she can ignore those dogs. And it wasn’t fair to her to bring her there and ask her not to behave that way, because it’s just an annoying instinct that she doesn’t yet have control over. And I don’t have enough control over her to keep her from behaving badly in those situations — and most people don’t have enough control over their dogs to keep them from tormenting her. So I’ve made the choice that it just isn’t the place for her because it sets her up to fail. Maybe someday she’ll be able to go there and interact successfully — or maybe it’s better just to take her there in the summer when she’s more interested in birds than the dogs. Either way, it’s my responsibility to realize that it’s not the appropriate place for her.
She does well at daycare, and she’s got doggy friends she can play with, and we’ve got forests where she can run a bit wild in the woods without bothering anyone. It seems to me that Piney would be a happier dog if his owners were able to take the pressure off of him — the city street is an incredibly stressful place for people, never mind dogs. I’d be interested to see how the dog behaved in a more laid back setting, where he’s not constantly confronted with new, awful stimuli.
Anyway, good luck to the Glass family. And hopefully Piney finds some peace.