Dog-ownership is a lot like parenting.
No, it is, really!
Dogs need to be taught what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour, just like children.
Dogs need to be rewarded for their good behaviour, just like children.
And dogs need some form of punishment/chastisement when they have behaved badly (just like children – although I would suggest that sending your dog to bed without Netflix might not have quite the impact that you should be considering for your errant offspring).
But the serious point is that without rules, and without a set of parameters that define good and bad, dogs – like children – will grow up not knowing right from wrong.
Did I say dogs are like children?
Well, add in the obvious: dog owners are like parents.
If the dog-owner (or the parent) doesn’t consistently apply the rules of wrong with the rewards of right, then sooner or later everyone who comes in to contact with the dog (or the child) is going to have a tough time.
So, these are basic rules and we can all agree them and that they are sensible, yes?
Good, and now to the point.
A near-neighbour has a dog that barks at anything it sees outside the front window of their house.
The logical, sensible solution to the problem would be to restrict the dog from the front of the house, yes?
It’s a smallish dog, the size of a large terrier or similar, so it’s not going to bound, kangaroo-like, over a stairgate-type thing.
But what the owners did last summer was to install sub-sonic cat-scaring devices in their front garden.
The theory is that these devices, triggered by motion, emit a sound only cats can hear. This sound will keep cats from the front of their house, their dog will not bark, and they will be (actual quote) ‘responsible neighbours’.
Except (at the risk of repeating myself), their dog barks at anything it sees outside the front window of their house. Anything.
This includes people walking to and fro on the pavement, because the dog has a grand view of all that stuff.
Needless to say, the sub-sonic cat-scaring devices turned out to be a waste of money because the dog continues to bark at everything it sees.
And it’s not a playful little bark either. It’s threatening.
On walks through the local fields we (our dogs and I) have encountered the near-neighbour and their dog.
None of these encounters have ever ended well.
Their dog has gone for ours. Every. Single. Time.
‘He’s only playing,’ the near-neighbours said on several occasions, as their hyper-aggressive, snarling, barking, teeth-barred dog pulled at his lead in a serious attempt to dismember either or both of our spaniels.
So we took a course of avoiding action.
Whenever we spotted them on the grassy horizon, we would change course keeping the best part of a quarter mile between their dog and ours.
Unfortunately on Monday evening I couldn’t take avoiding action.
We were halfway down the local jitty when I saw the near-neighbour and their dog approaching.
I stopped, shortened their leads so our dogs were effectively on four-inch hobbles, positioned the dogs between the fence and me and shielded them behind my legs.
The near-neighbour approached, slowed, and allowed his dog to sniff forward towards Chewie’s nose a few inches away. Robyn cowered behind my legs, Chewie has the recklessness of youth on his side.
The near-neighbour’s dog began its hyper-aggressive, snarling, teeth-barring, growling as usual.
I was about to ask him to get better control of his dog and to walk on, when his dog lunged forward and bit me.
I was shocked.
The anger set in much later, but right then I was shocked.
I told him I could have his dog destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (fact).
I said his dog needed serious help (fact).
He said they had taken him places for behavioural help/training.
I had no words left.
I limped around the corner with our two dogs, sat down on a bench, rolled my trousers up and inspected the damage: a small hole in my trouser leg, and a bleeding hole in my shin.
I don’t think I could ever report anyone’s animal, or have it put down, but what’s left for their aggressive dog?
Certainly it needs to be protectively muzzled whenever it leaves their house.
There are schoolchildren who walk dogs in our little village.
Do I owe them a duty of care by reporting this incident?
I think I do, but where do things go once I start that ball rolling?
Similarly, how would I feel if the near-neighbour’s dog attacked a child – or attacked anybody?
I don’t doubt that my injury was caused because by accident; caused just because their dog was going for one of my dogs, but my legs were in the way, but that’s not the point.
What if someone else does get injured?
It’s a moral minefield, and I’m uncomfortable sitting in the middle of it.