A Near Death Experience

 When I take Sierra and Bodhi to the park, I allow them to run off-leash in the nether-regions of dirt trails and brush where we seldom encounter other people. The pair romp around the hillsides, just about levitating with joy, chasing bunnies and sniffing intently at bushes. They come when called, receive slices of hot dogs as rewards, and are then released to go explore some more. We all love it. When we traverse the more populated areas of the park, though, the two are on leash.

This morning, as we walked along the cement path that connects the front and back parts of the park, I visually scanned the area as I chatted with a park acquaintance. I spied a young man who we sometimes see on his skateboard, which is pulled by a huge, muscular pit bull who weighs at least 80 pounds. When these guys go flying by, it often sets other dogs off—but hey, the guy’s got a right to be there like everyone else. At the moment, he was speeding down the cement path we were on, moving in our direction. I got the dogs over to the side and had them sit. I wouldn’t say they were calm, but they were behaving, keeping it together in the face of something pretty exciting. As the pair approached, though, Bodhi completely lost it. He gave a sudden, mighty lunge and actually pulled the leash out of my hand. He bolted toward the man and his dog, who were just passing us. I called for Bodhi to come; the request started out in a calm training voice and quickly ended up escalating into a scream as Bodhi approached the pair.

The guy stopped, dismounted, and in a fast, fluid movement, grabbed his dog and placed his body in front of him. Although Bodhi isn’t aggressive, the pit bull, judging from his behavior, definitely was. The guy apparently knew this, as he said in a carefully controlled, edge-of-panic voice, “Please grab your dog.” He repeated it non-stop like a mantra. Of course, that’s exactly what I needed to do, and believe me, I was trying. If you’ve ever broken up a dog fight, you know how hard it is to grab one of the dogs. Bodhi was darting in and out, circling, stupidly excited, clueless of the danger he was in . I’ve never claimed that Bodhi is the brightest bulb in the string. Fortunately, I still have pretty good reflexes. That, along with a strong desire for Bodhi not to meet an untimely death, prompted me to throw myself bodily at Bodhi, concrete be damned. I grabbed hold of his collar, and came down hard on my wrist and rear. I was also holding Sierra, who, miraculously, was not reacting at all—I think the whole thing amused her. (The man I was walking with was of no use in this type of situation, which I knew in advance was the case, hence my not even handing Sierra off to him.) I apologized to Skateboard Guy, saying Bodhi had pulled the leash out of my hand. Shaken, he took off.

Normally I’d say this type of incident was prey drive related, but with Bodhi it probably was food related, since some of the morning dog walkers give treats to passing dogs, and Bodhi always takes advantage. (When we first got him, he was afraid of men and allowing him to take treats from these guys really helped.) The incident was frightening and upsetting, but luckily, that’s all it was. It could have ended up with Bodhi being badly injured or killed—and it wouldn’t have been the pit bull owner’s fault, either. He did exactly the right thing by shielding his dog with his body (or, more precisely, shielding Bodhi from his dog) and telling me to grab my dog. Had the pit bull attacked Bodhi, I really couldn’t say it was his fault, either. The dog was minding his own business, pulling his owner down the road when a dog lunged at him. He reacted. I’m also glad nothing happened for the pit bull’s sake, as the breed’s already got enough breed-specific prejudices to deal with. As for me, I normally have a solid hold on the leashes. If something had happened to either dog, I would have felt terrible, of course. But stuff happens, and I’m not one for beating myself up; besides, I’m pretty beat up already, with scrapes, a bruised wrist, and a serious ache that predicts a visit to the chiropractor. Still, that’s getting off easy. Clearly, if we see the dynamic duo again, we’ll make a point of going the other way. I can do without any more near death experiences, thank you very much.

You can find my books, including Hit by a Flying Wolf detailing my further adventures with Bodhi, Sierra, and wolves, along with seminar DVDs and seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com.

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29 Responses to A Near Death Experience

  1. Gabi says:

    I just want to say thank you for sharing this story and being so honest about what amounts to a slip up on your part that can happen to anyone! I always see people being so judgmental especially of people whose dogs run up to another dog like that – oftentimes they are responsible dog owners who just have something unfortunate happen to them! You didn’t purposely drop the leash and you acted as quickly as you could. Reminds me of the time one of my dogs jumped the fence and went to “say hi” to a dog walking by the house and got jumped by the other dog. Luckily no one got hurt but if my dog had been hurt I would not have blamed the other dog. But then I wasn’t letting her run around off leash either – it was just an unfortunate accident/situation. And now I know to watch her better around the fence, but that’s another story… Anyway, I am glad everyone is okay!

  2. Thank you for this! I’m glad it turned out all right. A good reminder that none of us can perfectly predict and control our dogs at all times, and no matter how alert and careful we try to be, sutff can happen. Hope your aches go away soon!

  3. Lilian says:

    phew!!!!

  4. Diana Farrar says:

    I lost one of my dogs (temporarily, thank heavens) on Sunday when his prey drive activated and he wrapped his leash around something that cut it neatly in two, leaving me with one leashed dog and one dog in dog heaven chasing a deer through a rocky, brushy area. Thankfully, I was able to find him, limping and exhausted, a little while later, but man, that was scary. You just never know when stuff like that will happen, and you can only plan for emergencies so far!

  5. Carole Husein says:

    Knowing what a brilliant trainer you are it makes me feel better to know that things happen to you too! I hope you photographed it all! Sorry – could not resist it! Hope your injuries improve without needing too much expensive chiro.

  6. Glad you are all ok. It sounds like everyone in this situation was behaving responsibly – it was just one of those crazy things that happen sometimes. I hope your bumps and bruises heal quickly!

  7. nivaladiva says:

    Wow, I can imagine how scary this was, and am really glad everyone is relatively okay. It sounds like you and the pit bull owner handled the situation very well. Things can happen at any time, even with well-trained dogs, but it takes quick reacting and really knowing your dog to avoid disaster. Hope your bruises heal quickly!

  8. Melissa says:

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate reading stories like this from someone I look up to. Sometimes trainers and behaviorists make it sound so easy and flawless, like all mistakes and slip ups can be avoided if you just follow rules a,b and c. When in reality you cannot always control every situation and cannot always predict every reaction/ behavior your dog is going to have or make no matter how closely you pay attention. I will continue to be vigilant with my somewhat reactive dog who is very high energy and well trained and try not to beat myself up when mistakes are made. I’m glad no one was seriously injured and hope you are in the mend soon!! Thank you for always being honest with your readers!

  9. Manu says:

    Thank you for risking life and limb to catch your dog in this turmoil. Unfortunately, the majority of owners *I* have encountered when their dog rushes my leashed dog continue at a slow pace as if to see what happens. While in Germany, a small breed dog was a good 100 yards ahead of the owner when it accosted a nervous Lab. No calling for help from the Lab-owner could hurry them up, until I stepped in and shooed the dog away. The folks suddenly were able to run and scold me for scaring their little one. There are too many owners, who seem to be willing to risk their own dog’s life to prove a point.. and I wonder, what that point is worth, when their dog ends up getting injured. Thanks again, for seeing who was actually at fault and for going the extra mile to correct it.

  10. Rebekah says:

    Scary, but refreshing to read that the other owner reacted appropriately as well. Dropping a leash under circumstances like these is one of my biggest fears.

  11. Carol says:

    I certainly feel better now!

  12. Linea says:

    Really good cautionary story, & I thank you also for sharing it. My dog is nowhere near trained well enough for us to go out to a park on a leash. He’s much too rambunctious for me to handle. Sometimes we do go to the off-leash dog park & he’s always come to me when I call him. He’s very food motivated so I give him treats for coming when I call him. However, there is not a treat on this planet that would lure him from a situation like this one. Since I know that about him, I just don’t put him into those places where something like this might happen. Dogs can be very unpredictable, which is why when people ask if he bites, I tell them that he hasn’t yet, but he is, after all, a dog.

  13. zarahruth says:

    My dog, a husky, can’t go off-lead and as a result is a bit defensive with off-lead dogs that run up to her (fine if they ignore her, not so much if they don’t). This week one ran up into her face. She barked, and it tried to jump on her – big dog, fine with other off-lead dogs but clearly riled by my dog’s response. Its owner eventually ran up and pulled it away. Your post has actually made me feel better – I was very shaken up and ALSO felt like a terrible owner because tho she was on lead, it felt as though my dog had started the incident. Reading a similar thing from essentially the other side of the matter, and consequently realising that the other owner was obviously shaken up by his dog’s behaviour and probably didn’t consider that my leashed dog might have prompted his own dog’s aggressive reaction, has made me feel better!

    Love my dogs, but they do have their moments.

  14. Jenny Ruhno says:

    Omg, how lives can change in a second. Thank goodness for the great outcome. I hope you can cal down some time soon! Xx

  15. nlkiwinz1 says:

    I would not feel happy with a guy rolling fast down the same path where me and other people with dogs are walking. I don’t care if it’s a shepherd, pit bull or a herd of chihuahua’s! Do you really control that board and the dog at the same time? Does everybody else just have to jump out of the way because you love being pulled by your dog? Or is it ok, we do that happily to ‘share the park’ with all the others?

  16. Nicole,

    I tell my clients so often that, yes, we are dog trainers, but we are not 100 percent perfect, and occasionally, things will happen like this. Thank you for reminding us as well. I appreciate your openness about your experiences.

    Elizabeth

  17. peaceabull says:

    Thanks for sharing this. As the owner of two Pit Bull types, I know just how scared the guy must have felt. In the back of my mind always hovering is the thought that no matter how well behaved my dogs are any altercation will be viewed as being “on them.”
    Hope your battle wounds heal quickly!

  18. Karen DeBraal says:

    Thanks for sharing. I take all the precautions I can with my dogs — 2 of them can’t be off leash and I have had the misfortune of somehow dropping the leash with one of them once in a similar situation. Like yours, it turned out OK but shit can sure happen. I was grateful for my outcome. Hope you heal quickly.

  19. Kim says:

    As a CPDT and a certified dog walker I always feel like such a failure when something like this happens to me. Thanks for letting me know I’m not! So glad all turned out well in the end.

  20. Phillip says:

    It is VERY possible that the “pit bull” may not have been aggressive at all. You cannot just assume that by the breed, the way the dog acts, or even the owner.

    Like many of us, the owner may be aware that his dog does not like strange dogs running at him while on a leash. Many dogs ON LEASH do not like dogs (off-leash or dragging a leash) to be running at them. Neither of my dogs appreciate it AT ALL, and they will let the offending dog know. AND IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THE BREED IS. Breed should NOT have even been an issue in this “story”. The issue of YOUR dogs off-leash in a PUBLIC area (shame on you) and not moving your dogs further away from the skateboarder is what is at hand.

    The owner may also be a wise dog owner, knowing that his assumed “pit bull” would be the one to be “at fault” if something happened between his dog and yours, even if it was your dog charging an unfamiliar dog. The other dog, no matter what breed, would not have been at fault for protecting himself/herself from an umfamiliar dog running at him/her. I don’t like it when I see strange people running towards me that are not in typical running attire. How can we expect our dogs to react like angels when they are being charged at?

    Personally, I don’t feel comfortable with this cautionary tale or whatever was being told. I feel that the “pit bull” is being villified without full knowledge of his personality, etc. There appears to be a number of assumptions, and for me, who is not a breedist, I think that rather than point out the “pit bull” and the owner in the story (when you could have not assumed the breed and just used the words “large dog”), you would been more into the fact that you allow your dogs off-leash in an area where the public still roams. And with the title of the story…it almost feels as if you are feeding into the media’s stigma of the “pit bull” being a killer.

    Thanks for not doing the breed and responsible owners much justice. Very disappointing.

    I know I will get backlash for my comments, and that is fine, but the way I read this story is a huge disappointment in many aspects, and I am free to voice my dissapointment.

    • wildewmn says:

      Phillip, this is a moderated forum but I agree that you should be free to voice your opinion, so I have approved your comment. I want to clarify, though, that as the story clearly states, my dogs are only ever off-leash in a very remote back area of the park where we do not encounter other dogs and people. Please go back and re-read, as it also clearly states that When we encountered the man and his dog, both of my dogs were on leash and I had moved them to the side of the path to avoid problems. Bodhi lunged suddenly and very strongly, and the leash was ripped from my hand. That has never happened before, and with enough force, could happen to anyone (no one is perfect, regardless of what they may think or say). I would have mentioned the dog’s breed regardless of what breed it was, whether a pit bull or a Chihuahua. It was a description and nothing more. I co-ran a pit bull rescue for many years, and have been an advocate against breed-specific legislation for many years. I went out of my way in this story to mention that had a fight ensued, it would not have been the pit bull’s fault, and that I was glad nothing happened, as the breed already has enough trouble with reputation. And that the owner was completely responsible and did exactly the right thing. You are entitled to your opinion, but please base it on what was actually written.

      • Phillip says:

        While you may be walking your dogs in a very remote area of the park, it is still a public park (I assume). All it takes is one time of a person and/or dogs doing the same thing that you are doing. Dogs should never be off-leash in a public area, no matter how remote. Things can happen, and that is something that we all need to be mindful of, no matter what. If you found that area, no doubt others have as well.

        Yes, both of your dogs were on leash when Bodhi got loose, and that is why I mentioned “Many dogs ON LEASH do not like dogs (off-leash or dragging a leash) to be running at them.” Your dog was dragging a leash running at an unfamiliar dog.

        I read the story a couple of times, and I am sorry, but I stick with what I said. I may not have said it in the best of ways, as I am not graceful with my words. I still feel that while you have been an advocate (and hope that you still are), I still feel that there was an amount of negativity towards the other owner and his unconfirmed breed of dog. As you know, a “pit bull” is not a breed of dog. 🙂

        You are right, any of us would have lost the leash in your circumstance, and I am not downing you for that. But, we also know that many dogs tend to get overly stimulated when a biker, runner, rollerblader, or other fast moving human with or without a dog goes by. If you see someone coming in the distance and the dogs are reacting in some shape or form, you move as far away as you can go. The further away from the stimuli, the better a chance of holding on to your dogs, and possibly redirecting their attention. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and it can happen to anyone. I rollerblade with both of my dogs, and they are trained to various commands and are extremely obedient. However, they are dogs. They are not perfect and it is up to us to not set them up for failure. When we are out rollerblading and someone even faster than us goes by us, they react and speed up. Is it natural for them to do that? Is it the “prey drive”? Quite possibly. But, if I know someone is coming (I am always observant to my surroundings), we pull over, stop, and move clearly out of the way to let the speedster pass. Dogs react less, and we continue on. Stuff still can happen, but it is better to move far out of the way than just off to the side.

        I am glad that nothing happened to anyone.

      • wildewmn says:

        Hi Phillip, just to clarify further, the cement path where the man and dog were going by is bordered on both sides by fencing and there literally was nowhere else to go. We were crowded as far away from him as we could possibly be. Your point is absolutely correct that many dogs do not like off-leash dogs running at them, and as I said, I would not have blamed the pit bull for anything that happened.

  21. Wow, pretty scary, but you’re exactly right. Jack did the same thing to me once – luckily it was a GSD puppy and not a pitbull, so it wasn’t a disaster, but he scared the poor thing and I end up being the one battered and bruised…

  22. Evelyn Haskins says:

    ” . . . the cement path . . . is bordered on both sides by fencing and there was literally nowhre else to go . . .”

    THIS worries me. I don’t think that I would walk my dogs in such a place — especially knowing that my dogs can be reactive.

    I would certainly see anyone riding a skate board being pulled by a dog — of any breed — along such a path to be reprehensible.

    At the very least, the man should have stopped his dog, picked up his skateboard and walked sedately when he saw you coming towards him. This is something we stressed when doing the “SPOT Program” (safety with pets) at local schools — If you see a dog on the road/path where you are riding (bike/scooter/skate board) stop, dismount and either walk quietly past or wait for the dog to pass you. Of course with kiddies we also told them to NOT run near dogs they meet.

  23. Amanda Ferguson says:

    I happened upon your blog this morning and have read one of your books about fearful dogs. I had an unfortunate episode with my dog this morning that thankfully ended well, but has reminded me that as an owner of a fearful very large dog I have to rise to the occasion. I’ve been beating myself up over him attacking a very small dog that he had met before for no apparent reason. I did not see it coming nor did I see it encouraged by the other dog. They were both leashed. I feel I’ve worked so hard to overcome this, but the reality is he is NOT 100% trustworthy and no more greeting other dogs for a quick sniff. A simple walk by is easy and will be the rule from now on. Thank you for this blog and the comments of your other readers. Now if I can just get the image out of my head to not fuel that kind of energy…. I guess we are all a work in progress… 🙂

  24. Debra Knight says:

    I am glad everything worked out. I had a similar experience when my little dogs ripped the leash away and went after two labs. The man yelled and cussed at me even though I went to get them immediately. My dogs and I have been on the receiving end of this many times. Yesterday, a neighbor’s dog did the same to us. I shouted for him to come out and he did and got his dog before anything happened. I thanked him instead of yelling at him. I think it is important to stay as calm as possible and polite as possible when these things happen as many of us experience mistakes. If you haven’t, you probably will at some time.

  25. Christy says:

    Just found your blog and will be ordering your books and dvds. Thank you for posting this and being so honest. I feel guilty every time my dog lungs/barks at another dog but I am diligently working to correct her fearful behavior. And I am learning not to beat myself up over it. 🙂

    Again, thank you so much for this post.

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