On Saturday I packed an overnight bag, loaded the new dog into the truck and drove an hour and a half to visit my brother and his wife. They had invited me to attend a celebratory banquet that evening for a volunteer group they have been a part of for many years. This was to be my first road-trip with the new dog, our first adventure.
It has been just under four weeks since adopting the new dog. To recap, he is a German Shepherd, approx. fifteen months old. I adopted him from an out of state rescue. When I first met the dog I was struck by how laid back he seemed, how gentle, how calm, how well he walked on a leash. He had been surrendered with his brother. His brother was adopted the same day we took the new dog home, permanently separating the pair.
Wanting to provide a safe place for him while we traveled to my brother’s, I loaded his crate in the back of the truck, where he rode with me on the drive. The new dog is crate trained. It’s where he likes to go and lie down at different points in the day, it is his spot. I planned to set up the crate at my brother’s house, where the new dog would sleep that night.
While at the banquet, the new dog stayed inside the crate in the truck. I visited him a few times, brought him water, which he did not seem too interested in, and let him out for a couple brisk walks. One of the nice qualities of my new furry friend is that he mostly does not require a leash when walked, he sticks close by and comes when called. He’s very attentive. The last time I let him out for a walk that night, it was dark, the banquet was drawing to an end, it was close to 10pm, and my brother and his wife were still inside saying their goodbyes.
Just then, a woman that I had met during the dinner called out to me from across the parking lot and walked over, wanting to say goodbye and how much she enjoyed chatting during the event. “Oh how nice,” I said. “I really enjoyed meeting you too.”
The Dog was circling at my feet.
“Is that your dog?” she asked. “He’s beautiful.”
“Thank you so much! I just adopted him. He’s a really good boy.”
“I love dogs,” she cooed, and put her hand out to greet him.
It was dark, except for the ceiling light from the back of my truck.
Before I knew what happened next, The Dog leapt towards the woman, with both paws and his muzzle, smacking her in the side of face, almost knocking her over. She screamed. I screamed. I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pinned him to the ground, yelling, No.
She was an older woman, small in stature, frail looking, with long wavy grey hair. She held her hand over the side of her face and started to cry.
I loaded The Dog into the crate in the back of the truck and spoke out to her, “Are you okay? I’m so sorry. I have no idea what just happened.”
We walked under a street lamp and she moved her hand away, “Let me see,” I asked. “I am so sorry. Where is your husband? Let me find him.”
“No, no,” she said. “I am okay, just shaken. I don’t understand it, I’m normally so good with dogs.”
“We just adopted him,” I tried to explain apologetically. “I don’t understand either, he has been so good.” I could not apologize enough. I was frightened, terribly sad, worried about this dear woman, and a bit heartbroken. What kind of animal was this? Why would he do this? What did I do wrong?
The more I apologized, the more the woman said she was okay. Eventually, she got in her car and drove away, saying not to worry.
That night I talked with a K-9 officer, who trains police dogs and he explained his theory of what happened. The dog was protecting you and the truck, he said. That’s what they do. The new dog is young and uncertain of his new surroundings. You must be the alpha, you must use a leash when introducing him, you must let him know this behavior is not okay, but also understand, it is instinctual behavior for the breed. They are bred to protect and to herd.
I thought about my old dog, also a German Shepherd, my dear, O. I tried to remember if I had similar issues when I first adopted him. He was eleven when he passed away, I had adopted him when he was two. If I’m honest with myself, there were some difficult days in the beginning, he was uncertain, and distant. Once he lunged to bite my foot. Similar to how I corrected the new dog on Saturday, I grabbed O by the scruff of the neck, sternly said, No, and put him in the crate. It was so long ago.
If you had met O when he was five or eight or ten, you would have been greeted with soft head, ears back in a welcoming greeting and a tail wag. In his later years I referred to him as the Buddha. Regal, gentle, astute, calm, kind. If I remember correctly, it took about a year for him to settle, to feel at home, to trust.
My brother has since checked in on the older woman, she has reported that she is fine and not to worry. But I cannot get The Dog’s actions out of my head. I picture him lunging at that woman, it was so quick, so potentially dangerous, so startling, so frightening, that whatever trust had been built up since bringing him home four weeks ago, is lost.
But, I’ve made a commitment to this dog. One incident does not dictate a lifetime. It is up to me to research, to correct, to encourage—to lead. He’s still young. He’s been taken away from everything that he once knew, including his brother, a life that I cannot picture, a life that I know nothing about; and now he is here with me. He is mine to care for and to guide through our days ahead together. It’s as if we have been given another chance.
I accept the responsibility.