There were several articles in last week's New Hampshire Union Leader about a rat terrier named Sammy who was allegedly attacked by a larger dog that happened to be a pit bull. I write “happened to be” because it really could have been a number of different breeds or mixes that might have been involved in this scenario.
The story reported in the paper was that Sammy was outside on his own property, which has an invisible electronic fence. He was off-leash and may or may not have been wearing his receiver collar. Each side has a different memory of the collar, but it really doesn't affect what happened.
The owner of the pit bull, a 10-year-old dog named Mikey, was walking with her dog on the sidewalk in front of Sammy's property. Depending on which owner described the scenario, either Sammy aggressed toward Mikey, or Mikey overpowered his owner and pulled her onto Sammy's property and attacked the smaller dog. What is not in dispute is that Sammy was injured. Fortunately, his injuries were not life threatening, and apparently he's healing.
There are several things we can learn from this unfortunate scenario. One lesson is a topic I wrote about a few years ago and bears repeating. Invisible fences do not protect your dog from a dog thief, won't stop a child from teasing a dog or wandering into the wrong place and getting bitten, or keep a skunk out of your yard. Invisible fencing won't keep out a bear, coyote or rabid raccoon. In other words, invisible fencing doesn't keep a dog safe from dangers coming onto the dog's property.
There are myriad of reasons I don't recommend invisible fencing, one of which is exemplified in this story. On the other hand, I am a fan of fences — physical fences that keep a dog out of the neighbors' trash and off someone else's lawn. Fences that prevent a dog from chasing cats, bikes and people walking dogs. A fenced-in dog can't get hit by a car.
But Sammy's fencing is invisible, and as this story demonstrates, that is insufficient in both keeping an intruder out and in protecting a dog from its own actions if it happens to aggress toward an “intruder” walking by on the sidewalk, igniting a confrontation.
Who is at fault in this scenario? Even with the differences in perspective of each owner, I believe both dogs reacted like dogs. It is normal for a dog on its own property to be territorially protective — rushing toward the “interloper” with aggressive body language and vocalizations. It is also normal for a dog thus threatened, as Mikey was, to rise to the challenge.
As dog owners, it is our responsibility to manage the dog's environment so that it is safe. What that means to me is that when you have a dog such as a toy terrier that will react like a terrier when it sees another dog walking by its home, it should either be safely controlled behind a physical fence or be on a leash with the owner at the other end. And if you have a large dog that might respond in such a fashion, you need to proactively avoid such confrontations.
Gail Fisher, author of “The Thinking Dog,” runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.