Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Dealing with Cujo

Some dogs can just be a tad overprotective.

What’s the best way to cross the threshold of a dog’s domain? -Shutterstock

Dear Tom,

I have a job that takes me onto people’s property. Is there a device, maybe a whistle, that would stop or drive away an angry, charging dog without injuring it?


Big Time Dog Lover

Dear Big Time Dog Lover,

Talk about having something in common! I too had a job that took me onto people’s property, 800 to 900 times a year, and every single one had at least one dog. But for the majority of my visits, I came prepared. Instead of some kind of weaponry to deflect a charging dog, I communicated with the dog owner before the visit. One of my standard questions was, “How is the dog when a stranger enters the house?” There are six to eight different types of canine aggression, depending on how you define it and who you read.

“Territoriality” is one of them. It’s one of the reasons man and dog bonded thousands of years ago. It’s why when you ring the bell of a house with a dog, you know what you’ll hear next. It’s why you’re unlikely to approach a fence with a dog on the other side and open the gate and enter the yard.

I’ve literally stood in the entrance of a house thousands of times, praying that the leash or collar didn’t break as the owner was holding back the dog that wanted to eat my kneecap. Territorial instinct! Although almost every dog will alert you if someone is at the door, it doesn’t necessarily mean aggressively. The golden retriever may bark at the door and then be delighted to see you, inviting you in, sharing a toy, and showing you where the refrigerator is, hoping you’ll share with him.

When I lived in New York, my garage was detached from my house, and one day my wife, Jaye, stopped me from driving into the garage when I got home. When I said, “What’s up?” she said, “Let me show you the wall from hell!” What I saw was a black mass of a circle about three feet in diameter that seemed to be undulating with a slight buzzing sound. One of my neighbor’s beehives moved into my garage! When my neighbor Julie came to remove the hive, she explained that the bees wouldn’t bother me in the garage, because then I was already in the hive. However, if I went to the tiny hole where they entered from the outside, they would attack me for invading their territory.

And so it is with the great, great majority of dogs. If the dog is in the backyard, and you enter the house and sit at a table, and then the dog is let into the house, you have eliminated 80 percent of the aggressive territorial response by not having to cross the threshold into the dog’s domain while the dog is already there. So Big Time, the first thing I’d suggest is that you talk to the homeowner and ask if there’s a dog, and if so, what its response is when a stranger enters. If you don’t like what you hear, ask that the dog be sequestered in the yard or a room when you come. If the owner forgets to comply and Cujo is in the yard looking to kill you upon arrival, there’s a spray called Direct Stop that you can clip to your belt. It sends a strong stream of citronella that won’t harm the dog, and can go a long way toward changing the dog’s attitude. Best solution: Talk to the owner about securing the dog to avoid the confrontation, then give them my number for some training tips.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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