When a Dog Stands Their Ground

Some people have developed an inordinate fear of dogs even when they’re behind a fence.  To have nothing between them and a defensive canine who literally stands their ground to assert their domain can panic people.  But should man’s best friend be punished for doing what many pet owners expect?


So I’m in my garage last Sunday opening the package to my new dual power tire inflator with digital control that shuts it off at a desired pressure.  My 2-year old Shepard mix, Millie, is there with me sitting on the smooth, cool concrete floor nearby, keeping me company and watching with interests what I’m doing.  Occasionally she’ll snap at a buzzing fly that keeps circling her head and then suddenly, she hears our neighbor’s 3 dogs next door barking furiously.  It’s that type of barking warning that a stranger is near, letting them know to stay their distance.  “This is our domain stranger so steer clear”

Don and Dee Tinker are our neighbors and they love dogs as much as we do.  When they moved in a few years back they decided to install an invisible fence to contain their pets rather than put up a physical barrier that would limit the visual appeal of their small lot.    Amazingly it’s been 100% effective.

One of the three dogs is a new black Lab and after he turned 6 weeks old they put a collar on him so he too would know his limits in his new surroundings.  Prior to that, since there is no fence between us, he would lope over into our yard and play vigorously with Millie (who still has a lot of pup left in her) until the black Lab grew tired and trotted back home.  With minimal training and a couple of episodes however, the black Lab, named “Spidy”, soon learned that there would be no more loping over into our yard to play.  Millie too learned that she could no longer slip over to Spidy’s yard to play, which the Tinkers said they never really minded.

Anyway, Spidy and the two older dogs, who were now his steady companions, were barking furiously at someone and I realized that Millie would be off to see what the commotion was about.  Knowing that there is no fence surrounding my yard, I have trained Millie and our older terrier-mix, Bandit, to stay within the confines of our private property.  Bandit is too old to go much beyond the back porch anyway where he can do his business and return to the comfort of his ottoman “rest spot” in the family room.  Millie will, every once in awhile, push the envelope and stray outside our property line.  But I’m usually there to whistle her back in.  For a rescue dog I saved from the dog pound a little over a year ago, she has been easy to discipline.

I paused momentarily, still intrigued some by my new purchase, before following Millie out as she headed toward the disturbance.  I knew not to linger too long because Millie can be an intimidating presence; one however that is more likely to retreat as she’s approached.  The first thing I saw were Don and Dee’s three dogs huddled together, barking at what quickly became clear to me was someone from the local animal control department, with a dog catcher pole in the ready position.  There was another with his pole down at his side who was walking toward my property and at that moment I realized Millie was not in sight.

What appears to be a threatening posture by most dogs can merely be a defensive one.


As I walked quickly toward the front I then saw Millie standing about 5 feet inside our yard.  Relieved that she wasn’t in the public access area where she could be hauled off I called her and she reluctantly came, barking at the strangers as she made her way back to me.  It seemed clear that the dog catchers were aiming to haul Don and Dee’s dogs off so before I took Millie back into the house I informed them that the dog’s all belonged there and were contained by an invisible fence.  They thought the dogs belong to me so I informed them they weren’t and expressed my opinion that the dogs were not violating any code.  A neighbor from two doors down came over and he too was explaining pretty much what I was telling them so I let him handle it while I took Millie back inside.  Out of sight, out of mind was my thinking.

I quickly came back out though to make sure that Spidy and the other two dogs were staying put.  The dog catchers were two twenty-something men and again as I approached them they wanted to know if the dogs were mine.  I reiterated that they were not but that they were not running loose either, referring once again to the invisible fence and pointed at a marker that signaled that the hidden barrier was in place.  Obviously neither Don, Dee or their 18 year old daughter Alex was home to confront the animal control agents so it was important to me to see that they did not step beyond their authority.

Within just seconds of this though young Alex drove up in their driveway, just a few feet from where we were all standing.  She immediately got out of the car and demanded of the two young men what they were doing here.  When they stated their intent, Alex informed them that she too was a animal control agent in an adjoining community and began taking them to task.  I stuck around a little bit longer to be a presence and to show support for Alex but it was clear that she was not only handling the situation adequately and with authority but the two men seem to be backing down from their original intent.

I faded away and went back to the garage where my new air compressor was waiting for a trial run.  Shortly after, I saw Alex walking by the window in my garage so I went around and flagged her down to hear what had transpired.  Apparently, she said, the two men were driving around and noticed how her dogs would “aggressively” approach people as they walked past the house.  She said they informed her that they had to be “tethered” while outside and could not run loose, even if they were in their own yard.  This turned out to be an erroneous observation and it isn’t clear if the two men weren’t aware of what the city ordinances were or that they had simply taken it upon themselves to abscond the dogs following a hasty decision that their barking posed a threat to passers-by.

What struck me odd about this was that it was Sunday and in this day and age of public service cut backs, what’s one, let alone two, public animal control agents doing roaming the streets looking for stray dogs on a day when people usually stay home.  Beyond that, I suspected that their explanation was merely a cover for the fact that someone who had walked by earlier and had a little fear struck in them, made a complaint call on their cell phone as they continued their walk.

I have no qualms with an agency that serves the public’s need to control animals that pose a public health risk.  The one here in my home town of Denton has developed into a humane agency that adequately shelters dogs for two to three weeks, hoping that their owners will come and retrieve them, with the appropriate fine of course.  This tax-payer agency also works with local volunteer animal advocates who provide resources and money to aid in finding homes for these strays.  That’s how Millie and I connected.

It is a little disturbing to me though that people who either hates dogs or have excessive fears toward them feel compelled to use this public agency to deal with what they perceive as a public nuisance.   For people who don’t realize that dogs are more than mere animals but companions to the humans they share a home with, its a shame that they don’t also realize that what dogs do when they bark at you as you approach their domain, is perhaps the best form of security a homeowner could have.  Better even than Smith & Wesson.

A gun cannot be used in a timely manner if you’re away from home or asleep as an intruder enters your home.  Nor would they be able to get close enough to you before you had a chance to pull that gun from your secure area that you keep it in to prevent the kids or grand-kids from gaining access to it.  Hell, the mere barking of a dog alone, even a small one, is enough to convince any would-be burglars to avoid your home and find some other place to rob.

I’m glad my taxes help pay for the animal control shelter here in Denton and I will follow the law and keep my dogs trained and corralled to prevent them from physically hurting anyone that doesn’t pose a threat to me.  I will make sure they are not a nuisance either from barking all night like those homeowners who fail to house train their dog and treat them like a member of the family.  These are pets placed in the back yard after their “cuteness” wears off with their owners, giving them none of the attention they seek for merely wanting to please you.

Millie - here to let you know she's on watch


I don’t have a guard dog or an attack dog.  But I do have animal friends that guard their home they share with me and my wife and will let strangers know, “tread lightly and think twice before you enter my domain.”  And if some poor soul that walked briefly past my home has allowed that to stoke an element of fear in them, don’t expect me to change that.  It’s a natural response for these animals.  Better that than me go off on you like the self-styled vigilante, George Zimmerman – if I owned a gun that is.  I do live in one of the 26 states that has enacted what some fearful people felt a need for – a “stand your ground” law.  And THAT is all my canine friends are doing.  Standing THEIR ground.


6 responses to “When a Dog Stands Their Ground

  1. LB…you located a cartoon likeness of my dog! Love this post! I need some training advice: How can I keep my 2yr old from darting off the property towards, cars, people, dogs, bikes, strollers……

    I hired a trainer when he was young, it lasted 2 weeks, after trainers gone it was business as usual..
    we do not have a fence nor an electric fence, we have 1.5 acres between us, my dog is on leash majority of time that he is out with me. He is getting better as he gets older, but there are times when something “clicks” in his pea brain and he darts off……plus he is no bigger than a giant rabbit…..though he be wee he be mighty…

    • I think you’re going to find that smaller male dogs are tougher to train CW and they’re more temperamental. Time and lots of attention at the appropriate times is what worked for me.

      Be outside with your dog as much as time will allow and watch for potential targets that might get his attention to run after. Talk in a low scolding voice when he starts to indicate that that he’s going to dart and use the same tone when they do get away. Look at them menacingly and repeat “bad boy” a couple of times after they return.

      They really do know when you’re disappointed with them and since the number one thing that dogs take the greatest pleasure in is to please their owners, rewarding them with a bright, cheery voice and petting when they behave appropriately and scolding them when they don’t will eventually alter their behavior for the better.

      Of course I would never use physical punishment on my dog when they’re doing something I don’t like but which comes natural to them. Remember, as nerve-racking as it is on you, part of that “darting off the property towards, cars, people, dogs, bikes, strollers……is them defending their domain. I hesitate to suggest it (mainly because I tend to oppose the use of most drugs on humans and other animals) but check with your vet and ask him/her if they think some Clomipramine will mollify Charly’s energetic behavior some. We tried it with Millie but it didn’t have any real affect so we quit using it after the first doses were used up. However, dogs are different like people so it may work on Charly dog.

      Good luck. Time is on your side because as you noted, they get better with age, as most of us do. 🙂

      • LB..the Vet did give us a script to give him to calm so we could trim his claws on time and it had the reverse affect o him… he became crazed and nearly red eyed….He looked possessed…I’m not kidding. I sat comforting him for hours until the stuff wore off.
        Thanks for the tips, I have been using that technique and I figured love has got to win out over time..but it’s killing me…lol…..

      • Treats. Use lots of treats. make them dry dog biscuits so they don’t put on weight too much. I use them frequently, spread out over the day and definitely in conjunction with good behavior like when they come when I call. Both Millie and Bandit look at me as the “treat” man but that can work to my advantage sometimes. I say the word “treat” or bisquit” when I hand them out so they know there is an association between the word and something good about to happen. When Millie is a little reluctant to return when I call her I say the word or words but give here only half a portion since I essentially used it as a bribe. half of the other times when I use it under these extenuating circumstances I don’t give her anything, so this leaves her guessing.

        It’s still not perfect and her youth still finds that her attention span lasts only short periods of time on occasions. I can only hope I am there before she pushes the envelope too far with a person who hates dogs and wants to have the authorities haul her in to the pound before I can stop it.

  2. We live in the middle of a square mile so we have no problem with walkers. Perhaps your neightbors should install a notice at the sidewalk that the dogs are electronically fenced? That should allay the fears of the passersby.

    • As I noted, there is one small sign that informs passers-by that the invisible fence is there but it is pretty obscure. That’s good advice Sherry about posting more obvious warning signs. I’ll suggest that to Don and Dee.

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