What I Did When a Big Dog Pinned Me by the Throat -- Twice
His name was Tyrone. There were times he seemed like some half-canine, half-Creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon hybrid who had come to eat my young. But in reality he was 145 pounds of pure Dogo Argentino, an Argentinian Bull Mastiff with supremely white fur and a giant mug of a head. No one knew where he had come from; he'd been dropped off at the pound by someone who had found him wandering.
For me the saddest and most challenging thing about abused dogs is that they cannot tell you their story. It comes out in waves over the course of their life, through their actions, fears, and reactions. One can only guess who had abused Tyrone, or what had made him so nervous he'd chewed his tail down to a bloody stump. Why he got so angry at women, and what came over him when his eyes glazed over and he changed into a beast.
All I know is that I was asked to walk him because I had started specializing in hard-to-walk breeds -- better known as the dogs who no other dog walker would take on -- and I fancied myself a tough chick.
On our first meeting, Ty was sweet and affectionate. All tail wags and strong nuzzles, he quickly won over my heart. Our first walk was uneventful. Sure, he pulled and jumped, but I thought he was cute and figured within a week we would be best friends.
Oh, how wrong I was. The second day I was about two minutes out of the house when Ty yanked the leash out of my hand with all his strength.
"Tyrone, Tyrone," I called as he scallywagged down the median line, playfully chewing on his leash.
Luckily we were on a little-used side street so there was no fear of traffic.
As I called his name for the umpteenth time, Tyrone stopped short and yanked his head around. We looked into each other's eyes. A shadow descended over his face and he started running toward me at full speed. He came about two feet away from me and then proceeded to stand up on his hind legs, waving his forelegs at me, kind of like Frankenstein; I think the sound "bluughhhhghhhh" came out of his mouth.
It was scary. On his hind legs, he was bigger than me. But I knew not to back down from a dog who is testing his limits with you. So I stood there, staring at him and commanding him to "SIT!"
He got closer. I stayed where I was. Finally his eyes focused, he came down to canine level, and wagged his tail at me. Yeah, it was confusing. And it kept happening, almost every time I walked him, sometimes more than once a walk, and sometimes with other dogs.
After a week, I told his owners that I refused to walk him without a muzzle. I could not see the sweet, lovable oaf in those veiled eyes, and I was afraid he would one day do me harm. He changed into a different dog, as though he was reliving a memory of what his life used to be. So we got him a cloth muzzle and things started getting better. I even started taking him to large parks, standing far back from the other dogs so he could get used to seeing them without feeling threatened.
After a few months, the Frankenstein act was almost gone and we had come to an understanding. I had never been afraid of a dog, but Tyrone still had the ability to scare me, and he knew it. I learned not to boss him around, and he agreed to stay on all fours.
Then one day, everything changed. We were at the park, sitting on a hill, and Ty was watching the other dogs play. We got up to leave, and he yanked the leash out of my hand. He somehow wriggled out of his muzzle. He then pranced around acting like he had won a little game.
I called over to him, "Hey, Ty, c'mon, let's go." He whipped his head around and glared at me. I had seen this look before. I calmed my voice down and called him softly. He tackled me to the ground and opened his jaws toward my neck. I threw my arm in the way to protect my throat. He bit down hard and I struggled to break free. Having a huge muscle mass of doggy-Frankenstein on my tiny frame remains one of the scariest moments of my life.
In the distance I heard a man shout. Tyrone heard it too and let go of my arm long enough to turn his head. I struggled out from under him as a kindly soccer coach ran toward us. Ty quickly changed back into the friendly pooch, running up to the guy and licking his hands. I immediately grabbed the muzzle and started to strap it back on Mr. Frankenstein.
I thanked the man for his help and he turned back to his game. But as soon as he turned his back, Tyrone ripped the muzzle out of my outstretched hands, shook it violently, then dropped it and tackled me again, going for my throat a second time. He tore the sleeve of my sweater to shreds, but I struggled enough so he couldn't get his massive jaw locked.
The coach ran back over. Ty saw the man and quickly let go of me, running over to greet him once more.
Was I going insane? This was quite possibly the weirdest scenario I had ever encountered in seven years of walking dogs. Obviously Tyrone had some lady issues, or at least there was something I was doing that was setting him off.
I finally got the muzzle properly on him and led him out of the park. I was in tears and still afraid. I knew I couldn't keep walking this dog.
I felt defeated as I walked up his driveway. It was the first time that I had to give up on a client, and I hadn't given up on anybody, human or canine. I let him into the house and tearfully told his owner what had happened. As I handed over the leash, I told her that I could never walk her dog again.
A few months later, I saw Tyrone happily being walked by a man. I found out that Ty was much happier with his new, male walker, and had even made great strides in his anxiety and anger issues.
Accepting his flaws and trying to solve them wasn't enough. I should have allowed Tyrone to be who he needed to be. Through all those attacks and horror-film moments, he was trying to tell me something. Due to my own stubborn streak, I never listened. But it was a valuable lesson.
Learning to accept my own limitations was the same as learning to accept another's. Ty wasn't made for me and I wasn't made for him. For better or for worse, sometimes you just have to walk away. And I'm glad I did.
About the author: Maya Bastian is a dreamer by nature, a wanderer at heart, and an artist when the inspiration strikes. After almost a decade of spending every waking hour working and playing with a bunch of furry, four-legged friends, she realized she was never going to be able to pee outside as well as they did, so she quit and started traveling the world. Now based out of L.A., Maya works as a documentary filmmaker and video artist. She misses those days of canine connection and wrestling in the park, but she doesn't miss picking up all that poop.
Read more on dog bites and prevention:
- Dog Aggression Expert Jim Crosby on Dog Bites and Attacks
- The 10 Types of Dog Aggression
- We Adopted a Pit Bull Mix -- Who Turned Aggressive on Us
- How to Prevent Dog Bites: Make Sure Your Child Isn't a Statistic
- 5 On Dogs and Body Language: How I Learned to "Speak" Dog