By Lisa Spector, Juilliard Graduate, Canine Music Expert and co-founder of Through a Dogís Ear.
On April 19th, a greeter employed by Home Depot in Ottawa, Canada approached an elderly woman’s 12-year-old Shih Tzu dog, Spot, who was in her shopping basket. The employee, Anne Riel,† reportedly leaned over and reached into the basket with her hand to pet the small dog, who then jumped up and bit off a part of her nose. Riel was rushed off by ambulance and needed seven stitches to repair her nose.
Because of the incident, Home Depot Canada decided to ban their allowance of all pets into their Canadian stores starting May 16th, however they will continue to allow certified service dogs. Previously their policy allowed all pets into their stores, as long as they were under the owner’s control. A release written by Tiziana Baccega, Home Depot Canada’s manager of public relations says, “Many of us at the Home Depot Canada are pet owners ourselves, and we understand that the majority of pet owners are responsible in how they control their pets, however, we believe this is the best decision for the shopping enjoyment and safety of all customers.”
The dog’s owner, Odette Fournier, has been fined $610, and she was also issued an order to keep Spot muzzled outside her home. Riel said she wanted the dog put down and that she hopes her experience shows the public that it’s not just certain kinds of dogs that can become aggressive. “Please, please understand it’s not only the Pit Bulls and German Shepherds and the big dogs that are nasty,” she said. “The small dogs can be just as nasty and that’s what’s deceiving.”
Next: Was Spot at fault?
Most dogs would feel threatened by a hand of a stranger reaching right towards their face, especially into their kennel, basket, or otherwise safe den they view as their space. The difference is that many tolerate it and donít react by biting, but very few like it. I wasnít at the scene, but in all of the news on this, I didnít read that Riel asked Fournier’s permission to pet Spot before she reached her hand in the basket.
In my opinion, it is NEVER advisable or safe to approach any dog without asking their handler first, no matter what the size or breed. It is no different than a stranger approaching a young child and gushing over them with loud enthusiasm because they are “so cute” and squeezing their cheeks. A child might tolerate this from their grandparents (but rarely like it), but if this were done in public from a stranger…. well, first of all the child’s parents wouldn’t be pleased, and second of all most children would react with some sign of fear (as would the parents, most likely.) In the Home Depot situation, the dog was acting out of fear. His space was threatened. It’s not because he is an aggressive dog that should be put down, as Riel is contesting should happen. Riel has three children and said, “I’m happy it was me and not my little girl. We pet dogs all the time. There will be no more petting dogs we don’t know from here on in.”
A lesson learned the hard way, but also at the cost of Spot, the Shih-Tzu. Personally, I think teaching our children to not approach strange dogs without asking permission is just as important as educating them about approaching humans they don’t know. And teaching them to be afraid of a particular dog breed or size is† no different than teaching them that all people of a certain color or size are threatening. A dog’s body language is much more relevant than their breed or size.
I love taking my dogs to public places and I do this often. But, as responsible dog owners, we also have to realize that when we do this we are asking them to adapt to our human world, with all of it’s smells , sounds, and variety of people and objects. It can be overwhelming for many dogs and not all dogs enjoy this. I happen to have two dogs bred to be guide dogs,† so they were socialized as very young puppies and were allowed into most public places, wearing† green jackets that said “Puppy in Training for Guide Dogs for the Blind.” The socialization started early and involved bringing them first to quiet public environments with less people, gradually working up to stores the size of Home Depot.
Last month, I wrote a blog called “My Dog is Like American Express, I Don’t Leave Home without Him.” It’s about the experience of taking my dog, Sanchez, to public places that welcome dogs. He has been to Apple Stores dozens of times and my local store employees now know him by name. Even so, never once, has any Apple employee ever pet Sanchez without first asking for permission.† My reply is, “Thank you for asking.” If I can’t pay full attention to him though, I usually ask them to wait a moment, while still thanking them for asking permission first. I’m not sure if Apple employees were taught to ask for permission, or they just know better, but it would be a wise idea to educate the employees of stores that accept all dogs in their places of business.
Without knowing anything about Spot’s history, it is impossible to know if the dog bite would have happened if Riel had asked permission from Fournier first. But, it is extremely unlikely that the bite wasn’t provoked and was done without any warning. It just doesn’t mean it was provoked by Riel. The dog was under stress, and that could have been from being in sensory overload from the stimulating environment, it could have been because he wasn’t feeling well, or a huge number of unknown factors. But it definitely doesn’t mean that he’s a “nasty dog,” as Riel stated.
Next: Spot paying for the mistakes
While I believe that both Riehl and Fournier were at fault, what makes me very sad is that Spot is the one who pays the price for their mistakes. He has been ordered to wear a muzzle whenever he is in public. A muzzle at best is only a band-aid, and at worst it teaches him that there are a lot of things out in the human world that he should be afraid of. I am very hesitant to call him aggressive, as his behavior appears to be reactive and/or fearful. Ideally, he and his person would have the opportunity to work with a science-based, positive reinforcement trainer to learn how to calmly, gently, and confidently approach people that he had been afraid of in the past. With a full time muzzle worn in public, he will never be well socialized. Veterinary behaviorist Ian Dunbar states that people need to learn how to proactively teach their dogs what they would like them to do, rather than providing no instruction and then feeling the need to punish their dogs for breaking rules that they didnít even know existed.
Oh, how my heart goes out to Spot.
What is your opinion? Should Spot be euthanized? And should Home Depot Canada and other retail stores (that aren’t pet supply stores) allow pets into their stores? Thanks for clicking comment and posting your opinion.
As co-founder of Through a Dogís Ear, I am offering my Care2 readers a free download from our latest release, Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Vol. 3. Simply click here and enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.