Pet Tales: Beware of nasty dogs

It’s a situation every dog owner fears.

I’m leash-walking a well-behaved cocker spaniel who loves other dogs and people of all ages. Up ahead are two leashed dogs standing quietly on the sidewalk as their two owners chat and socialize with a third person. They’re hogging the entire sidewalk, but they’ll get out of our way so that we can walk by, won’t they?

Wise dog owners should proceed with caution when walking a dog in close proximity to dogs you don’t know. When Pablo and I got within 20 yards, the two dogs saw us and underwent a frightening transformation: With looks of pure hatred in their eyes, they barked and snarled and lunged, trying to get to fluffy 26-pound Pablo. The owners -- a man and a woman in their 30s -- laughed and laughed but did nothing to correct or curtail their devil dogs.

Finally, the woman picked up one of the dogs. It continue to snarl, snap and bark at Pablo as it struggled to get out of her arms.Her male companion struggled with the other dog on the ground, whose long leash was tangled up with the leash of the dog the woman was holding. The woman giggled. The man continued to laugh.

Finally, they stepped aside and Pablo and I walked on.

“You really should not bring dogs like yours to a place where there are a lot of dog walkers and small children,“ I told them. ”Your dogs are dog aggressive. If my dog was aggressive, we’d have a dog fight.“

The man made a snarky remark. I responded with a nastier comment. This scene attracted a little audience, including a woman who said, ”That was very scary.“

For me, the incident was hugely unpleasant, spoiling what had been a lovely walk. My fear factor was lowered by the fact that the dogs were Boston terriers that weighed about 20 pounds each. If the dogs had come within biting distance, I would have picked Pablo up and out of their reach.

Professional dog trainer Annette Sexton of Mount Washington said: ”That’s very common with small dogs.“ The nasty behavior ”is fostered by the owner,“ who is in danger of being bitten by her own dogs. Trainers call it ”re-directed aggression.“

"Dogs like that have a big target on their back,” Ms. Sexton said. “A dominant dog will go after” dogs like the Boston terriers. While many dogs will not start a fight, they won’t back down if they are threatened by other dogs.

You don’t make dog-aggressive dogs “nice” by exposing them to nice dogs.

The Boston terriers need a round of obedience training, said Ms. Sexton, who teaches group lessons at Golden Triangle Obedience Training Club and one-on-one private lessons. When you sign up, be honest.

“I will kick your dog out of a group class if it is a danger to other dogs,” she said.

Like me, she has confronted people in public, telling them to keep their aggressive dogs out of busy business districts, public dog events and dog parks.

“They are always very offended,” she said.

Ms. Sexton has worked with dogs like the Boston terriers. Their behavior improves in seven or eight lessons if the owner works hard and does what the trainer suggests.

“But I tell them, ’Your dog will never be a dog park dog. Your dog may never like other dogs, and that’s OK. But they cannot act on their fear or hatred by trying to attack other dogs.”

The body language of a dog walker is very important, she said. Pablo did not growl or bark, and he wasn’t afraid of the Boston terriers. He stood calmly waiting for me to tell him what to do. Ms. Sexton suggests that Pablo is a “very stable dog,” and my calm and quiet body language was the right thing at the right time.

This happened in the Washington Road business district in Mt. Lebanon, where we walk regularly. We’ve made many canine and human friends there, and most of the dogs and people are very well-behaved. I count four nasty dog incidents in the past eight years. The last incident involved two pugs that acted just like the Boston terriers, and their owners were nastier than the pugs.

This is not a Mt. Lebanon problem. It happens everywhere.

As someone who walks multiple dogs every day, Colleen Amos-Mezinze of Mt. Lebanon said she crosses the street whenever she sees any dog coming. As the owner of Pawz Petsitting Services, “I have to be super careful about liability and uneducated owners,” she said.“If it’s too dangerous to cross the street, I turn around and walk in the other direction.”

Tie a yellow ribbon around the leash to warn people that your dog may bite when approached by strangers, suggests the American Veterinary Medical Association. The yellow ribbon campaign is a dandy idea because many dogs look normal and nice until you get within their bite range.

I’m still waiting to see my first yellow dog ribbon.

Pup walk

Sunday is the Panera Pup Walk at The Waterfront in Homestead, and once again retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch is the grand marshal with his wife, Latasha. It’s a fundraiser for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

Registration starts at 9 a.m., and the walk starts at 10 a.m. Registration is $25 for one human with one dog and $50 for one human with two dogs. The first 300 walkers get free goody bags. Go to for information.

Remembrance service

The pet ministry at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair is having a 2-3 p.m. memorial service Sunday for pets that have died.

“We’ll share memories, we’ll laugh, we’ll cry, but most important, we’ll acknowledge the loss and pay tribute to these cherished members of our families,” says the news release. “All family members, including pets that are still with you, are invited.”

The service is in the north courtyard of the church, 2040 Washington Road (15241).

Free Wilkinsburg clinic

Cats and all breeds of dogs can get an array of free services from 1 to 4 p.m. today at the corner of Center Street and South Avenue, Wilkinsburg.

Free rabies vaccine and other shots, microchips and consultations with veterinarians and trainers are available, along with vouchers for free spay or neuter surgery. There will be free food, treats, toys, collars and leashes.

The clinic is provided by the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania and Hello Bully, partners in the Pittsburgh Pets program to provide free services to “underserved” neighborhood. Funds and products are provided by The Petco Foundation, The Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust and Vanilla Pastry.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.