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More on blind spots

Just a quick public service announcement here about personal blind spots. We all have them, but the one I'm talking about in this post is the "It doesn't apply to ME" (where "ME" could be changed to "MY child", "MY job", "MY dog", etc.).

I was attacked by a Great Dane (like the one in the photo) three years ago. I was lucky--although he did serious, permanent damage to my arm (including severed nerves and many scars), he could have crushed it on a whim. And at the time, I wasn't worried about my arm--it was my throat that sent me into that time-slows-down mode.

But the point is not that the dog attacked me. The point is that the responsible pet owner--holding the leash at the time--never could have imagined that loveable, friendly, "Diego" was capable of this.

It was not provoked. I was standing there, arms at my side, silent, not making eye contact. Just standing. A minute before this happened, one of the owners got the (really big) dog out of the car and said to me, "Oh, he's friendly."

Witnesses said the dog just walked up to me and lunged. The owners--a couple who've been raising Great Danes for more than a decade--were horrified. Shocked. Stunned. How could this possibly happen? "He's never done ANYTHING like this!" I believed them. "He's the sweetest dog!" I believed them. [Witnesses later kicked around the "she's-an-alien-and-only-the-dog-knows" theory as a potential explanation.]

Until that moment, the dog's owners--and myself--were convinced that a "friendly" dog, especially on a leash, was completely safe.

But that's an illusion, especially when the dog weighs as much--or more--than the person holding the leash! And Great Danes are on the list of dogs more likely to be aggressive, including:

Bull Terrier
Cocker Spaniel
Chow Chow
Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd
Great Dane
Pit bull
Siberian Husky

But every person I know with a dog on that list would swear that it doesn't apply to their little Fluffy or Spike or whatever.

The reason I'm writing this is because I run on off-leash Boulder trails every morning, and today the thing I've been dreading finally happened: I came across a Great Dane. Off leash. His owner saw me cringing and said, "Oh, he's friendly." She was so certain. I froze up and could barely breathe, but she assumed that once she said the magic "he's friendly" words, I'd be fine.

Had I been able to unfreeze my face, I would have launched into a rant about how delusional this was and how could she have a dog that weighed more than she did and hope to control it and that oh I'd heard the "he's friendly" phrase before and yet look what happened to ME and on and on. What is wrong with people?

A little later--when I managed to start running again--I encountered a young girl on the trail.
"Oh, she's friendly", I said, when the girl warily eyed my unleashed, exuberant dog.

Posted by Kathy on July 21, 2006 | Permalink


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I bet the dog that attacked you had a bunch of bad behaviors that the owners ignored. Ever seen the Dog Whisperer? It's amazing what people let their animals get away with.

I hope you got a nice settlement for your injuries.

Posted by: NathanB | Jul 21, 2006 4:59:51 PM

Dogs. How quaint. Don't you realize it's the cows you should be worried about? ;)

Posted by: Derek Scruggs | Jul 21, 2006 5:50:17 PM

Or maybe the cats?

We once had a visitor who brought his puppy with him. We were introducing the pup to our own dogs who were fenced in, and everything was going fine with lots of nose sniffing through the fence and wagging of tails.

Then one of the cats wandered over and pitched in to the puppy. When our guest tried to get the cat off the puppy, he himself became the target of the cats ire and ended up with several scratches down his back.

We never saw that coming!

Posted by: Derek Andrews | Jul 21, 2006 6:39:55 PM

You know Kathy, I'd believe the idea that maybe you _are_ an alien and only the dog knows it -- you're too in tune to how people work!

Seriously though, you are dead-on about people's blind spots with their animals.

I once wounded a pit-bull while pre-emptively defending myself, and was subsequently sued by its caretakers. Fortunately I was able to get it thrown out; when you are minding your own business in a public place, and a dog is running at you, teeth bared, its intentions are pretty obvious.

It's sad that you weren't given as much warning.

The thing about dogs in particular seems to be that they can smell fear, and it provokes them. Their owners don't see this because they have nothing to fear from their animals.

Anyway, I think I can speak for all of your readers when I say that I'm glad that Great Dane didn't get your throat!

Posted by: Matt Lyon | Jul 21, 2006 6:56:33 PM

I use to help my dad delivery heating oil to homes during the winter and there was more then one occassion that I had to climb on top of the oil tank or truck to save myself from an angry dog. Of couse the owner would always say that they were friendly and wouldn't really hurt me. Right!

As you mention in the lead in to your post how many other things are we blind to in each of out lives:

""Oh they couldn't get along without me at work I don't have to worry about my job!" or

""My son is a great kid and I know he would never use drugs!"" or

""My marriage is just fine, my wife is happy and would never consider leaving me!""

How may situations do we just not consider and therefore never take any actions that may make sure what we think is true. Thank you for making me think about this.

Posted by: Earl Moore | Jul 21, 2006 7:15:45 PM

Where did you get this list of dogs more likely to be aggressive? Every breed on it seems ok to me, except collie. Who ever heard of an aggressive collie? Maybe a border collie, but a regular old collie?

Then again, I didn't know great danes would be on this list. Just didn't know.

I still think pit bulls deserve a category of their own.

Posted by: Will | Jul 21, 2006 10:28:58 PM

'A dog is a weapon without safety latch'

I've been bitten, but still I am always friendly with dogs. But I trust my feelings, am always a bit on guard for an unprovoked attack, *especially* from dogs on a leash.
Somehow being on a leash seems to make dogs more aggressive.

Posted by: Sam | Jul 21, 2006 11:57:16 PM

Dogs are wild animals and shouldn't be kept as a pet. It's as simple as that. A fish is a safe pet. A dog isn't. How many children get injured - often in the face - by dogs each year? It's just not worth it. People should get another hobby instead of walking around with a wild animal and putting others at risk.

The point is: if someone wants to take the risk himself, that's ok. If he wants to play with a pitbull in his own house, I won't stop him. But he or she is placing the risk on others when taking an animal like that outside, certainly if the animal doesn't have a muzzle.

Many people/dog owners will disagree with me. But I'll point them to your article Kathy. But I'm afraid a blind spot will stay a blind spot for most..

Posted by: Matthijs | Jul 22, 2006 12:57:33 AM

I disagree with the 'dogs are wild animals and should not be kept as pets' sentiment. Dogs are wonderful animals and have shared a mutual partnership with humans for thousands of years.

It's like saying "cars kill people, so let's outlaw cars". It's not rational. Education and Responsibility not Fear and Resentment!

Mandatory muzzling of dogs in public places would probably be a step in the right direction.

I have to muzzle our family dog when I walk him because he occasionally gets into dominance fights with other dogs (and then the danger is not so much the dogs trying to dominate each other but the owner wanting to fight me afterwards) :)

Posted by: Ryan Allen | Jul 22, 2006 1:51:06 AM

"You know Kathy, I'd believe the idea that maybe you _are_ an alien and only the dog knows it -- you're too in tune to how people work!"

Central? We have one here who knows.

Other examples of blind spots:

A) You may not mind your own bad breath as much as that of others. But your customers will.

B) You're skimping on customer support, and you don't notice the complaints -- "Out of sight, out of mind" -- but your customers do.

C) Your bar/shop plays music way too loud, and the same annoying tune over and over... but it's your favorite tune, and YOU're the DJ... and you're half deaf already... so why would you notice? (But your customers do. And they're leaving.)

Posted by: A.R.Yngve | Jul 22, 2006 3:00:30 AM


I am really sorry to hear about your attack. That is a terrible, terrible, terrible thing and something that you didn't deserve, earn, or provoke. It clearly sounds like this is something that has had a deep and lasting effect on you.

My own jogging route takes me through an area well known for its owners who let their dogs hang out in the front yard. 95% of the time it is OK, but I still have to keep on my guard because I never know when things might go wrong. Since I moved to Austin, the most I have had to do is to yell at a dog and to squirt it with my water bottle to get it to calm down. Still, it is very scary to try and stare down a charging dog only with attitude and 32 ounces of water (having grown up with large dogs probably helps).

Unfortunately, this situation sits squarely at the intersection of individual freedom, animal rights, and respect for others. Everyone has different boundaries and everyone has different needs. Naturally, conflicts arise. Ultimately, your willingness to understand yourself and empathize with others is the only way to make things better.

Keep safe and sane.

Posted by: Morgan Goeller | Jul 22, 2006 7:28:12 AM

In 'The Gift of Fear', Gavin De Becker talks a bit about blind spots. If I'm remembering the theme rightly, he says that if you're insisting that it won't happen, this is a pretty clear indication that you have some fears it will happen. And if that fear is there, then rather than stewing in denial and subconscious fear, you can take the steps to get the information regarding whether it can happen, and then take steps to prevent it.

He's not talking about blind spots regarding dogs, so much as "My family member would never molest my child," "That man can't really be stalking me," "My coworker might have threatened revenge, but he would never really act on it."

It's such a good book. I highly recommend it.

Posted by: Megan | Jul 22, 2006 8:35:34 AM

I am a dog lover, and having grown up with Irish Wolfhounds, I'm substantially more comfortable with large dogs than small ones.

And, having grown up with dogs which outweighed me for about 17 years, I can not remotely understand people who want to invite a dog into their house and not be the head of the pack. A small person can control a large dog, but they need the right tools and training. Leashes and obedience training, people! If your dog needs an off-lead space, buy a house with a fenced yard.

So I guess my question about your blind spot (which I think you worked into the post very well)... are you going to start leashing your dog?

Posted by: Joe | Jul 22, 2006 10:06:17 AM

Why did you illustrate the story with a picture of a dalmation? Is that your dog? Or is it a dog called Spots that is blind, and illustrates the title?

Posted by: Peter Warne | Jul 22, 2006 10:53:52 AM

cathy, what a horrible experience. great danes are enormous, so the thought of one of those things latched onto my body is terrifying ... but you do cause me to pause and think, as i automatically tell people 'oh my dog is friendly'. he's a lab, his tail is actually worn from all the wagging he's done. and if he hits something hard, the very tip will bleed. it is beyond me to think of him attacking someone since i've lived with him for his 9 years, and all i've ever seen him do is wag and lick. is it a blind spot? maybe it is... i try to be objective about my dog, but your story will remind me not to be so glib next time i encounter someone.

Posted by: Judi | Jul 22, 2006 5:30:23 PM

alien = ethereal body?

Posted by: John Dodds | Jul 22, 2006 6:48:48 PM

I find it funny that you have cocker spaniel on the same list as german shepherds and dobermans pinschers, only because I have a cocker spaniel, and it's very true.

He's the most aggressive dog I know, he's NOT friendly, and if he weren't such a tiny dog, he probably would have caused quite a bit of destruction by now.

Of course, my mother thinks he's an angel, and when he snaps his teeth at young children, she thinks he's playing...well at least the kids know better and keep their distance.

Posted by: Sean C. | Jul 22, 2006 10:19:37 PM

Thanks for the comments everyone... but before I respond, I have to mention one thing I left out. My whole thing about having a dog that weighs more than the person holding the leash? I do mean that (my dog weighs 40 pounds, so I'm good). BUT here's the thing--my horses weigh an order of magnitude more! Yet here I am holding on to my little "horse leash", thinking there is no problem at all. Blind spots!
Of course, *my* horse is special.

NATHAN: No settlement, and they didn't even pay my medical expenses. Colorado has a first-bite-is-free law which says the owner is not responsible for the first attack, no matter how serious, UNLESS the owner had reason to believe there was a risk. I'm just grateful they were responsible pet owners and the dog was current on his rabies shots. Otherwise, that could have REALLY sucked.

DEREK: Oh, thanks SO very much for that cow article ; ( Actually, I had already started to worry about the open space cows out on the BlueBell/South Boulder Creek trail. I think I clocked my personal best half-mile sprinting back to the HWY 93 trailhead when one of the cows gave me The Look. [not to be confused with the nod]

THE OTHER DEREK: Your cat story is hilarious!

MATT: I have been wondering if the fact that I'm now in terror of most big dogs makes it that much worse. But it's not even something I can control -- my brain kicks in to fight-or-flight before I have even consciously registered there's a dog.

EARL: Yes! When Sun first began its now multi-year layoffs, I was always surprised when people were shocked that THEY were let go, given that we knew nobody was really safe. But some people truly believed they were--they had told themselves a story.

WILL: I was surprised to see Collie on that list as well. It came from an insurance company, but if you Google it, you can probably find similar lists. And actually there are a few different categories, even for the dogs on that list. Some are known for having a higher attack/bite rate, but with fewer fatalaties, where other dogs may attack less frequently, but when they do--they don't stop. And pit bulls are definitely in that most-likely-to-do-the-most-damage category.

MATTHIJS: It is a risk, but I think the benefits to people of having pets--especially dogs--still outweighs the risks, despite what happened to me. I agree with Ryan--that there should be education and responsibility. I wish there a greater awareness of the risks, and more education on prevention, etc. One thing they ARE doing here starting next month is requiring all off-leash dogs to have a special tag that shows the owner has been through training on what "voice control" really means. But in the end, any dog trainer will tell you that you NEVER truly have "control" of an off-leash dog--or any predator animal.

MORGAN: I run with a spray bottle now myself! Personally, I'm still glad that Boulder is so dog-friendly, but I think a lot of people abuse it with dogs that really should not be out there. And I do believe that if you have a large dog, you take on more responsibility. It's one thing to have a little dachsund run at me and even jump up on me--but quite another when it's a large dog, let alone one of the more potentially aggressive breeds. I think the greater risk your dog is, the more work you should put into his training.

MEGAN: I remember hearing great things about that book when it first came out, then it fell off my radar. Thanks for the reminder--it's going on my Amazon list.

JOE: I hadn't thought about being the "head of the pack" with dogs, but being alpha is definitely THE key to safety around horses. So this makes a lot of sense to me. My dog is about as far down the pecking order as it gets... I am not kidding here, my SHEEP could stare her down and even my daughter's rabbit [a very big rabbit] could keep Clover back. [Clover is the world's cutest dog, a Harrier hound]
To answer your question, today I decided to go back to keeping her on the "wireless" leash [a hunting dog electronic collar that acts like a pager at the low ends, and delivers a shock at the high end]. In the end, this gives her all the freedom to swim in the creek, etc. but is in many ways safer than a wired leash. I can stop her in her tracks from a mile away if I need to.

PETER: That's actually a great dane in the photo -- although it's colored just like a dalamation. But I picked that photo because the dog looks so innocent.

JUDI: I was just telling someone today that I realized the *only* large dogs I didn't seem to freeze up around were labs : ) They are very near the dead bottom of the list of dangerous dogs (all bets are off for abused dogs, of course, but that's not the issue here), and they look so damn happy all the time!

Of course any dog can become aggressive if threatened, or around food, but if I had to pick a dog to come running at me, I'd want it to be a lab. I believe that will be my next dog.

JOHN: No, just regular garden-variety space alien.
Or worse...I think dogs are pretty much the first to spot any non-human. Remind me to tell you that this isn't the first time I've been mistaken for something... unusual. But I'll save that story for another time ; )

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Jul 22, 2006 10:27:24 PM

A friend of mine I used to work with owned a pitbull. He was fairly adamant that ownership of a dog capable of ripping another dog or indeed person to pieces came with great responsibility, so he took his dog to security training sessions, and got it thoroughly conditioned so that it quite simply would not attack, unless given the command word. Maybe a bit of a risk, but he made the attack command "fetch". Anyway, his dog never bothered anyone, until a neighbour in his tower block, with a huge chip on his shoulder about pitbulls basically let his alsatian start a fight with my friend's dog. The pitbull just stood there taking the abuse, while my friend repeatedly shouted at his neighbour to bring his dog under control. Finally, seeing the injuries his own dog was taking, he gave the command, and the alsatian was killed. Of course, the neighbour brought a complaint about this to the authorities, and my friend's dog was taken away and destroyed, but I think the story does still serve to illustrate the usefulness of this kind of training, and if it's done right, how reliable it can make a dog. People who don't get training for themselves and their dogs are like gun-owners who don't take a firearms safety course - someone's likely to get hurt sooner or later.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Jul 23, 2006 1:00:21 AM

Reading your post made me realize that a good definition of wisdom is recognizing our blind spots.

We all like to think we are open minded and ready to learn something new, but first we must un-learn the false perceptions we have.

We are too quick to categorize and dismiss situations and people because we believe we already know all there is to know, and in the process remain ignorant of the truth and miss out on opportunities for growth.

This was clearly illustrated to me years ago following the death of my mother. It was not unexpected, because she had been ill for some time, but for me was still very sad. My siblings and friends tried to make me forget my grief and while I apprececiated their intentions, made me feel guilty about feeling sad, even at the funeral.

I had avoided talking to my father because I thought he never understood how I felt in the past, so now would not be any different. Months later, when I received a Christmas card from him, I was shocked to find he was the only person who did indeed understand how I felt. It was the first holiday without my mother and he sent the following quote, which I found very comforting.

" As you approach the holidays, remember, grief is both a necessity and a priviledge. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don't let anyone take your grief away. Allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people."

Not only did I see my father in a new light, but it reminded me, to not be so quick to judge what I think is the truth.

Posted by: Mary-Anne | Jul 23, 2006 8:49:11 AM

Funny, I'd never considered that Alpha was a term also applied to horses! But yes, herd or pack, it's a similar issue.

It sounds like that electronic leash ought to be very effective on your creampuff of a dog. :-)

Thanks for letting us know the outcomes of examining your own blindspot on that issue.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 23, 2006 11:42:29 AM

Kathy – I am so sorry about your attack.

I have a 212lb tall black Great Dane and a 67lb Boxer. I won’t walk my Dane. He outweighs me by almost 100lbs. Only my husband walks him. Even though he’s “friendly” (the dog, that is, well I suppose my husband is friendly too) – you NEVER know!

I can make both of my dogs lie down and stay still with just one look but I won’t bank on that when it comes to others. They are never off lead (except in the house, in the fenced in yard, or in the fenced in dog park – no trails there).

Animals are a great joy and an even greater responsibility. Some just take that responsibility a bit too lightly.

BTW - I love the topic of blind spots. In writing about change management I can tell you that everyone thinks that someone else is resistant to change and not them. We all are in one context or another - our blind spot!

Posted by: ann michael | Jul 23, 2006 1:21:04 PM

Oh, to address Peter's comment - that Dane looks like a harlequin (actually a small one). Harlequins are similar in coloring to a dalmation.

Posted by: ann michael | Jul 23, 2006 1:25:38 PM

Lewis looked so innocent when I saw him on BBC News, rolling over, purring and playing with a string. But behind that cute, furry face is a raging maniac with the heart of a prehistoric cave lion ....


The neighbors are terrified of him.

Posted by: Bob | Jul 24, 2006 10:53:40 AM

Malcom Gladwell (of Tipping Point and Blink fame) wrote an article for the New Yorker about pit bulls that challenged some of my accepted wisdom.


Oh, and on his blog he writes more about The Dog Whisperer.


Posted by: Drew | Jul 24, 2006 4:21:20 PM

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