Does your large dog scare people?

Article about responsible dog ownership with large dogs.
By Laure-Anne Viselé, July 2010

He’s just a big teddy bear

You have a large dog and he’s adorable. I can relate, I have lived with my fair share of giants. But experience has taught me that no-one knows ‘He’s just a big teddy bear’.

Sadly, many large-breed owners let their persecution complex get the better of their judgement instead of showing some common courtesy to the public.

They often complain: “Why are people so ignorant? Rottweillers/Pitbulls/German Shepherds/etc. are not aggressive”.

Scaremongering media

Don’t get me wrong, I also get frustrated by scaremongering, where the “sensational” breeds (e.g.  Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Pit Bulls, Rottweillers,…) are hysterically over-represented.

I also know that bite statistics (for what they are worth) consistently fail to show one breed significantly more likely to bite than another. But…

… it’s all to do with emotion and perception, and nothing to do with reason and fact. If someone feels intimidated by your dog, rightly or wrongly, be kind.

The bad few that drag our name in the mud

These are a few of the shocking incidents that I see day in, day out, with large breeds.

Muzzled attack

Muzzled German Shepherd repeatedly attacks my dog while I am walking with my 1-year-old child.

Owner’s response? I am “being hysterical” (I sternly tell him to get his dog on-leash), and “the dog is muzzled, he can’t do anything”.


There is this really wild Staffie in our dog field who bullies every other dog, and will not stop “play”-biting, even though the other dogs give calming signals and yelp incessantly.

Owner’s response? “The dog park is for everyone” (the irony seems to elude them…)

Heel-biting children and pestering dogs

This infamous Tervuren (black, long-haired Belgian Shepherd) pestered my dog for over 5 minutes, no matter how many times I ask the owner to give us some space, and no matter how many times my dog growls and snaps.

That same dog had just chased away a family with young children for constantly heel-biting them.

Owner’s reaction? (smiling and shrugging): “He’s still young” and “He has no recall“.

So the recall is not the owner’s responsibility? It is like a magic trick that a dog either has, or doesn’t.

I might add that the ‘young’ dog was over 10 months old. Definitely old enough to have learned some manners.

Roaming free in a restaurant

It has become impossible for me to go and enjoy a cup of coffee with my dog there, as this owner lets his dog roam unsupervised through the whole restaurant. As my dog is tethered to the table foot –I have manners–he is cornered as that large dog (German Shepherd) invades his personal space again and again.

Owner’s reaction? Irritatingly raising his eyebrows when I ask him to keep his dog tethered. How rude of me to ask him to show the rest of us common decency.

Hot chasers

Two Briards chasing my terrorized dog over such a long distance that we had to look for him for twenty minutes afterwards. This was one of our first attempts off-leash after adopting him from the shelter, and his recall had been perfect so far, so we were panicking of course.

Owners’s reaction? (whilst walking away and unenthusiastically (and ineffectively) calling their dogs back) “You should have your dog on-leash if he doesn’t like other dogs“.

The thing is, my dog likes other dogs. What he doesn’t like is being charged by two unfamiliar dogs with no play signal or formal introductions. You own the relentless chasers, you keep them on-leash.

Unprovoked puncture wounds

This huge Argentinian Mastiff went out of her way to attack my dog (we were nowhere near them), leaving several puncture wounds needing veterinary attention.

Owner’s reaction (when visited by the animal control police, as his dog had repeatedly attacked other dogs): “It’s a dog eat dog world. If she had really attacked him, he’d be dead. Everyone is victimizing my dog.” He later physically threatened complaining dog owners.

Hoarding (and breaking) toddlers’ football

This Black German Shepherd who repeatedly steals away a couple of toddlers’ football, eventually puncturing it, and preventing them from getting to it.

Owner’s reaction to my shocked look: “It’s a dog park [It wasn’t…]. They should not bring kids here.”

Terrorizing a Down Syndrome kid

Malinois/Greyhound mix who is infamous in our park for repeatedly lunging (and chasing when off-leash) at joggers, photographers, skate-boarders, cyclists, …

Owner’s reaction: “Yes, I really should get an electric collar” after I had repeatedly talked to him about:

  • Teaching her a sound recall,
  • Desensitizing her to joggers, and
  • Having her on-leash until she was under control.

He is now at the stage where he systematically shouts at her and jerks her leash whenever a jogger approaches. Straight out of “Make your dog’s aversion worse 101″.

I reached the end of my tether and stopped walking with him when he found it suitable to regale us with this hilarious (not) anecdote: his dog had chased a teenager with Down Syndrome. The shrieking kid ran through barbed wire to get away, and tore his arm in the process.

Owner’s reaction: “: The dog “doesn’t like shrieking, so she started chasing. If only the stupid kid had stopped shrieking“. I was flabbergasted at this lack of kindness. Really? That’s the lesson?

Off-leash Rottweiller with no owner in sight

An off-leash Rottweiller comes straight at our dog walking group. Immediate group hysteria with whispers of “He’s so dominant!”. The dog was adorable, but the walking group kept perceiving him as a threat. So I gently guided him away from the group with no incident and, after a long while, the owner turned up.

Owner’s reaction: “Ha, there he is! Thanks!” Two meters down the road, the owner unclips the leash and proceeds to let the dog wander miles off again

Sure there was nothing to worry about, but here’s a newsflash for you: people are (irrationally perhaps) scared of Rottweilers. Surely you know that? You own one:  you must have seen people’s reaction.

Huge dogs charging at a group of panicked children

Two Newfoundlanders dash away from their owners in pursuit of a small group of panicked young children. The mother is hysterical and screams insults at the dog owner. To the educated eye, sure, these two dogs had good intentions and they are not even that rough, but that mother’s fear is legitimate.

How on earth would she know that the dogs were OK? From her perspective, two huge strange dogs are charging at her kids.  What sort of a mother would she be to trust in the common sense of a perfect stranger (the dog owner)? When it came to her kids, that lady assumed the worst, and good for her.

Owner’s reaction: “That woman is always bothering me! They’re just dogs, what’s her problem?“. So that wasn’t even the first time?!

Bacchus, my parents' Anatolian Shepherd

Simple equation

Here’s the equation:

Passerby intimidation = Dog size / (Dog obedience * Owner courtesy)

If you, like me, love your dogs big, please:

  • Ask for permission before letting your dog into others’ personal space (dogs or people)
  • Work on a perfect recall
So if you want a large breed, remember: you’ll be held to much higher standards.

Any comments?

I always value your comments. I would particularly like to hear from you if you:

  • own a breed that is often perceived as intimidating. What do you do to break the ice?
  • are often intimidated or inconvenienced by large, or intimidating breeds

Further reading

Responsible dog ownership

Dogs and society

Dog breeds

Dog behaviour

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