“Pretending to be brave is just as good as being brave” – Anonymous
Zeke struck first.
It was over in a few seconds, before Herschel’s man or I could react. Zeke won and Herschel ran off, keeping his head high to try and preserve some dignity. Zeke stood there looking bigger than usual, ready if Herschel decided to come back and challenge. He didn’t. After about 5 seconds, Zeke turned to me and said, “Throw the ball, Tall Guy”. The fight was forgotten.
Dog fights don’t usually last very long. Most of the time it’s simply about establishing the social pecking order and never gets more serious than a light skirmish. Once the pecking order is established, play can continue and everyone is happy. Dogs don’t have an ego about the pecking order. They just need to know where they fit in the order and they’re happy. When dogs resolve personality conflicts, it’s loud but not particularly violent.
Once in a while, an honest-to-goodness argument breaks out and there might be some blood involved. That doesn’t happen very often. At our local dog park – as with most dog parks we’ve visited – the people and dogs are looking for a good time and some fresh air.
§ § §
“I was scared. Herschel is a scary guy. I didn’t want to fight him.”
“You attacked him, Zeke!”
“It was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. He was getting ready to fight me.”
“How do you know that?”
“I could smell it and also didn’t you see how he was moving?”
“He was just standing there.”
“No he wasn’t.”
“Yes, he was.”
“No. His tail was in the ‘I’m ready to fight’ position. He was just waiting for the right moment and then he was going to jump on me and bite me and bite me and bite me.”
“You can tell that from his tail?”
“Yes. And his smell.”
I learned a long time ago never to doubt a dog’s instincts or sense of smell. If Zeke said he knew that Herschel was going to attack, I had to believe him. Zeke wasn’t an aggressive dog. He was more interested in chasing tennis balls and tearing around with his friends. He got along well with all the dogs and people who were regulars at the park. He was often the first to welcome newcomers. Anyone who knows dogs knows how easy-going Labs are.
“Tall Guy…when you know someone is going to hurt you, you have to be brave try to hurt him first. The guy who bites first usually wins.”
“Herschel is bigger than you. You could have gotten hurt.”
“I was going to get hurt no matter what. Fights hurt.”
“I was scared but pretending to be brave is just as good as being brave. It’s not like I could have talked him out of it.”
“I’m just glad he didn’t hurt you. I guess I’m kind of proud of you, too…but promise me you won’t fight unless there’s no other option.”
“PROMISE!”, Zeke said. He immediately followed up with, “Herschel is Jewish but he still has his doggy foreskin. That’s weird, huh? What’s for dinner?”
§ § §
I tell Eliza and David never to start a fight but always do their best to finish it. That’s not a popular approach with Jane or the administration at their school. Adults always seem to get caught up in the latter part of the sentence where I encourage defending yourself vigorously, but completely miss the former in which I say “never start a fight”. They are so entrenched in their position that violence is never the answer that all other words and ideas fall on deaf ears. They do not want to hear it. It’s too bad. If everyone lived by my rule there would never be fights because nobody would ever start one.
People like to think that violence is never the answer, but that’s idealistic and quantifiably not true. I’m rather grateful that the Allies decided that violence was the answer in WW2, otherwise, the Axis powers would have won and my parents might have never met.
The key to winning, according to Zeke, is to stay as calm as you can and strike first when violence is inevitable. Take the lead and try to control the situation. Accept that you will get bruised and bloody, and then do everything you can to make sure your opponent is more bruised and bloody than you.
I’m not saying violence should be the first option, but it certainly can’t be taken off the table entirely. Humans aren’t ready for that yet. We aren’t evolved enough.
§ § §
The dog park in our neighbourhood is big and full of regulars. It tends to be a relaxed place, and I feel comfortable saying that taking our dogs to the park is the best part of the day for most of us. I know most of the dogs by name, but confess I only know one or two of the humans by name. It’s a happy place. In the summer months, some of us will bring lawn chairs and a cooler and spend a few hours sitting under a tree reading or chatting while the dogs run free and do dog things.
Once in a while, a new dog/human team shows up. For the most part, they’re happy to have a casual chat. Sometimes they just want to be left alone, and that’s fine too. On rare occasions, they simply don’t know how to behave in a group. It’s almost never the dog’s fault. Dogs reflect the energy of their humans and want to please them. If the human is not cool, the dog won’t be cool either.
It’s true that certain types of people are attracted to certain types of dogs. Some people choose a dog based on their need to have a four-legged prop that reflects their vision of themselves. Not everyone agrees with me, but it’s true. Generalizations and cliches don’t just appear out of nowhere. They’re rooted in truth.
It’s a fact that certain types of people tend to favour Pitbulls. Not all Pitbull owners are the same, but certain types of people will only own Pitbulls. You know the guy…he has a missing incisor and a neck tattoo. That guy is never going to team up with a Golden Retriever or a Beagle.
§ § §
“Tall Guy, is it park time yet?”
“Sure. Let’s go. I was going to wash the dishes but that can wait.”
Zeke had a ritual when he knew we were going to go out. He’d bound down the stairs to the front door, nose his leash, do a jumpy 360-degree spin like a rodeo bucking horse, look at me, run up the stairs, then repeat, all the while saying “Going to the park! Going to the park! Going to the park!” in a sing-songy voice.
Spotty would sit at the top of the stairs watching him impassively. I had to put Zeke’s leash on first because if he saw that Spotty was getting dressed, his excitement level would double and it became impossible to talk him down.
“C’mon c’mon c’mon LET’S GO!”, he said.
“We’re not going anywhere until you settle. Take a deep breath.”
“Simmer down, you dopey mutt”, said Spotty. I enjoyed the irony of her comment, as she’s a cross breed and Zeke is a purebred.
“Going to the park! Going to the park! Going to the park…” said Zeke,
§ § §
The new guy and his dog barged into the park. You could almost see the black cloud hovering over them. It seemed to me that he was a first-time dog owner and selected a “tough guy” breed to bolster his “tough guy” image. It quickly became clear that his dog was the one in charge of their relationship. That’s never good.
The dog had one of those spikey Judas Priest style leather collars and obviously hadn’t been taught any manners at all. The guy kept screaming at the dog in full sentences, and seemed surprised and irritated that his dog didn’t comprehend.
Zeke ran towards them to see if he could make friends.
“HEY NEW GUY! What’s your name?”
“I’m gonna smell your bum.”
Franco turned on Zeke and snarled, “Get away from me.”
“But I was just…”
“GET AWAY FROM ME!”
Franco’s owner yelled at me, “HEY! CONTROL YOUR DOG! DO YOU WANT HIM TO GET HURT?”
“That’s ironic”, said Spotty, as she left a well-crafted turd at my feet. “Be a pal and pick that up, would ya?”, she said as she jogged off to play with her friend Ellie.
§ § §
Zeke and Spotty aren’t pets. They’re family. So despite the fact that I’m a dog lover, I will stand up and protect my dog just like I’d stand up for Jane or the kids. If they’re getting picked on, I will go after the dog that’s hurting them with fists and feet if necessary. Most of the time, the other dog’s human takes exception to this and an argument happens. I remind them in my most menacing voice that they should have better control of their dog. It’s never gone beyond being a verbal exchange because I’m big and when I’m angry I guess I’m kind of scary. I took me a few years of being an adult to figure out that I’m physically intimidating, and to use that as a tool to prevent physical altercations. Most people stay angry, but they back down. There’s a part of everyone’s brain – the caveman part – that is responsible for saying “this person can mangle me if they want to. I should be careful”.
Like most people (especially Canadians) I was raised to not make waves. To be overly polite, deferential, and quiet. That’s fine, for the most part. In fact, it’s part of what makes living in Canada so pleasant. We’re nice to each other. But if you mess with my family…
§ § §
“Tall Guy, did you ever fight another guy?”
“Was it the right thing to do?”
“It felt like it at the time, but later it didn’t.”
“Did you get hurt?”
“Did the other guy get hurt?”
“Would you fight again?”
“That particular guy, or…?”
“Anybody. Would you fight?”
“I hope that now that I’m older, I’d be able to keep cool and figure out a better way. But I also think it depends on what’s happening. That’s a hard question to answer.”
“Sometimes a quick fight is the best way to fix something fast.”
“Most of the time it isn’t.”
“What if the man with the dog hitting stick came and tried to hit me?”
“Well…it depends on if I see him coming or not.”
“I think you should have said, ‘Yes Zeke, I would fight that guy for you.'”
“If I caught him in the act, I would. If I caught him before he started hitting you, I’d try to do something else first.”
“That sounds complicated. You always think a lot about things. If I saw him I would bite him right away.”
“He deserves it.”
“Yes, he does.”
§ § §
Zeke’s right, of course; I tend to overthink. It’s a curse that makes me a quirky conversationalist and prevents me from being a fully-functioning adult. It doesn’t help having Zeke whispering dog wisdom in my ear at every turn. He doesn’t do it maliciously. He simply says what he’s thinking, and that usually forces me to re-evaluate what I’m thinking because his point of view is uncomplicated.
Some people like to trot out the old cliché “Keep It Simple, Stupid”; the KISS theory. As humans, we don’t seem to be able to do that in regards to physical conflict. Simplicity eludes us because we’ve been trained to “be better than that”. But you know what? Zeke is right. Sometimes the best way to get someone thinking straight is to punch him in the nose or bite his ear. It brings people crashing back to reality in situations where their emotions are controlling their actions.
It’s hard to use words to reason with a bully that’s determined to make your life miserable, but if you introduce a sudden, sharp pain into the equation, he’ll hesitate before trying it again. It doesn’t always work the first time. You have to be prepared to take a couple of beatings but the fact of the matter is that nobody enjoys pain. Even if you lose the fight, you will still have a few opportunities to make him feel pain, and sooner or later he’ll get sick of that.
Look…we’re still animals. We may very well be evolving into something that truly abhors violence, but we’re not there yet. Countries still have armies. We pay money to watch MMA fighters beat each other up. We like violence, even if we say we don’t. All evidence points to the contrary.
In the short term, it’s in your best interest to be prepared to be violent in case you end up in a situation where it’s unavoidable. It’s better to have a “personal moral dilemma” after hurting someone than a “best course for rehabilitation” dilemma after they’ve hurt you.
A few years ago, I was jumped by four drunks at a train station. You can read about that experience here.
Until that happened, I had a very different view of violence. I thought I could handle myself. All the violent situations I found myself in prior to that had been somewhat predictable. They started over a perceived insult and escalated. By the time the actual fight started, everybody involved knew it was going to happen. Being mugged doesn’t work like that. You’re minding your own business and then all of a sudden you’re getting punched in the head. It’s extremely disorienting.
Being big doesn’t help. Thinking you’re tough doesn’t help. You’re caught by surprise and your brain processes the situation accordingly. The only thing that can help is being prepared. That means taking self-defence classes and practicing the techniques regularly. That’s what the police do. That’s what soldiers do. That’s what you and I need to do.
From the reading I’ve done, Krav Maga seems like a good solution for most people. It’s quicker to learn than traditional martial arts. It’s tailored for “street violence”. If you can find a class near you and you have the time and money, you owe it to yourself to at least investigate it.
“Like most martial arts, Krav Maga encourages students to avoid physical confrontation. If this is impossible or unsafe, it promotes finishing a fight as quickly and aggressively as possible. Attacks are aimed at the most vulnerable parts of the body, and training is not limited to techniques that avoid severe injury; some even permanently injure or cause death to the opponent.”