Dog talk with Uncle Matty: You’re not the Don, and it’s not personal

By From page A4 | April 26, 2013

Daisy is a 20-pound mutt, female, somewhere between 2 and 4 years old. We also have a 6-year-old Labradoodle. We rescued Daisy from a reservoir near our house in December of 2011. She was on her last leg and has recovered nicely except for one thing: She’s overprotective when anyone or any dog enters the house or yard. If she knows the person or dog, she’s fine once she recognizes them. Otherwise, we can’t settle her down.

I was watching our neighbor’s dog today, and Daisy was lying next to me. She started growling, and as the neighbor’s dog came closer, Daisy’s growl escalated. I told her to relax, but she started to attack the other dog. I grabbed her — making sure she knew it was me — and she turned on me and bit me. 

I responded in anger and approached her with that mindset, which made her even more aggressive toward me. I grabbed Daisy and my pistol and headed toward the woods, but I was just venting. I could never hurt an animal. But I am concerned that Daisy’s aggression will get worse as she gets older. I don’t know whether it’s hereditary or abuse, but I need to help her if possible.

For a minute there, I thought we were heading for an “Old Yeller” ending — minus the fateful rabies outbreak as justification.

I called this guy to make sure he had talked himself down from the ledge.

I asked him, “Have you killed her?”

He told me no, she’s fine. “I was just so angry.”

Some people reading this will be ready to meet at the town square, tar and feathers in hand. But the truth is, a lot of people get irrationally angry with their dogs when things don’t go their way.

Why are we getting so angry? Why is it the dog’s fault that we don’t understand its behavior?

Were it not for this man and his family, Daisy would not be alive. She was seriously injured, unable to walk and in grave danger of starving to death alone in a ditch. He rescued her, got her vital medical attention and nursed her back to health. And don’t think that’s not part of the problem.

He did so much for her. Why won’t she just behave for him?

As with children, so it is with dogs. It just doesn’t work that way.

Daisy didn’t bite him because she’s ungrateful. She bit him because he inserted himself into an ongoing act of aggression, prompting her redirection onto him. She didn’t willfully ignore his earlier request that she “relax.” She has no idea what “relax” means because he hasn’t trained her.

In his 1969 book “The Godfather,” Mario Puzo wrote of the now legendary Don Corleone: “If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his, the old man would take it personal.”

For the Don, that philosophy fueled a strategy, one that allowed for no accidents, no misunderstandings, no unintentional slights — which took all the stress out of deciding whether retaliation was appropriate. It was. Always.

For those of us not in the mafia, living this way makes no sense. And it’s wildly out of place in dealing with our dogs.

On that day, before the other dog and the pistol and after the other dog and the pistol, the story of Daisy and her knight was ongoing. He rescued her, he nursed her, he invited her to stay. Still to come: He deepened his insight into her behavior, he got her trained, and they lived happily ever after.


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs 95619.

Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate Inc. 

Matthew Margolis

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