Martial Training with the Dogs of War

Punch cartoon from June 17, 1876

Punch cartoon from June 17, 1876

Running the Hounds

Exactly why the dogs in this part of Indiana turned on us, neither of us can guess. We’ve been running the same back roads for years, dealing with the same animals. Most of them have been friendly and even those who were borderline were wary enough to back off. This year it all changed. Maybe it’s because we quit our jobs and began working for ourselves–the dogs could have smelled the lack of medical insurance, or the aroma of independence. Maybe it was the political climate, the uncertainty in the air. An old Russian saying says that when the dogs run in packs it’s a sure sign that things have gone to hell. Whatever the reason, it happened here. Friendly mutts that used to come out and bark and wag a tail and maybe trot along with us awhile suddenly were hostile, looking for an opening, nipping at our heels and getting bolder day by day.

I got fed up with it, and Alice got fed up with it, and where the closest pack was concerned the police even got involved for awhile, because we had a drunken neighbor at the door demanding that we come over and watch him shoot all eight of the dogs who thought we shouldn’t visit our mailbox. There are laws here about controlling your animals, and after too much of this harassment you just get fed up, even if the animals aren’t much of a physical threat. They aren’t cute. They’re just irritating.

With some advice from the police to back me up legally, I started carrying a stick. Defense against dogs is one of my interests because it’s a common problem and one that most people don’t do anything about, which seems silly to me. So I have stick–not just any sticks but martial arts staffs. The first is hanbo sized, about eight inches long and heavy brass with a knife inside that you can get to if you have a few minutes. The other is a length of straight grained cedar sapwood that weighs just a few ounces, about three feet long. Not a bo, just a jo. Makes a good walking stick. I’ve had both of them for years, with no reason to use them in self defense until now.

The dogs love it. Maybe it’s something in the air, but they see a stick in my hand and it’s the greatest thing since dog biscuits, a chance to engage an armed enemy. It hasn’t made them meaner, but it definitely has put excitement into the game. Every now and then one gets a little too close and gives me a chance to demonstrate a move, not hard enough to do damage but hard enough to get some respect. There’s a little circle of safety that travels with us, exactly as wide as the stick will reach. It’s fun for all, actually. I distract myself from the nonjoys of running by considering different tactics and movements. I’m incredibly pleased that I haven’t forgotten the moves.

Only one dog in the half dozen gangs we pass on our runs is a real threat–the rest just need an education. This one is a doberman as big as a small horse, backed up by a collection of mongrel companions and pressured to be the alpha male. Tough situation for a dog, and it makes him aggressive. I’m never quite sure about him, whether he’ll run or come back for more.

But I do look forward to it. Apparently so does he. I caught him with a left hand strike the other day and found it very satisfying, that after all these years my off hand still works. I have a bunch of trick moves to test him with, but I still wish it wouldn’t come to that. He’s undoubtedly a nice dog, somebody’s pet. So far we’re just having fun, but I hope the neighbors get the message before it gets a little more real.

Alice took the better approach and got a can of mace. Sadly, it seems to be much more effective than the stick vs tooth game. The dogs that took a hit from the mace can just lie about under the shade trees now, yawning at us and keeping their distance. Pepper spray repellent may not be a martial art, but it seems to work.

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