Aikido is the martial art of blending harmoniously with the energy of an attacker. By definition, attackers want to collide with your body, using a weapon, a fist, the ground, or — in the case of canine combat — a set of teeth. In Aikido, the solution is to get out of the way. Aikido techniques for doing so number in the thousands, but most involve connecting, and vanishing. You don’t just avoid your opponent/partner — and you also don’t allow the collision they want. Instead, you surprise them by not being where they expect you to be. It’s a subtle art, and most dogs don’t excel at subtlety.
But this story isn’t about how to train your dog to use Aikido. It’s about how to use it yourself, should your dog miscalculate as mine did, and get into a fight with a bigger dog.
My dog, Espy (above) is a miniature schnauzer, twenty pounds soaking wet. She’s very fierce when it comes to rodents, rabbits, skunks, and the like, but generally mild-mannered around other dogs. She sometimes barks, but has never been known to pick a fight. Intentionally, that is. (She also is in the habit of waiting patiently at mat-side while I’m training in Aikido. But I see no evidence that she’s picked up much.)
Case in point, one time I had Espy off leash at a park when we came upon another off-leash dog and its attendant human. Espy was very excited. The dog, who I’ll call “Suzy,” looked a lot like Espy’s beloved friend and protector, our lab-shepherd mix, Sirius (at left, with Espy) who had died a few years before. Suzy was about three times Espy’s size, but Espy measured all dogs by Sirius, and was undaunted. I checked with Suzy’s human, then encouraged Espy to “go play.”
Seconds later, it turned out Suzy wanted to play Canine InSinkErator, with Espy in the role of your fingers when you are fishing for a dropped spoon and someone turns on the garbage disposal.
Espy’s response: Ki-yi-yi-yi-yi! (Translation: Where’s Sirius when I need him?!?)
Suzy straddled Espy, growling and snarling at her throat and forelegs, which were frantically and fruitlessly scrabbling to push her away.
I stepped behind Suzy from the right (about a forty-five degree angle to her spine), took hold of her hind leg, and backed up. There was no impact, just my hand firmly wrapping around her leg below the knee. In Aikido parlance, I “connected” with her center of gravity. Then I moved mine backwards. Hers came with me.
Espy scrambled away, still shrieking with panic (fortunately, it turned out, no injuries). Suzy just looked confused.
It turned out Suzy’s accompanying human wasn’t her owner, but the owner’s friend. When I spoke with Suzy’s owner later over the phone, she apologetically explained that Suzy had had bad experiences with smaller white dogs in the past, and doesn’t like them. (One of those “dog” things. Sirius was unfortunately the same way about golden retrievers. Thank goodness humans don’t have irrational prejudices like that.)
This simple technique of breaking up dog fights was, in fact, not taught to me by an Aikido practitioner, but by the owner of a pack of huskies. He’d broken up many a dog fight in his day, and he cautioned me not to come anywhere near the head and shoulders of fighting dogs. As many dog owners have discovered, that’s a recipe for getting bitten. Instead, he said, pull the winning dog backward out of the fight, using a hind leg. The losing dog will escape, but the winning dog won’t know how they did it.
I got this advice years before I started training, or I could’ve told him that’s how Aikido works, too. My ability to pull off the dog-fight-dissolution trick has increased with every year practicing Aikido. In Aikido, when your partner “gets out of the way,” it’s as if they vanish. You are completely committed to getting hold of them – and they’re not where you thought they were.
In this case, one minute Suzy had Espy right where she wanted her. The next minute, she was “gone.”