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The Yankee Express

Suddenly, Luke Valentino is showing an aggressive side

Behaving like a gentleman at Barnes & Noble


I grew up in the seventies, at a time when dogs got into dog fights. That was the way it was back then. We didn’t talk about latest research, or things like unneutered pets, food aggression and male dominance. My dog, Max, a free-spirited mongrel said to be part Rhodesian, would taunt our next-door neighbor’s dog Lido, an eternal barker with a scruffy beard and venomous teeth. Lido used to body-slam the front door when I delivered the newspaper to his house. He appeared tall and awkward, an oversized Jack Russell that would have been cute—if only he was seven times smaller. 

 Playtime with Golden pal, Tucker

“Sorry you’re on a leash, Lido. I won’t be long.” Max adored Lido’s yard. He would trot over and sniff overturned flowerpots while Lido stretched to the furthest point possible to reach a wanted dog.
Until the unlucky day came. Lido broke free.
“He’s going to kill him!” I watched Max rumble with the beast, not knowing that my small mongrel would take it like a champ. He limped home with one eye shut, and sipped water from an outside puddle. Then he lied down, placed a defeated head over his paws, and shook off the fight. “Win some, lose some.” Sigh.  
Max was my favorite. He died tragically after being struck by the last car he would ever chase on Rockland Road, Auburn. He was only seven and died in my father’s arms, right in front of my house. I went to school the next day feeling nauseous.
Fast forward forty-five years. I might be old, but I’m still a Dog Person. Luke is my third male Golden, and the oldest to remain unneutered. His handsome looks qualify him to be a stud, informally speaking. But imagine if Luke could be an actual Stud? Imagine if we could watch him grow old with a chunky Leo or Lila, one of his very own pups? The vision, along with sound research that a “later neuter” is considered better for your male, has kept me from scheduling the surgery. Consequently, Luke is fifteen months going on fifteen. Pardon the smack talk, but he’s grown a set of balls.
As though defending me from a pack of hyenas, he shows his teeth and snaps in the face of certain males. His sudden aggression has taken me by surprise. A bulldog named Jackson faced his wrath recently. Stocky and patient, the bulldog sat at the threshold of a dog-friendly bar in Millbury. By virtue of his pedigree, he wore a permanent Joker smile while he watched Luke walk in.
“What is wrong with your face!!! Did you have a fight with a frying pan?!” My pup went crazy, a big teddy bear with an unruly temper. Joker Jax, innocent and hated on, looked away. “I’m so sorry. My dog hasn’t yet processed the face of a bulldog yet.” Seconds after the words slipped from my mouth, I wanted to take them back “Why did I say that? Everyone knows bulldogs are ugly-cute.” I tried again. “Luke has been acting adolescent lately.” 
His adolescent behavior may be rearing its big head, but I’ve learned that Luke is not alone here. Other males have disrespected him. They’ve growled in his face and picked fights when he’s tried to play. I’ve yelled at the offenders, using my stern teacher’s voice. “You be nice to Luke! He was just trying to play!” Nevertheless, dogs will be dogs. And male hormones will rage with scents we can’t quite understand. I can’t help but think that Luke’s intact (big?) balls are part of the problem. Worse, unlike Lincoln, a gentle giant who just wanted to play ball, Luke loves to play rough. He doesn’t know when to back down. He doesn’t know when enough is enough. More sadly, he’s learning the hard way what Max had learned in the hood. “You win some, you lose some.” Some males just want to be boss.
The German Shepherd we met at the dog park was no exception. I noticed him casually playing with a Frisbee while Luke trotted aside another girl in the play group. Upon entering the gate, I had been told that the male shepherd is “keeping everyone in line.” I’ve always appreciated the breed, having grown up with four (at different life phases). I understand them.  A German Shepherd is loyal, but often aggressively so and they’re not quite as affectionate as Goldens. Given Luke’s recent track record, who could judge on that front?  I wanted to earn Kyle’s trust. I spoke kindly to the lean shepherd and pet his head. More interested in the Frisbee, he looked away and did his own thing. Before long, Luke wanted to make friends. He trotted into Kyle’s space. “Hi, I’m Luke Valentino Let’s wrestle!” 
Kyle snarled and snapped back. “How dare you ask me to play!! I don’t play. I’m the boss of this turf.” Luke did not submit, as other dogs had known to do. “What’s your problem?” He growled back and showed his teeth. For a split second, I thought (and hoped) that the two males would come to an agreement. “I’m strong. I’m strong! I like to play. I like to play!”  Let’s both be strong and play.” Not a chance. A full-fledged dog fight ensued within seconds. What should have been grumbling, rough play took a dangerous turn. Despite my experience in handling dogs, I felt suddenly terrified. The shepherd pinned my precious Luke to the ground by the neck. “That’s a puppy!!” The owner screamed. “Get off him!!” My heart pounded.  I stomped my foot down and jumped to the rescue with a firm command. “OFF!” 
Kyle was oblivious. He held his ground and kept a clutched mouth on Luke’s neck. I kneeled by the dogs’ side and fought to pry Kyle’s mouth from Luke’s neck in the same way I might extract a stolen piece of tissue. I’ve done this a thousand times. My love for Luke began to overshadow any fear. I would not walk out of the park with nausea in my gut. I would not allow my pup to feel pain. While I worked on Kyle’s mouth, the owner was able to clip him onto a leash and pull him off Luke. She was terribly upset and apologetic. I sat beside my dog and pet his head. I comforted and pet him soothingly. 
“You’re okay, Luke. You’re okay. Let’s go have some water.”  Luke truly was okay. He sat, smiled, and panted the way dogs do. The moment came and went. He would move on because he’s a dog, Dogs don’t stay stuck the way people do. Still, I hugged and babied him some more. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” I took him to the pet store to pick out a stuffed animal. Max never got a second chance. Luke did! I left the dog park misty-eyed and relieved, knowing that the incident would mark my last one for a very long time. Dogs will be dogs. But the cost of losing Luke is too great. Besides, his own puppies may need him someday. 
Stay tuned for more on Living with Luke. 
Find Luke Valentino on Instagram @ livingwithlukevalentino 
Write to me at [email protected] 

**Please note – I have changed the name of the German Shepherd and did not mention the name of the Dog Park in order to protect the integrity of both. As dog owners and those advocating for the wellness of pets, we are doing our best. Sometimes we fall short.