The One With Napoleon

Some time ago, Reggie and I were hanging out with Little Kitty on our stoop (Reggie loves the kitties) when around the corner came an affable golden retriever with her tail swishing like a windshield wiper. When she saw Reggie and Little Kitty, she came bounding over smiling that goofy golden retriever smile.  Little Kitty ran under a car; she’s a very selective kitty.

 

Reggie and Little Kitty

Reggie and Little Kitty

Being on leash, it’s harder for Reggie to get away from the slobbery affection. He has always been afraid of big dogs which he defines as: any dog bigger than him. He also dislikes most puppies. They’re all jumpy and herky-jerky, and his goal in life is to find a warm sun spot to lie down. (Like dog, like person, I suppose.) He is a medium-size dog at forty-five pounds, so there are a fair number of dogs bigger than him, including the golden retriever in our midst.

Reggie began backing up and looking for an escape route. Not finding one he started growling to warn the golden away. Perhaps not the brightest dog ever, the golden moved closer, far ahead of her person. (I won’t get started on how much I hate the flexi-leashes.) My options to get Reggie out of that situation were now closed off. His tail went down and he gave sharp barks. It was a dog version of a panic attack. The golden’s person rolled her eyes. “God. She’s just being friendly. (To the dog) Come, Sasha. You don’t want to play with this mean dog anyway.”

Reggie Noir

Reggie Noir

I imagine parents deal with this kind of interaction regularly. I knew the golden was friendly and didn’t mean any harm, but it doesn’t matter what I think (or know) to be true. If Reggie is afraid, then he is afraid. Some people send their dogs (or children) into situations where they’re uncomfortable, a.k.a. the trial-by-fire method. If the dog or child can see firsthand that the Very Bad Thing didn’t happen, then, the theory goes, they’ll be less afraid. There were times I’d found this to be true in my own life.  But much of our fear is the irrational kind—elevators, heights, airplanes, bigger dogs, (insert your bugaboo here) and common sense doesn’t play a role.

As Reggie’s guardian, it’s my job to protect him. I want him to trust that I’m not going to put him into a bad situation. Parents will surely relate to this feeling. Dogs (and very young children, I assume) learn through repetition. If a dog has what he determines to be a bad experience, he will put up defense mechanisms to protect himself from the Very Bad Thing. I decided I would do my best to operate within Reggie’s comfort zone.

Then doubt crept into my mind.

Reggie and I passed a woman walking her chocolate lab. I’d see them occasionally and always led Reggie away from them, despite that the lab appeared calm and easy-going.

“It’s okay if they meet,” the woman called to me.

I shook my head. “He’s afraid of bigger dogs.”

“How do you know?” She shrugged and walked away.

I was a little miffed by her ridiculous question. But I began to wonder if I was doing Reggie a disservice. Maybe by trying to protect him, I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to grow. I put him into a box, labeled it, and sealed it closed. Admittedly, it was easier for me. We had the rules of the game and I didn’t have to think about it. How many times had I done that to myself? How many times had someone done that to me?

A few weeks later we ran into them again. “Why don’t you let them meet?” There was an edge of frustration in her voice.

I felt myself bristling. Who was this woman to judge me?  She hadn’t been there for all of the barking and the panting and the whining over these many months. Then Reggie took it upon himself. He wagged his tail a bit and headed toward them. She gently patted him on the head, mere inches away from her hefty 70-pound lab. Reggie sniffed the dog and returned to getting attention from the woman. I had tears in my eyes. I was so grateful to watch him put his fear behind him and sad that I very nearly could have missed it by not allowing him the opportunity to step outside the box.

I was so joyful that I didn’t mind what I knew what coming next. “See?” the woman said as she straightened and walked away.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”  ― Orhan Pamuk

Have you ever felt stuck inside a box of your or someone else’s making? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

I still consider Reggie a DINOS (Dog in Need of Space). Not all dogs want to say “hi” to your dog and not all enjoy being petted by large or small humans. If you have a DINOS or even if you have a friendly golden retriever, check out Jessica’s fun and informative site. She says, “All dogs have a need for and a right to their own personal space. Some dogs have a stronger need for personal space then others.” Reggie gives Jessica and especially this post two paws up. 🙂

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34 comments

  1. I’m so glad Reggie and you had a positive experience!!! Yay!

    Unfortunately we also have a DINOS and have been judged for it… Abby (our old lab) used to be the friendliest dog on earth — to humans and to other dogs — then she developed severe arthritis and we were told by our vet to never let her play with other dogs. It was really hard for a while but then it became second nature… not the “not playing” part, but the eye rolls, the comments from other dog owners, the judgment that we were awful for not letting her play. It stung every time and sometimes led to words. Now that Abby is old (and in cognitive decline, sadly) she is afraid of other dogs and will growl. Now dog owners, when we tell her she’s physically unable to play, we’ve had comments from: “that’s not my dog’s problem,” all the way to “maybe it’s time to put her out of her misery.” 😦

    I’m off to check out the DINOS site. Thanks, Jackie!

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    1. Ugh! I’m so sorry that people have to be so insensitive. I remember working with a dog who was deaf. She was absolutely charming when she could see you or another dog approach. But since she couldn’t hear, if she was taken by surprise (another dog coming up from behind, for example) she would absolutely panic. Do you think that could be Abby’s growing discomfort with other dogs? She can’t hear or see as well as she used to and maybe she gets scared?

      DINOS – you’re not alone! 🙂

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  2. I think you’re absolutely right to let Reggie signal when he’s ready to interact. Dogs have their own wisdom and we need to respect that! As for the other dog owners, does it truly matter what they think about you or Reggie? It’s their problem if they only choose to narrowly define you. That said, I have to say that I hate being narrowly defined–as a matter of fact it’s a pet peeve–but ultimately my friends are people who see me as a whole person. They’re the people whose opinions mean more to me!

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  3. What a thought-provoking post. So interesting how this experience led to self-examination of the ways we (ALL) seal off the box, even if inadvertently. I, of course, love the last comment about getting Reggie a Little Kitty of his own. Ha ha… Of course, more work for you.

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  4. Looking back, my childhood dog, Mean Streak, was a DINOS. He HATED larger dogs, but got on very well with anyone his size (about 35-40 pounds) or smaller. Unless the dog was female. That dog could be the size of an elephant and Mean Streak’s inner Pepe Le Peu would instantly surface. He LOVED the lady dogs. Like Reggie, Mean Streak was also AFOC — A Friend of Cats. So, basically, he just hated the guts of all bigger males. Until this enlightening post, I always thought that his issue was just a variation of penis envy. I love the pictures of the Reginator and I’m very glad that he was compelled to step out of his comfort zone, but you know him better than anyone. I think you’re absolutely right to not force him. Other dog owners can be so short-sighted.

    The older I get, the less inclined I am to step out of my own comfort zone, but lately, I’ve been dating again. I’ve got some tales to share about that, but I think I’ll save them for another time, or maybe telling them over pie.

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    1. Before I got Reggie, I thought all dogs love to hang out with other dogs. Now I understand how ridiculous that sounds. I don’t get along with every human I come into contact with. Why should I expect Reggie to be different in that respect?

      Here’s to more pie-days!

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  5. I enjoyed your little story about Reggie. Do you think Reggie decided to say “hello” to the other dog because he felt you losing your hesitation? Animals are very sensitive to their owners’ feelings.

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  6. Once upon a time when I had a dog. Rather a big one, I’d say – 70+ pounds but a scaredy cat. The worst for her were thunderstorms. Because she was afraid, I patted and stroked her and it got worse. A doggie psychlogist then told me that whenever we pat our dogs, we tell them “It’s OK, good dog” – meaning – you’re doing the right thing, being scred is the right thing. When I haerd that I was so annaoyed because I’d been 100% sure that being there for her was what she needed.
    Maybe it’s not exactly comparable, but a bit. But I’d be like you, trying to avoid that she’d feel scared.

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    1. Yes, I’ve heard that theory also! Reggie is afraid of thunder and fireworks also, and I can’t help but try to comfort him when he’s in distress. I’d like to think that he understands I’m trying to keep him safe.

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  7. I was really feeling this as I read it, Jackie. Zeus is terrible about other dogs, barking and making trouble – and it all stems from fear. It’s embarrassing when he acts out. Some people are understanding and give him his space, others act like I have let him down in some way, allowing him to become like this (though they don’t know, or stop to ask, if he was like that when I got him – which he was). We’ve worked with him for four years now, and he’s gotten so much better, but every now and then when he’s having a bad day he completely reverts.

    I’ve had to learn not to anticipate the bad behavior, as that only reinforces it. Do you ever watch The Dog Whisperer? I love that guy!

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    1. I understand the feeling embarrassed. When Reggie barked or growled at another dog, I would get frustrated, which probably only reinforced his fears.
      It sounds like Zeus has made a lot of progress. Animals show us that there is always the capacity for change.

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  8. What a great post. My dog is fine with all dogs but clearly likes some a lot more than others (she rudely ignores others… which I find quite funny inwardly but some dog owners seem upset that their dog is being snubbed). Your piece reinforces the point that each dog has his or her personality – we shouldn’t assume they are all happy to be approached immediately etc.

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    1. Before I got to know Reggie, I fell into the trap of thinking that all dogs loved to play with other dogs. I also thought that all dogs loved to play fetch. Not Reggie. He has no interest whatsoever in a ball. 🙂

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  9. I can totally relate to this one, Jackie. Rocky has never been good around big dogs and I do protect him, but he’s only 6 pounds! One time a woman let her dog almost attack Rocky and then shrugged it off, saying, “My dog is usually so friendly!” No apology.

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  10. Miles is the same way and I get so annoyed by the dog owners who insist that their dog meet Miles. Miles is not a dog lover. People he loves. Dogs not so much. I usually cross the street as well when I see a dog. It’s not that I don’t trust the other dog (not completely), but Miles gets agitated really quickly. He’s been attacked twice and both times the owner said, “My dog is super friendly.” But they’re like us. We don’t like every person we meet so why do we expect our dogs to. Lately he’s mellowed some and will briefly say hi, but I still watch him like a hawk for the signs that Miles has had enough. He can’t handle puppies that jump on his bad hips.

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    1. Yes, I do the same thing — watching Reggie closely for signs of stress or discomfort, which means I need to get him out of the situation right away. He has a certain look and he gives me little signals like moving his ears forward or licking his lips. (He’d be a terrible poker player with all his “tells.”) 🙂

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