So, it’s been a strange afternoon. I met with someone new today: a dog behaviourist called Mark, who came to our home. He smelt good (he has three dachshunds) and he brought treats (always good) but the treats weren’t exactly free. I was supposed to do things to get the treats. Strange, right?
As some of you will know, I’m an anxious fella around my fellow canines. When my Uncle Bracken was staying with us last year, I felt great. I had my own personal bodyguard at all times. He made me confident. “Squirt, leave everyone to me,” he said. We’d be at the park, or at Newhailes, and whenever dogs approached they went to sniff Uncle B, who didn’t react, didn’t stress, didn’t fuss; he just let them have their sniff and move on. Meanwhile I had skirted around the situation, undisturbed. And when someone was on approach that Uncle B didn’t like the look of, well, he barked. He stood his ground and he barked. And no one, and I mean no one, messes with Uncle B when he’s in full voice.
But then Uncle Bracken went back to live with Grannie, and things shifted. My fear of canines got worse. I’d go to the park and feel vulnerable. On edge. Uncertain. And this fear spread into a general anxiety of being out. Not all the time, but the first ten minutes or so after we leave home – if I’m on my own with Mum – I’m not exactly a happy pup. Noise, people, distant barking, traffic…. it can be anything. I refuse to walk. Sometimes I shut down. It passes, but it’s not good while it lasts. If I’m with Mum and Dad, I’m much better. In fact I’m fine. Two Parents: good. I’m safe. One Parent: scary. What can I say, it’s complicated.
So Mark is trying to help me learn some new tricks so that rather than focussing on the things around me that make me scared, I focus on, well, other things. Good things. Like treats. Like walking at heel beside my Mum.
Hang on, walking at heel, did you say….? Ah yes, I don’t do that unless I feel like it. So Mum and I have to learn walking at heel together, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure about this…
“This is a good thing,” Mum said. “A big part of life that you and I are meant to enjoy together is going out for walks, even when your Dad’s not around. This is meant to be fun, not stressful.”
“But it’s strange,” I replied. “I feel strange. I can’t explain it.”
“I know,” she said. “But it won’t feel strange forever. Some things just take time.”
I wasn’t sure about sharing this here. Who wants to admit to being anxious and freaked out? But so many of us go through life feeling a bit anxious about things, only we don’t acknowledge it. I see this with humans all the time. “How are you doing?” one will say when meeting another. “Oh I’m good,” the other will reply, nodding. But that’s not always true, is it? It’s what humans say because it’s ‘normal’. But maybe we just need to be a little bit more honest with each other.
So, friends, that’s what I’m doing here. There are things that I’m good at, like running on beaches and making sure the Parents don’t get lost. And snuggling, clearly. And there are things that I’m not so good at. You may look at dogs and think that we’re pretty simple beings, but we can be complex too.
So Mum and I have ‘homework’ to do. Homework. I’m not entirely sure about this either…