Bad Thing to Good Thing

I am interrupting your scheduled book review with a harrowing tale:

Yesterday evening we took Silas out to the park and went to drop off the recycling. When we pulled back into the garage, I casually let Silas out of the car. The garage door was still up. Instead of making a beeline directly for the house door, like he always does, he bolted for the sidewalk. No leash, because, complacently, I knew that he would go straight for the house.

My terror was not that he would run out into the road. We’re on a quiet street, and Silas is petrified by cars. No, he had bolted out the garage door because, unbeknownst to me, a lady was walking her tiny pug down the sidewalk. As I’ve mentioned, Silas’s reactions to strangers are unpredictable. If you startle him, he will bark at you. A lot. Loudly. I *knew* that he was going to bark at that tiny, immaculately coiffed, well-dressed lady with her little pug, and he was going to terrify her. Then she was going to terrify him even more by, understandably, screaming or running or something. Instantly, I had envisioned the complete scenario, all the way to the point that she called animal control on me.

What really happened was this: Silas ran toward the lady. She started getting edgy, as you do, so I called out for him, apologized, and said he was friendly but a little nervous. (Sorry, my DINOS friends, but when somebody is about to pick up their dog and run for it you have to say something. I’ll do better.) Silas slowed down when I called, giving me time to catch up. I didn’t have a leash, but I could grab him if things turned south. Then he walked up to the lady, let her pet him, let her pug put its head all up in his business, and did his whole “I am sweet! I am shy! Love me!” routine. Partway through this my husband brought the leash over, and I clipped Silas in. I apologized profusely and pointed out that Silas was terrified of the sidewalk and that I never dreamed he would go over there. (Lesson learned.) Then I thanked her for being so nice to him. I hope I adequately conveyed my intense mortification and my gratitude that she really handled it perfectly.

Well, meeting the nice lady and the pug inspired Silas with a deep curiosity about what else might be out there. So he walked half way around the block. In a regular, curious, who-else-peed-on-this-bush way. Then he came to his senses and bolted into the front entrance to our townhouses.

Moral of this story: owner bad bad bad. Silas good good good.


8 thoughts on “Bad Thing to Good Thing

  1. You know, back when Shiva was more reactive, she was always pretty great off-leash. Her reactivity was frustration-based. She barked and lunged not because she was afraid but because she felt the need to sniff and investigate but the leash prevented her. Perhaps that’s what is going on with Silas as well?

    Who knows? But I am so glad this worked out and he was so brave! Go Team Silas!


    1. There were, honestly, so many factors at play that I’m not sure what helped. He was 1) off leash, 2) approaching the woman from the side, 3) going up to her of his own volition, 4) happy and well-exercised from being at the park, and 5) she didn’t move quickly or talk loudly or alarm him in any way. Or, even 6) my “what is he going to do now!?” anxiety was further away than usual and 7) he’s been in obedience class for the last six weeks meeting strangers. Any or all of it could have helped.

      When I did clip him to his leash, it just happened to be his 15ft long-line from the park. I do think not needing good leash manners helped him to not totally shut down on the sidewalk. I’m formulating a whole plan now around circumstances where he just casually has the opportunity to choose to go out the garage door wearing his long leash.


  2. Yay for Silas and yay for you! The more success he has the better you will both feel.

    I have to try my hardest not to get nervous when approaching other dogs as I know Delilah can feel my tension and I’m afraid sometimes I project my feelings on to her. 😦

    Keep at it, that is just wonderful!!


    1. If only his success didn’t start off with my life flashing before my eyes. I guess there’s always next time.

      I remember reading somewhere, probably in one of Patricia McConnell’s books, that dogs are much more likely to fight when their owners tense up. Too bad it’s so hard to get ahold of ourselves.


  3. I’d love to see someone write a book on healing the reactive dog owner. Every one of us who has had a fearful or reactive dog can relate to the scenario that ran through your head. And you’re right that we need to put our heads in a good place to provide a protector for our dogs. But it’s so hard.

    Honey is not reactive. She’s my first dog I can say that of. And I had to work very hard not to tense up every time we saw another person and dog walking toward us.

    Every good experience helps Silas and you learn the world is a good place. So glad it worked out well.


    1. Thanks!

      I’m an over-thinker of things, which means envisioning a lot of bad scenarios, which means a lot of anxiety that I’m sure my anxious dog picks up on. (Oh, no! He’s going to bark and scare that lady!) I try to be better, but it’s hard going.


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