Labels and Surprises

I’ve always been very hesitant to give Silas any of those handy labels that we have for our dogs. I don’t just mean the dreaded “dominant/submissive.”  We have a vast array of supposedly descriptive terms that become self-fulfilling  and create limitations that didn’t really exist. The more precise labels are better than things like “manipulative” or “destructive” or “stupid,” but they can work in the same way. Resisting the label is a fantastic tool for figuring out exactly what your dog’s real problem is. Then, call it whatever you want–it’s an accurately diagnosed problem, not an excuse. (Try it–turn your dog’s problem into a sentence, rather than a phrase. Which one seems more like a training opportunity?)

On Tuesdays we do a combination of counter-conditioning and hiding from the lawn service. They come by a few times earlier in the day, but around 3:00 they leaf blow right against the door. So, we work on being less scared of the leaf blower through the earlier passes, then I try to have Silas gone before the really terrifying part.

This week Tuesday was cold and gloomy. We went to the park on Monday, and Silas hadn’t had a great time. Instead of going back, I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to try for a while.

I took Silas to PetSmart.

Because I’ve been refusing to give his fears an easy label, I know that he’s only scared of people who startle him. In an environment where he expects to meet people and can see what’s going on, like the park, it is extremely rare for him to bark at anyone. We desperately need to get him a more consistent exposure to strangers that he isn’t likely to be scared by. So, I decided to risk PetSmart. We used to go a good bit, until he stopped needing so many new leashes/collars/toys/beds/crates. I knew that in the past he could handle the store, but I wasn’t sure about how he would handle people coming around the aisles.

He was amazing. Not only did he not bark at a single person in the store, he didn’t even pull on his leash. He had a very nice greeting with a Scottie (unavoidable–Scottie was on a retractable leash). When he started to get a little excited, we left before it turned to overstimulated anxiety.

It was still way too early to go back home, so we went to the local pet place. It’s a nice 15 minute drive, which was plenty of time to calm back down. Because the local store is much smaller, it is harder to avoid up-close interactions. Again, this is a place we used to go to all the time. We stopped taking Silas there after a few bad encounters with other dogs, and then I started buying his food elsewhere. Silas met the three employees in the best-behaved, sweetest possible way. He did bark at one of them, one time, for being a little too excited to see him, but he got over it immediately.

It’s a nice feeling, knowing that he really can still go places. Neither of these visits were long, nor did I manage to actually buy things, but we went. Trauma free, even. Now I just have to do my part and keep taking him out.


6 thoughts on “Labels and Surprises

    1. Yes! I was expecting him to be manageable, but still really stressed. Instead he was all “Hey, what’s over here! Hi there Lady! Hi there Doggy! Oh, you want to go over here? Okay!”


  1. I’m a big fan of Lowes or Home Depot for these kinds of visits – the chances of another dog being there are pretty slim so you don’t have to worry about the additional stress for your dog and can work on appropriate public behavior.

    So glad Silas had a couple good store visits!


    1. Wow–I didn’t even realize they let dogs in Lowe’s.

      Strangely, I’m not really worried about the other dogs. He’s great with dogs. (The bad encounters we had in the local pet store were entirely not his fault.)


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