I’ve always been proud of the fact that, however nervous Silas is with people, he’s pretty good with other dogs.
Then, he started barking at them sometimes.
Then he started barking at them more often.
I realized quite suddenly last week that this is entirely my fault. We went to the dog park a few times with him, and he was pretty good. Not perfect, but who is? But I was so terrified about “what if” something bad happened that we stopped going.
So something bad did happen–he started to lose the benefits of being well socialized with other dogs as a puppy.
Not only that, I was making it worse. See, I actively dodge other dogs when we’re out, even dogs who want to greet politely. In fact, my mental dialogue runs from downright cranky (“I wish those people and their dog would quit following us. Good grief, can’t I even come to the park in peace?”) to completely paranoid (“Oh no! Those people want to bring their dog over here. I think I can outrun them.”)
We’ve all read a hundred times that dogs pick up on this stuff. I always assumed that I had a free pass, because Silas pays what looks like extremely little attention to me when we’re out.
It was the cat incident that really brought how false that was into focus. See, I was terrified that being attacked by that cat would make Silas afraid of other animals. The first dog we saw was a Pekingese at a highway rest area. I was already a little irritated, because it can be hard to get Silas to use the bathroom on the road, and I knew he’d never go around another dog. Plus, “oh, I hope he doesn’t bark at that dog. If he’s scared of dogs now we’ll be so miserable!” Sure enough, he barked. A very similar scenario played out at the rest of our stops.
On our way back home we didn’t see as many dogs. Finally, I acted on my realization that I was causing my own problem. When a cute little Schnauzer got out of his car across the street, I exercised some self control. I calmed down my breathing. I did not immediately head further away. I admired how cute the little dog was, instead of seeing him as the enemy. It wasn’t a truly effective experiment because I’m not sure Silas ever noticed him, but either way he was also calm and happy.
I probably won’t be headed right back to the dog park or anything so drastic, but I will try my best to freak out less.