Overcautious

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.

Spanish moss

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.

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8 thoughts on “Overcautious

  1. I know where you’re coming from. I feel the same way when I have Callie out somewhere. Also, admittedly I am not overly social on trails and would rather avoid people and dogs regardless of who i have with me.

    Sounds to me like you’re on the right track. Focus on the positive (happy thoughts!) towards another dog and Silas will likely follow along. When it comes to socializing with other dogs, we’re not the best at that since we have a pack to play with.

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    1. It’s so easy to get nervous out there. And cranky. I’m trying not to think too hard about all the things I’ve taught Silas to be afraid of. Has he picked up on how irritated those people screaming on the sidewalk make me?

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  2. I feel like this with Delilah. I tense up because I’m worried how she will react and then she in turn tenses up and reacts. But it’s darn hard when you’ve had your sweet pup turn into a snarling, lunging mess. I’m trying to focus more on her and her body language as opposed to how I feel. I can’t really observe her and let myself freak out at the same time. 🙂

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  3. I usually tense up when an off-leash dog comes barreling at Blueberry. I’m never worried about her reaction – she is very submissive. I’m just always worried that the oncoming dog will attack her. This happened to her just last week and it just really irritates me that owners that have zero recall on their dogs have them off leash. In an area that specifically states the dog needs to have one. I often worry that I will have to fight a dog to save B from an eventual attack. I don’t like hurting dogs but if one ever threatens her – well, all bets are off.

    It’s hard to calm down when you want to tense up – isn’t it???

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    1. Yes it is! I try to focus on the “outside” stuff–breathe normally, loosen my arms and shoulders. Weirdly it seems to help my mental state–like they say about smiling when you aren’t happy.

      We’ve had mixed results with off leash dogs. Silas is mostly very good with them, although it’s been several months since we had an encounter. In general he doesn’t like being startled, so dogs who come up quickly are hard for him.

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  4. I did a double take on that photo..Gizmo loves to play in the Spanish moss…he’ll grab a huge chunk of it and drag it all over the yard wanting me to chase him for it…The only time I worry is when a large off leash dog races towards us while Giz is on lead…One time a large off leash dog ran up and actually bit him (just a tooth scrape)This left both of us a bit traumatized…and now we both tense up if approached by a largeoff leash dog…i think we feed off each others’ tension in this

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  5. Don’t beat yourself up about the dog park thing. If you spend enough time at the dog park, something bad will happen. I’ve had so many bad experiences at dog parks that I’ve sworn off them. I know what you mean about being cranky. I always take Kaya & Norman to off leash places so they run into other dogs and I usually feel like moving on even if they’re friendly. I think staying calm and positive is a great start.

    Maybe there is a dog walking group in your area where he can get used to dogs again without being forced to interact. They usually have a no greeting rule so they can settle in and relax.

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