Silas is a happy little guy, as long as the world operates 100% according to his rules.
Some of these rules are transparent to me. I try my best to go along with them when I can, even when it’s inconvenient.
Some of them are indecipherable. I’m sure there are reasons and patterns for these things, but I don’t know them.
The most important set of rules is Silas’s long list of things that are safe and not safe. It’s a long, extremely specific, and very arbitrary list.
Last Tuesday at the park, for instance. We were at Silas’s favorite park. This is one of very few outdoors places where he is 100% happy. As long as we’re on the trails and not in the parking lot, he’s better with people here than almost anywhere. His leash manners are better. He’s more willing to eat. Even here, I managed to terrify him.
What did I do that was so bad? I broke the rules.
I walked him twenty feet off of his usual route, to get to a trash can so that I could throw away his poop bag. He spent the entire twenty feet (during which time we were within sight of his regular route) flattened to the ground, clawing desperately at the dirt, trying to turn me back to the safe route. This was with a dose of his short-term anti-anxiety medication.
The good thing about the rules is that they allow for a lot of randomness. Once you are on “the list,” you’re on. The park that is usually closed to cars? Gets a free pass for the odd car driving by. The pet store? It’s okay for people to pet him. Parking lots? Not nice, but infinitely less evil than any other place we might see a car.
The bad thing about the rules is that, especially as Silas gets older, it is almost impossible for me to change them. Which is, I know, typical dog stuff. That’s why puppy socialization is so important, and now that Silas is two and a half that window is long closed. But even in the realm of normal dog training, Silas’s fear of the “bad things” is so strong that I can’t break through. There is no trainable distance that we can be from a moving car. There is no audible-to-humans sidewalk noise that I can use as a base for counter-conditioning. There is not one step on the scary trail that isn’t so stressful Silas would refuse a treat.
I’ve been resisting for a while now, but I think it might be time to put him on some daily medication. My hope is that this will loosen up “the rules” enough that I can put some things on the “good” list. I’ve got nothing to work with right now.