Monday, September 16, 2013

Challenges

Last week, I came across a New York Times article about life with reactive dogs (let's just go ahead and take a brief time out to comment on how cool it is that reactive dogs are getting so much attention! Maybe one day, I won't have to deal with so many of the issues Barley and I encounter daily as more and more people are educated about dogs like mine).

Rachel Maizes wrote about a lot I could relate to, but the part that stood out to me the most was when she wrote, "It’s easy to love a well-behaved dog. It’s harder to love Chance, with his bristly personality and tendency toward violence. Yet in the end, I measure the success of my relationship with Chance by its challenges, because if I can’t love him at his most imperfect what use is love?"

Although my mom was quick to point out that Barley has a bubbly personality and a tendency towards snuggling (with people), Maizes summed up my experience as a reactive dog owner better than any of the other hundreds of books, articles, blogs I've read.  My first dog was easy to love because she was a good dog.  She was my best friend, the one I ran away from home with (but never farther than the big oak tree at the other end of the street), the one who alerted Mom when my knee and a rusty nail decided to get to know each other a little bit more intimately, the one who I shared cookies with under the dining room table.  With the exception of the moments she chewed my Minnie Mouse shoes and ate the legs off my Miss Piggy Happy Meal toy, she was a good dog. 
My beautiful girl was good to my baby sister, too.
How could you not turn into a dog person with this as your first dog love?
Barley's a good dog, too.  She's even a well-behaved dog.  I mean, hey, she's got her CGC certificate, and we worked hard for that bad boy.  She doesn't get on my couch or chew my things. She is a good dog.  But she is not an easy dog.  If our relationship was measured by our successes, we'd be, as John Mayer says, "slow dancing in a burning room."  

Our relationship is measured and defined by our challenges.  Without our challenges, we wouldn't be a team.  As much as I loved my first girl, our relationship never had the intensity that my relationship with Barley has.  We were not a team.  We were a family, but she didn't need me in the way that Barley does.
Go Team Beth & Bar!
Barley depends on me.  Not in the way that all dogs do for food and water and love.  She depends on me to keep her calm and focused and to tell her how to behave in new, weird situations.  If I'm excited about seeing someone, she's excited about seeing someone.  If I'm stressed, she's stressed. If I'm proud, she's proud. 

Tonight, we took one of our normal neighborhood walks. As we got towards the home stretch, a tiny dog, probably less than 10 pounds--maybe a Pekingese?--bolted down its drive way after us.  A few houses down, we had passed a lab lunging and barking at the end of its tie out (while its owner stood in the door way and watched--how maddening!), so Barley was already nearing her threshold.  Before she even noticed the tiny dog, her tail was rigid, her ears were perked up, her eyes were scanning the road ahead.

The tiny dog was behind us, so I saw it first and tried to up our pace, but I soon realized we were never getting away from this little dog.  (How something with such short legs can move so fast is an eternal mystery to me!)

My Barley girl was so good. I said sit and she sat.  That little dog darted around her, sniffing every part of her it could reach.  It stuck it's entire body under her belly--if dogs had laps when they were sitting, this dog would have been sitting in Barley's lap.

Barley's ears were back, her eyes were wide, and her tail had gone from it's usual curlicue to a straight line, but she didn't growl.  She didn't lunge.  She sat calmly and took treats from my hand while that little dog invaded every last inch of her personal space.

Usually, when a dog charges us, especially a little dog, Barley goes over her threshold so quickly that she never hears me say sit and she shows no interest in the treats I offer her.  All I can do is hold on tight and do my best to block the other dog from getting near her mouth.  Tonight, though, I stayed calm and my girl followed suit.

To up the challenge level, when the dog's owner got to us, he picked up the dog and said, "Oh, say hi!" and stuck his little dog right in Barley's face.  Barley passed the test with flying colors.  Instead of even sniffing the other dog, she turned her head to me, made eye contact, and got a treat.

This is a happy Barley dog tail.
Was this a fluke? Probably. Maybe.  Will it happen the next time we encounter a smaller dog? Who knows?  But for that moment, my dog and I were 100% on the same page. She trusted me to help her deal with the unknown.  And she was excellent.

1 comment:

  1. Possum was a good dog! Barley is good in a different way :-) I bet she was so good on the walk because she knows her Aunt L is coming to see her so soon!!

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