Some time ago, Louie and I just finished our first night of obedience training, andmuch to my surprise, he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash, but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.
Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high energy level in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large chocolate lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.
This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him, but a few larger dogs frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners.
Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou, he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.
I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has an excellent memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars, and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell, even when the man is nowhere in sight. So, some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large dog.
There are a couple of exceptions to this fear. A large Doberman used to live down the street named Rowan, was good friends with Louie. They loved to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he’d fit right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realized how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.
When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.
This tendency to react strongly, and often unconsciously, to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people based purely on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.
Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.