Dog behavior is not static, a permanent, unchanging state, just as human behavior is not. You may think you’ve cracked it (sit…stay…turn around) and then something – men with hats, noisy kids, umbrellas, delivery drivers – suddenly becomes, seemingly for no reason, the mortal enemy. It may even be other dogs. Since he was a kid, my border terrier, Barney, had a basset hound best friend, Gomez. Then one day he decided he hated all basset hounds. On dog walks, I constantly scanned the park for the slightest earbeat of basset hounds so I could attach him to his leash before he flew off in a mad fury.
As with all relationships, our relationships with dogs are ones of constant recalibration, or they should be. This is why dogs should never be acquired on a whim, no matter how attractive. Sharing your life with a dog is a commitment to constantly fine-tuned training, daily empathy and compassion, and a healthy amount of mind-reading. It’s one of the reasons so many dogs bought during lockdown are having trouble now: too little socialization with other dogs and people, and too much time bonded exclusively to their owners is a recipe for trouble. behaviour.
And when it goes wrong, it can lead to years of pain and shame. My friend Zoe has a six-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, Romeo, who hates other dogs. “I blame myself for some of his problems,” she says. “I’ve raised a number of dogs, mostly sticks or stick crosses, but I’ve never had a puppy in a home with young children, and that makes a big difference. You rarely have a sense of order or a calm or established hierarchy with three children around.
“He’s a lovely guy. Really, if you go out with him, dog lovers cross the road to see him – one guy missed his bus stop once because they had such love-in. He universally loves humanity – but he hates other dogs.
“I haven’t been able to socialize him at all. His reactions are totally random: he can pass in front of four greyhounds then go crazy in front of a whippet. I am always on high alert, scanning the horizon for any other dogs. It’s like walking around with a psychopath.
Nonetheless, she persisted. Because you do, don’t you? You make accommodations, you try new things, and you continue to love them because they love us unconditionally, even on our worst days. Owning a dog can be pure joy or sometimes a lesson in endurance, but with every moment of our relationship with our dogs, they teach us more about acceptance, courage, humility and what it’s like. to be a truly empathetic human being.