One of the reasons I cherish my dogs is that just when I think I know how they work, inside and out, and that I can predict their behavior consistently, they serve me up a surprise and it’s a 50/50 chance that it will be a pleasant one.
For instance, Tink. She’s been with me since she was 9 weeks old, I raised her and I train her and live with her and take her walkies and wrestle her for the pillows at night. Around 18 months or two years old, she started having hysterical barking meltdowns if she saw a dog who looked unfamiliar to her. This may have had something to do with her sucky vision, it may have been her hitting maturity, who knows. We worked the “Look at that dog!” game from Control Unleashed religiously, and that got us to the point where her hysterical barking meltdowns were manageable although still embarrassing, but at least I could distract her and get her out of the situation if I my vigilance failed so hard we got into a situation in the first place.
So for the past three, three and a half years, I have been watching for other dogs and fleeing if I saw one, and hopefully I saw it before Tink did. It was just one of those things, you know. Everyone you love has certain quirks that irritate the shit out of you but aren’t going to change, so you just learn to deal with them and view them as an integral part of the person you love, one that maybe you would rather do without but not if it meant doing without that person entirely.
Today, Tink and I went up to Chatham, where the 28th Massachusetts, Company B was having a Camp of Instruction, as was the Fredericksburg battlefield’s Washington Artillery unit. We wandered around some and then I saw two gentlemen with three collies between them, headed our way. I spotted them before Tink did and thought “Oh shit, better move out” so we walked away from the 28MA’s encampment toward the Washington Artillery, which was down a grassy road. Tactical error on my part, because after a few minutes, here came the collies, and this time they were between us and escape. Whoops.
I called to them when they were a ways away and said “She’s going to bark when she sees you, she’s mostly blind and nervous about strange dogs!” and backed us off the road so they could get by. Tink gruffed once when she noticed them, but… I said “Shhhh, it’s OK.” and she believed me and settled down. When they got up to us, one of the gentlemen asked if the dogs could sniff noses, and I said “Sure, if she’s all right with it” and said “Tink, you can say hi” and Tink proceeded forward confidently toward three strange dogs who were radically different from any dogs she has spent time with before, and she sniffed their noses and butts. She said a very polite hello without gruffing or having hysterics or anything, just some maneuvering to keep from being surrounded by the three of them, as dogs will do.
One of the collies, the oldest to judge by the grey on his face, was also mostly blind. She spent the longest time greeting him, the two of them carefully sniffing each other, inch by inch, from nose to tail, all totally relaxed and “hey I do this all the time” which may have been true in the collie’s case. For Tink, though, it was a first and I kept waiting for it to break out into barking, especially when one of the younger collies had a good excited bark at a jogger, but it never did. The dogs said hi to each other, and when they were done they ignored each other.
I almost wanted to cry. Maybe Tink’s life can be much less circumscribed now, if we can go places where there will be other dogs without having a loud and embarassing temper tantrum. I’ll have to try it again sometime to be sure, but things are looking good right now. Today was one of those good surprises, one of those moments when I realize all over again that dogs are not static pieces of furniture, but living, changing, marvelously doggy beings with inner lives of their own.
Good dog, Tink. That’ll do.