Photo credit The Smitten Image
The fall changing of seasons is here. And with it comes sweater weather, beautiful colors, earlier evenings, and what seems to be a sense of heightened sensitivity in my sensitive dog.
I don’t know why I didn’t notice it last year. Probably because I was still very much struggling/clueless in how to cope in my relationship with Balton, and how to address his over the top reactions to scary stimuli. But I guess it makes you realize how far you’ve come in a year, even though in some ways it feels like we’ve only taken a couple baby steps to where we ought to be.
Last night my Statistics homework and I were interrupted by the pacing and doorknob nosing of one Shepherd’s quiet requests to go to the bathroom. I’ve always given Balton lots of credit for his polite house manners and gentle requests for attending to his business. Only after I’ve put him off too long does he start getting demanding with some short and sharp barks.
So, out to the autumn chill we went. It was dark, and there were noises off in the distance – be they leaves crunching or our neighbor down the street hammering something on the outside of his house which warranted a low growl and a few barks. We were trying to find some potty spots underneath lamp posts so it could be well lit, then returned to our side yard to give it a go. Balton peed on a few posts, but number two he would not do.
So after 20 minutes, back inside we went. Soon as we got back to the comfort of home, Balton seemed to remember what we had ventured out to do in the first place, but he had been too worried to do. He meandered back over to the door right after I took his leash and my jacket off, nosing the doorknob once again. “Really?” I asked with a sigh. He looked at me with big eyes that seemed to promise he would finish the job this time.
So back to the dark and scary night we went. I watched him and offered him treats when he spooked at a far off sound indicative of a scary monster from nowhere, but then looked back to me after gently calling his name or making kissy noise.10 minutes later, he finally accomplished what he set out to do, and I celebrated being able to go back to the couch and histograms I was studying (let it be known I was less celebratory about the histograms than I was the couch).
We headed to the house, and I gave him a treat on the doorstep before we entered back indoors (unsure if it made sound training sense, but I wanted to reward him for facing the night before we went back inside). Balton galloped up on the couch and looked worried for a few moments more, until I cuddled him and told him what a good boy he was. He collapsed at my side and fell asleep, warming my lap and not moving again until he was called to bed for his nighttime snack.
Balton is described by his trainers as a worrier, and it has been great seeing him less worried week by week when he goes to class and faces some of the things that caused him angst. Seeing him last night, the words of my trainers resonate. Novelty of some things has worn off with counter-conditioning and desensitization, but last night it was like everything had changed and become scary again. His ears were back, his stance was stiff, he was acutely aware of every rustling and off distance noise around us. Seeing him so afraid at the things that go bump in the night hurts my heart in a way that’s tough to describe. It reminds me how fragile he is, and makes me wish people could get that when they interact with him.
I think of the people who think he’s so scary, and wish they could get a real honest glimpse of how much more afraid he is of them. It made me think I may have the makings of a children’s book on my hands: Balton the Fraidey Dog Who Everyone Was Afraid Of
I feel like children’s books tend to require a happy ending (unless you’re Hans Christian Andersen I guess – he missed that memo). For Balton, it would be super for that ending to result in a removal of fear, or some triumphant breakthrough where some mutual understanding where a little kid can teach grown ups why they shouldn’t judge their sweet friend…and yes he is a sweet, sweet friend to the gentle soul and open heart of that child.
Maybe Balton the Brave: An Unlikely Superhero’s Story could follow this up as a two part series- where his super qualities triumph over the scary monsters he lives among in the human world.
That would be my happy ending, anyway.