Aiee! Amy Makes a Friend

Because Amy’s world has been turned topsy-turvy by her move to a new home and new parents, we’ve been counseled to take it easy on the friend-making and try to avoid other neighborhood dogs entirely until Amy learns to put her confidence in us and gets comfortable and familiar with her new surroundings. So we’ve been trying, for the last couple of days, to either avoid other dogs entirely or, when that is not possible, teach her to sit nicely and eat cookies when other dogs go by. This teaches her that she shouldn’t worry about other dogs, she should enjoy seeing them because if she is polite, she gets rewarded. And yet, she still rumbles at them (she doesn’t growl…she makes a noise deep in her chest), stands stock still with her big bat-ears erect, and wants to pull toward them. Her hackles never raise and she never bares her teeth. Usually, the other dog in question is lunging, barking wildly, or growling at her. She doesn’t usually respond to a dog behind a fence unless it lunges at her, which most of the dogs in our neighborhood do; if a dog is indoors and barking from a window, she doesn’t even turn her head. She’s even gotten good at ignoring the neighborhood’s stray cats utterly and completely…one passed within a few inches of us in our own backyard and she was so nonplussed, I had to ask her if she had even noticed. She hadn’t.

This morning we did an about-face when I saw a straying, yet collared and tagged, brown lab a few meters up the road, and I’m not even sure Amy noticed, because she didn’t even look over her shoulder at him. We sat and ate cookies while looking over our shoulder at a staked-out boxer-type dog on the beach road. We listened to our mother when she told us it wasn’t necessary to say anything to the fenced brown lab that was growling, barking, and lunging at us (and who always does). Literally, when she started to pull and rumble, I said, “That’s not necessary, Amy” and gave a quick pop on her leash, and she turned away from the dog.

When we went out for lunchtime walk, instead of turning down the beach road, we continued up the road to a side street we like to walk down, because I saw a big brown dog with his master sitting patiently by the beach and staring us down, and I presumed he was learning the same things I am trying to teach Amy. What I didn’t expect is that as we were walking down this nice, beach cottage-y street to the marsh that borders our neighborhood, a small white ball of fluff — aptly named ‘Cujo’ — would come up behind us, unleashed, and be on top of Amy’s rear end before either of us noticed him.

Amy responded admirably. She tried as hard as she could to turn and back away from this strange intruder, and I thought her collar would go up over her ears and come off, she tried so hard. When that didn’t work, and she was stuck in close quarters with him anyway, she started to softly ‘whuff’ in his face. I was worried her whuffing would escalate to rumbling and thence to barking, pulling, and generally not being polite, but Cujo’s mom said “It’s ok — she’s just trying to tell him where her boundaries are.” So she whuffed some, and sniffed, and then became calm and totally okay with the situation. She sat nicely, on a slack leash, while I talked with our neighbor, whom I happened to have met a month or two ago, and Cujo ran around us smelling things. Amy sat and had two cookies while being a good friend, and sat and had a third cookie after the encounter was over. I want her to know that meeting neighborhood dogs on walks and being polite to them is a good behavior…which results in cookies.

Maybe it helped that this dog was about her height and smaller in stature than her, so she could “see eye-to-eye” with him. Maybe the biggest help was that the other dog owner understood that Amy was new to the neighborhood and new to our family, and so she was trying to establish her place in the community, and said it was okay for Amy to whuffle in order to make her boundaries known. Maybe it helped that I knew this woman and this dog from before, so I wasn’t afraid — although I was startled by the other dog’s sudden appearance. Maybe I should take a little bit of the credit, as I have tried valiantly for the last few days to learn how to be a good pack leader so Amy can put her confidence in my leadership and judgment and relax and be herself: a happy, good dog who likes to make friends because she knows her pack leader can keep her safe.

I am much less worried now about going to obedience class on Sunday, because her crazy behavior was making me nervous about being in a room full of rambunctious dogs. I also made Jim promise to be the one who takes her leash to the obedience class place, because I know my anxiety will go down the leash to her and I don’t want to undermine her when I could otherwise set her up for success.

She has been very polite today in general, allowing me to go through doors and up and down stairs ahead of her, which is a pack leader’s privilege; and on our walk she walked so nicely that I had to look down numerous times and make sure she hadn’t slipped her lead and was still attached to me. The leash was so slack, I couldn’t feel the 29 pounds of corgi on the other end!

But I’m so proud of my good girl for making a nice friend today!

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