This morning Fred lost it a bit. He did “the growlie” during our walk and it wasn’t pretty. I brought them home, locked myself in a spare room, and had a little cry. It took me a couple of minutes. Then I came out and hugged them, one by one, feeling Fred’s little body really pushing into my chest because his love is so deep and strong, he can hardly contain it within…
And that’s the truth of life. It’s full of ups and downs. It is far from perfect. Even through my dogs really are perfect. Imperfectly perfect for perfection as such does not exist, but I could not think of my boys otherwise.
I am not unrealistic. I am most definitely not oblivious. I simply love my little cockers – and dogs. Mine, yours, everyone’s. For no other reason than dogs really being worth of all the love we can give them.
The whole story of Fred, his birth, his first few weeks, a terrible event that happened when he was 8 months old – all these factors instilled his little brain with reactivity. I was aware of it, I saw the signs. I knew it was either me, someone able to live with it, manage it, dissolve it in time… or somebody who would mistake his emotional bursts for his personality based on a single behaviour… And dealt with it in a way many people do, unfortunately… That wasn’t the life I wanted Fred to live. So I committed to make him happy no matter what.
I worked very hard to help him. And he really is happy. Most of the time. He really is a genius and we achieved so much together. But on a rare occasion the ignition occurs in his brain and Fred becomes my “Damien”. You know, the “Omen” boy.
Every time, for a moment there, I feel defeated… frustrated… upset… I feel that I failed him because I am his world. So I have a moment to myself, then come out and hug my sweet little bum-wagging warrior while he is covering me with kisses.
I may even call him “my darling beastie”… And then we carry on living.
Because this blip, a hiccup, is not something that defines my boy. It can define the situation. It can define a sudden trigger. It can even define my own behaviour. But as far as Fred goes, his response is simply a basic response, an act brought up by chemical reactions and triggers in his little body.
I wanted to share this today because just an hour after we got home, I saw somebody who lives with a reactive dog, also a cocker. And since this occasion was one of many, I needed to address it here and now.
The dog in question became reactive whenever he was approached by strange dogs. One of the most typical situations, really. When you know what reactivity is. Unfortunately this dog’s owner did nothing. She didn’t consult a trainer, read books, study to understand the specifics of this behaviour. Instead she decided that the dog was simply angry, stubborn, lost cause and an absolute pain to walk with…
I tried to explain to her that the boy is reactive and his barking and pulling on the lead stem from fear and anxiety because he is simply trying to deal with something that scares the hell out of him. I tried to direct her to the books and suggested consulting a trainer. “He is just a little sh&t” she replied instead… And it was the name tag that really affected me. “Please stop…” I told her. “Your dog is begging for help, not judgement…” She responded with a sentence that should be censored if printed… The woman already made her choice.
She put a label on her dog’s behaviour and thus she defined him. She made up her mind. And she tuned her brain into thinking that that poor dog was a “bad dog”, an “aggressive dog”, the kind that could do with a “snip”… or a “kick up his bottom”… The dog as sensitive as a typical cocker who was simply trying to communicate his emotions, was now perceived as something he was not.
Sadly, this is more common that you’d dare to imagine. Go to any dog forum or social media and you will see that very “little sh$” label sprinkled around like confetti.
Many find it funny. Others – use it to start a conversation that essentially comes to the point that their dogs are unruly monsters. Worst, and what these people may not realise, it fuels their mind and the perception of people who meet their dogs into thinking that these spaniels really are terrible…
Our brain is a funny thing. If you continously tell it that something is really good and lovely, it will eventually melt in adoration towards that object of positivity. On the other hand, if you constantly drip-feed your mind with negativity towards something or someone, the thoughts will eventually mirror the perception.
If your dog is reactive or exhibits a behaviour that seem puzzling, do not label him “bad” Think about it. Dig into the causes. Ask somebody who understands and can help you.
And in the meantime remind yourself that a certain behaviour never defines your dog as a being. It’s just an emotion, a form of anxiety, a response to the unknown, or inability to address the situation in a way that doesn’t set the soul on fire. It is a sign that something needs attention.
You would not refer to a person with anxiety in any rude way. In fact, most people would feel sorry, try to help and provide comfort. Reactive dogs are no different. They need help, solace and lots and lots of love.
“There is the power in the name…” So sacred and significant that some cultures still choose them as a sign of destiny or never say the names out loud… Think about it next time you are about to refer to your dog as “sh&t” or hear somebody who does. It says very little about the dog – but it does say a lot about his owner. And that’s the thought I am going to leave you with today.
Image credit: Fred photographed by me