Any of you who have been reading my blog posts know Wheaton’s background story. If you have ever cared for a rescue dog you know they have some underlying issues. Wheaton’s biggest issue, which is improving but is still ongoing, is his “freak out” when we encounter another dog and he is on a leash. Off his leash, in a contained yard, he didn’t show any signs of fear or aggression towards another dog, but put him on a leash and the encounter is a huge twisting barking freak out! Like I said, it is getting a bit better. I have found ways to soothe him and calm him but it is still chaotic for a minute or two. To be honest I’m embarrassed. I’m mortified. I cross the street to avoid other dogs, I crouch down and distract him so he doesn’t see the other dog across the street. It’s embarrassing to be “that woman with the out of control dog”. If only they knew his back story and how much better he is doing and how we are working on this....don’t judge….we are a work in progress. I feel like I need to carry a sign “He’s a RESCUE and we’re working on his issues”. Whatever, what other people think of my dog is not my concern, right! I need to move past this because I don’t want my energy to contribute to his attitude. We are sharing this leash at both ends here…responsibility starts the moment I put that leash on him.
His second issue, and it’s not a freaking out issue, it’s a shy, scared, cowering fear issue, and it is people. He is in a completely safe environment now, loved, cared for and never put in harms way, yet he still has trust issues. Understandable!!! I’m amazed how far he’s come in the last 10 months! You cannot live in a cage for 4 years with abuse and neglect and not have some major emotional scars. We work on those every day, with every touch. He really doesn’t like men….he seems to tolerate woman but still cowers when someone goes to touch him. If you come from under with your hand, he will let you can scratch his chin/chest….but a hand over his head freaks him out. It means DANGER to him. And this may never change.
So, a couple weekends ago, on a lovely, sunny Sunday morning, I took Daisy & Wheaton for a nice long early Sunday morning walk. On the homeward stretch we encountered a familiar dog walker and his big friendly golden retriever. Daisy knows this dog, we have crossed paths many times. He has met Wheaton a number of times and he is aware of Wheaton’s rescue story. Of course Wheaton is going into his freak out mode and I am crouched down trying to soothe and distract him while exchanging pleasantries with the man. You can’t touch Wheaton when he’s freaking out…that freaks him out more. The gentleman is speaking to me and also to Wheaton, “Hey Wheaton, I know you don’t like men, it’s ok” and he puts his hand out…like you would to let a dog sniff you. A kind gesture with a dog who is not in a panic, but this was a gesture that Wheaton felt threatened by, and he snapped at the man’s hand. There was no contact, no skin broken, but I felt so bad. I am the dog owner here, I am responsible if my dog bites someone. Although, my inner voice is saying “you’ve got to be some kind of idiot to put your hand in the face of a dog who is having a panic attack especially when you KNOW they have issues“. I apologized profusely. I did feel horrible. That was obviously the end of our little chit chat and we went our separate ways. On the way home I started thinking am I gonna have to muzzle Wheaton now? Because of this one close call incident?
Fast forward to today, on our walk this morning before leaving for work, I saw this man again walking his dog. We crossed the street and I stopped and crouched down to distract Wheaton with some light conversation about how he was so calm and such a good boy….he had his eyes on me and not the other dog. But then he got agitated and Daisy let out a little playful whine that she was getting excited about something, so I turned to see the man approaching us.
He came over to apologize. He felt so bad for reaching out to Wheaton. He said, “I am so sorry. I knew that Wheaton was scared and didn’t like men and I still put my hand out to him when I shouldn’t have….again I am so sorry.” Then he added, “You’ve done such a great job with him and he’s come so far, I felt so bad that I put him in that state when you’ve done so much work with him.” I thanked him for his kind words and apologized again that it came to such a close call like that…..and he said, “No, not at all, it was my fault, I should never have put my hand out to him when he was upset. Really, you’ve done so much for him I know he’s still scared of men, I wasn’t thinking.”
I was humbled that this stranger recognized that we are a work in progress but that we have done so much and that this was just a blip in our journey.
What I am learning is that I have the right and the responsibility to speak up for my dog and say“don’t touch him”! It’s not rude to stop someone from touching my dog. Not everyone can read a dog’s behaviour and not everyone just knows that you don’t touch or reach out to a dog who is in an agitated state. I am responsible to teach people that exact thing when it comes to my dogs. I am their human and their protector. If my dogs are speaking their dog language and saying “don’t touch me” and the person is not understanding, it is my job to translate.
I am accountable to them and to the people who interact with them. We should all have a good experience with this interaction!