the story of the dog

The story of the dog must be told. He’s young and he’s smart. He loves to load up into the truck but then whines on the drive.

He prefers to be home. He likes to go for long walks. He loves to jump into snow banks. He’s fearful of new people. When let off leash to walk down the road, one must keep a 360-degree lookout. He comes when called, Here! Ears flopping, legs bounding, tail wagging, he’s at your side. But he does not want you to leave and he does not want anyone to come over. He just wants to be with you and that’s it. With food, lots of food.

When a guest comes into the house I keep the dog on a leash and by my side “Just ignore him if you don’t mind,” I say. “He’s so handsome,” they offer nicely. “Yes, yes he is, but don’t try to pet him.”

When the dog is uncertain with a new person he stops panting. He locks eyes on the intruder, his mouth closes, and it’s as if he’s stopped breathing. The trainer told me to get his attention when he does this, say his name and offer a treat. It’s as if he’s so deep into the stare that he can’t get out, he can’t release himself, “and that’s where you come in,” the trainer said. “Redirect his focus with something positive, eyes on you and a treat.” Luckily the dog is very food motivated.

Sometimes if he’s left too long in that locked-in state, not even a biscuit or my saying his name will set him free. It is at this point that he will cock his head and watch the stranger from the corner of his eye. He never loses eye contact, but with this gesture, it’s as if he’s watching from a hiding place, like a predator. This is when I get nervous. I’ve seen this behavior in him maybe three times, I’m still holding the leash—he can’t go anywhere—but anyone in the room can instinctually recognize the place where he has gone in his animal-mind.

“There, that’s it!” I say. The trainer nods in understanding agreement. “We want to stay away from that place.”

I understand where the dog is coming from.

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