Are you a man or a dog?
You can either see this as a story about a dog being rescued to a better life, or a template for how to deal with daily encounters like a grown man. Stake your rightful claim. Stand for it (given it’s a fair claim) and do it proudly.
You are not responsible for other people’s erratic and unjustified feelings.
A German Shepherd / Doberman can cast fear into the best
This is my dog Ronja (female). She is a German Shepherd / Doberman cross-breed. Seven years old. She is strong, has a menacing voice that carries, not to mention spectacular teeth. The dog shelter that cared for her until I took her didn’t dare let her come close to other dogs. Just saying. Okay, there is speculation of some great dane in Ronja as well. And kangaroo.
Ronja is a rescue dog. The police relieved her of her previous owner after finding her in a burnt apartment with 3 inches of filth and excrement covering the floor throughout the flat. Ronja was thin and weak (one of her three cat companions was close to death by starvation), but after 9 months at a dog shelter she had recovered. Physically.
Mentally, she was considered nervous, anxious, loud and possibly aggressive and dangerous to other dogs.
An unwanted problem dog
Most dogs stay just a few weeks at the shelter, but Ronja was too old, too strong, too problematic. One couple tried her during 2 months but had to give her up, after the neighbors had complained about the loud barking. Before I got there she had spent some 40 weeks at the shelter, 15-20 times as long as usual.
For me it was love at first sight.
Sure, she pulled on the leash like a trained sleigh dog. Sure she made loud wheezing and whistling noises and generally behaved like a dog sized tornado in the dog shelter waiting room. Sure, when she sighted another dog 50 meters away she tensed up and started barking and pulling, unless distracted with obscene amounts of goodies (Swedish meatballs of course). On the other hand, she was very calm and sweet from the moment she entered my apartment. Not an aggressive or nervous trait in her body.
I could make this a long and detailed story, but suffice to say that after 7 days in my care, I could safely and confidently, proudly even, release her among any other dogs and be certain she was the coolest and calmest of the pack. That was 6 weeks ago and there hasn’t been one single incident since then (among a thousand close dog encounters) where she wasn’t cool as a cucumber, bordering on boring.
It’s just one thing.
It always is isn’t it? A one thing, that stains the whole a little more than it ought to.
One thing was seriously wrong
When Ronja is on a leash on the street (not so much in parks), her guard dog instincts clash with her curiosity and desire to meet and greet other dogs. Torn between feeling trapped by the leash, wanting to protect me and a pull to say hello to the other dog, or just quickly verify the hierarchy, she pulls and barks. The barking quickly escalates from surprised to very menacing. Hardly any mentally healthy dog owner would want her to approach their little loved ones.
When she gets nose to nose, however, the barking stops immediately, without a fault.
How I know that, when nobody wants to let her come close? To be as brief as possible, let’s just say I like to experiment. I perform little incremental tests, observe, draw conclusions and then, sooner or later, in the case of Ronja, I simply just release the leash and see what happens…
Now I know I can safely let go of the leash anytime and let her run up to any dog; or hold on to the leash and follow her all the way to the dog. If the other dog is aggressive, she just backs away, uninterested. Alternatively, with friendly dogs, as soon as she touches the other dog she is fine and done with it. Quiet. Happy.
Ronja and me that is. The dog owners we encounter, on the contrary, vary from surprised, relieved, happy, talkative to scared, grumpy, angry and silent.
One actually put a knee in the side of Ronja and another hit her (more like tried). Ronja couldn’t care less. She doesn’t attack anybody, or even bite somebody that hits or kicks her. She just wants to take a quick look and sniff (2-5 seconds) on the alien dog and then return to me. Neither dogs, nor people are really that interesting to her after a couple of seconds. So who’s the dangerous and aggressive one I wonder?
You shouldn’t bother with the chaos in other people’s heads
I know that she is perfectly harmless even if abused, just as I know planes don’t fall out of the sky. The upset, the fear, the anger are all in the head of the other dog owner – and frankly I don’t care about other people’s misconceptions.
I’m sure Victor Pride at Bold and Determined or Mike C at Danger & Play would have something really manly to say about, uh…, being a man, all manly and stuff…, and claim your place in the world without making excuses… and such. They’d be eloquent about it too.
Well, I’m not like them, I’m just a humble Swedish guy, with a rescue dog that I think deserves not having to bark or be anxious. So that’s what I make sure she gets. It’s a good thing though I bench press >300 lbs, weigh 200 lbs, stand 6ft tall and have the mental stability (and IQ?) of a rock.
Battling the stock markets for 15 years at a hedge fund, being responsible for billion dollar trades and butting heads with know-it-all analysts, brokers and arrogant heads of companies, have prepared me for chance shouting matches with scared and upset dachshund owners on the street, I’d say. To understate matters.
No dog fazes her or upsets her (well, unless she is on a leash):
The grand danois (great dane) behind Ronja is a playful, 5 year old, that weighs 180 lbs. He gets the cold shoulder from Ronja. The little black pug right in front of her probably hardly registers at all, since Ronja has her beloved tennis ball between her jaws.
Fight your fight
I personally find it easier to fight for the honor of a fair lady like Ronja, than for myself, but the principle is the same. You shouldn’t apologize for living, for being a man, for taking your place (not somebody else’s, we are not talking Nietzsche here).
But there is more to the story above. Remember how I said I experiment and observe? I always do that, in all aspects of life. I always try to see underlying pattern, to understand, to learn, to improve.
I just want to find the better, the fairer, the more long term way of doing things.
You should try it. As a bonus, that type of mindful approach will make life seem longer and fuller, while you become both smarter and happier.