Dog Drama

I arrived at a lovely house she was renting for a year while her friend, the owner, was in Europe. It had a big fenced back yard where we sat and chatting for hours, mostly about Nia and River and being happy and healthy. At one point we walked to the market and got some food to heat up in the microwave and River and I waited outside while she went in to shop.

Throughout the day I was telling her stories about my encounters with people and how they upset River and how my constant struggle through life these days is all about keeping River safe from dog lovers. Strange as it may seem, I told her, the ones that claim to be the most dog savvy are our worst threat. They don't know how River really is and the let their ego cloud their better judgment.

For example, while I waited outside the market, a big man with a grey beard slowly waddled toward us, giving unbroken eye contact to River, who freaked out. The guy laughed as I struggled with a ferocious dog, barking and lunging toward him. He continued to approach us as I'm choking River so he'll calm down. I'm trying to swallow my anger at this gentleman for so wildly incorrectly reading this situation. But rationally, I understand he doesn't see the situation, he just wants to pet my pretty doggy. I finally deflected his attention and pretended to care about how many dogs he has at home and finally went inside the store and I could start to calm River.

As I was doing that, a woman walked across the parking lot making cutesy cutesy cooing noises at River. As I tried to think of a tactful way to get rid of her, she got closer and closer and River got more and more excited and finally broke and started lunging and barking at her and I, once again, had to choke him off to get his attention away from attacking her. She laughed and said, "I'm sure he's friendly." I thought she was being ironic, but still, I answered her sincerely, "No." But she didn't hear me. I'm not sure if it was that she didn't hear me over River's repeated barking at her, or if she just wasn't listening because she was too busy making unbroken eye contact with him and reaching her hand toward him! "He's not," I continued, earnestly dual-tasking, as I calm him and educate her. She literally had to ask me again and hear my answer a third time before she finally backed off.

"He's pretty though." she offered as she turned and walked into the store.

"Yes, he is." I said flatly.

River and I both managed to shake it off. Moments later, Richele comes out of the store and I spend the walk back to the house telling her what just happened and how often it happens and we agreed that a wise person would heed the warnings of a dog owner who tells you not to approach. And we made fun of the woman who laughed when I told her River wasn't friendly and still went in to get close to him. And yet it happens so frequently, it's astounding. I'm usually so incredulous that I can't think of what to say quickly enough, and that's very frustrating. We laughed about how I have a leash that says "Caution Do Not Pet" but no one reads it. It felt good to be able to unload it all on her, and I felt much better by the time we got back to the house, thought it did feel like I was hogging the conversation and making it all about River, so I relented.

We ate and continued to have a nice friendly day in the backyard. She told me how much she loves gardening and she has been weeding a lot since the recent heavy rains made the ground soft.

Eventually, she took the dishes inside. She was in there for longer than I thought she was going to be, so I started to play with River in the grass. When she came out, she said that her partner had come home.

So I knew that it was time to prepare for the confrontation, but I didn't know how much time I'd have. I let her know, "We should have River on a leash." To buy some time while I took River by hand and went to get it. It was by the door Tim would be coming through, so I grabbed it, and was going to bring it back down to the yard and hook him to it, but that's when Tim comes through the door.

I managed to get myself between River and Tim before the former reacted. And I could stop him from locomoting but not from lashing out. He barked and scratched toward the man, but I reassured him and calmed him while I fastened his leash. I hoped that Tim would just go over the table and let me get River under control.

"It's all right, he won't get me." Tim says hovering over us.

"Yes, he will." I say. I don't know how to sound more serious. Richele helped to deflect him away from us toward the table, but he wasn't easily swayed. He maintained long and focused eye contact on River, who was supercharged by the challenge. Richele and I did our best to interrupt the contact and get the whole party moved to the table.

I hung back to give River a chance to settle himself, but we were being watched by the newcomer, relentlessly, so there was only so much he could settle. As I waited and asked River to collect himself, he instead lunged and barked at Tim who had sat at the table by now.

In retrospect, I should have left at that point. It crossed my mind, but it felt so incredibly rude, I decided to stay. But I introduced River gradually. The first thing I did was I showed them the controversial choke technique. I explained how it calms him and puts him back in touch with his body when all he was focused on was projecting outward into the threat, her partner.

And it worked. He stopped barking and hopping and spitting at Tim when he couldn't breathe for two or three seconds. He gagged once for dramatic effect and then was calm again. I sat him between Richele and I with a very short collar.

We talked a bit about River's point of view, but I have to admit, I dropped the conversation a bit when it started to get around to what River was 'thinking'. I didn't want to have that taboo conversation.

But eventually, River relaxed and lied down. So I released a little bit. We all sat and Tim got caught up on what we had done that day. I felt like I wanted to recover from my bad first impression with Tim. River wandered around and sniffed things and people.

As humans, we all want the dog to like Tim. He likes Richele and me, so we know he's capable of it, right? Such machinations we make, such stories we tell. I do it too. I'm guilty of hoping the dog would be logical instead of emotionally reactive. I should know better.

When River worked his way around to Tim, he reached down to rub him on the back, which is fine, River didn't care. They were exploring each other, and it was going well.  I was splitting my focus between the conversation at the table and the dog. I honestly don't remember what we were even talking about, but I remember being aware how stupid I felt when I realized that I'm micromanaging my dog in this social situation.

It is in that instant that I heard the sound he makes. And I saw Tim pull his hand back and give it a shake, and I knew. I exactly knew that feeling so well. Ow! I had seen that exact thing happen to myself so many times that I literally got used to it. For the first year or so that I had River, In addition to several dislocated fingers, I was dealing with scabs on my knuckles constantly from his response to my earliest training techniques. River bites onto the hand but not hard enough to do damage. Then the person, reflexively pulls his hand back and the bunched up skin on their straight finger gets scraped right off by the back of the dog's small front teeth. It's painful, and in a very inconvenient place, but it's not serious or deep.

Oh but my heart sank. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed and stupid and angry and neglectful and frustrated and betrayed and probably a lot of other things, too that I still haven't processed and certainly didn't then. I was also aware of the cruel irony of how I was just telling Richele that I was getting so good at handling him and knowing what I need to do next with him. But I just didn't want to show that I was losing it, so I kept cool.

They got up to tend to his finger and River sat there motionless except for trembling, perfectly mirroring how I felt; pathetic and helpless.

When they came back to sit down again, I'm sorry to say, I didn't handle it well. I maintained my composure with some effort but basically just ran away. I knew there was no way I was going to emotionally recover quickly enough myself  to handle River to sit down any longer at the table. I excused myself, saying "We have to leave." And I made my way out.

I can't remember exactly what he even said, to be honest, that's how freaked I was. But it was something to the effect of don't worry, it's fine. He's Ok. I'm ok, Someone's Ok. But I wasn't going to be convinced to stay at this point.

So not wanting to be rude, I attempted to explain that it's not because of how he feels, but it's about how the dog feels. And it's my fault for assuming he could see River's feelings. But the fact was neither River nor I could handle it, so we left.

Regrettably, I don't like the way I ended the conversation. He made one more friendly attempt to offer me hospitality and I hope he didn't hear me, but I sighed "Arrogant." And I know Richele heard me, she was right next to me. I don't know who I meant, or how I meant it, it was a frustrated emotional release and it was done before I could stop it, but what a bad person I was being. I wanted to implode. Reset.

Then I really wanted out of there. GOD What was I going to do next, shit on the carpet? Steal something? Richele escorted me out the door as I made a bad attempt of explaining my weird behavior that sort of backfired.  I don't think it made sense and looking back I see how it could be misinterpreted, so tomorrow when I see her, I'll talk to her about it and apologize for acting like a freak and losing control of my dog and my manners.

UPDATE - The next morning, I started the day with an apology, but it was met with an apology. It seems Tim and Richele also felt that they were in the wrong. It was just a bad situation, where we all wanted the good thing to happen, but it didn't. I'm so glad we connected the next morning so we could all forgive each other and move forward.


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