Late last week, Bodhi and I were at the park practicing our skills around unfamiliar dogs. Well, Bodhi was practicing his. I’m not the one who lunges and barks at strangers. The good news is, we’ve come a long way! Months ago we’d have had to be on constant lookout for other dogs so we could turn and walk away as quickly as possible. Then came practice and more practice, with me giving Bodhi the verbal cue “With me” whenever I spied a dog coming toward us. That positioned him next to me so that I could keep his attention; after all, if he was out ahead of me on the leash, the game was over. Walking next to me, his job was simply to accept treats as we passed the dog without exploding. Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
As time passed, Bodhi developed better skills and more self-control. We’ve now gotten to the point that I no longer have to cue him to be “with me.” Most often when we see another dog, although Bodhi may whine a bit, he will automatically position himself next to me and look at me with an Is there a treat in it for me? expression. And there is—he’s earned it. The goal over time is to use fewer and fewer treats until finally, it’ll be no big deal for him to pass other dogs in a relaxed fashion. But for now, this is our protocol.
There was a leap of faith at one point that allowed me to stop giving Bodhi any type of cue when we passed another dog, and instead allow him to make the decision. That’s an important transition, and one I’d been hesitant to make for fear that he wouldn’t be able to do it. When he did, I was elated.
But back to our walk…my happy state of mind lasted throughout the stroll, and then we headed back to the parking lot. Just as I was reflecting on how this had been the best I’d felt about Bodhi’s behavior in a long time, there in the distance appeared a black Lab. This was not just any black Lab; it’s the one dog that Bodhi cannot seem to be around without totally losing it. Along our walk we’d encountered small, fluffy white dogs, tiny Chihuahua types, a Golden Retriever, and everything in between. Bodhi had done really well. But whenever he sees this particular dog, his self-control instantly becomes a thing of the past. This morning it was as though he’d been walking along thinking, Okay, little foo-foo dog, not a problem….Hmm, there’s a beagle, they’re fine… and then, suddenly, Black Lab! Spawn of Satan! High alert! Ironically, the dog in question is an extremely calm dog, and seems non-reactive. He and his owner both seem perfectly nice. So, Bodhi, why be hating on the poor black Lab? It could simply be because he’s a large black dog. Black dogs are, in general, harder for other dogs to read. But…I don’t think that’s it. We’ve passed other black dogs and there hasn’t been quite this level of reaction. Having adopted Bodhi from the shelter, I have no way of knowing about his past. Perhaps somewhere down the line he was attacked by a large black dog.
Not long ago, we worked with my training partner’s female Rottweiler, and Bodhi did very well around her. In fact, they’d ended up sitting almost side by side. So I don’t think it’s just a question of a dog being large and darkly colored. Of course, the Lab in question is a male and the Rottie was a female. But regarding the Lab, maybe there truly is something about this particular dog’s vibes that just bother Bodhi. Interestingly, one morning when I had only Sierra with me, we ran into the same Lab. After his owner and I had chatted, we decided to let the dogs say hello. I don’t normally do this, so Sierra was elated to be able to actually go and greet another dog. After a few seconds, although there were no signs of stress from either dog, the Lab’s owner said, “Okay, that’s enough.” This couple-seconds-of-greeting is actually a good practice, but being that the woman wasn’t a trainer, I figured she might have her own reason for wanting to keep the greeting brief. When I asked whether her dog had ever had issues with other dogs, she responded in a way that wasn’t affirmative, but wasn’t quite a no, either. Ah. So maybe there is something to Bodhi’s feeling about this dog. Or, again, maybe it’s just large, black Labbish dogs in general. At this point, I just don’t have enough information to be sure.
This begs the question, should a dog be expected to like all other dogs? In my opinion, the answer is no. I certainly don’t like every person I meet, and a chosen few, I most definitely choose to avoid. Why should my dog be any different? Of course black Labs are not evil (well, most of them, anyway!). But for whatever reason, this particular one bothers Bodhi. So out of deference to his feelings, we’ll keep our distance and keep up the good work.