As they did spectacularly at our first group class. It starts off low key, promising enough. Until the barking. The frustration of being asked to stay in one place and not play with the other dogs proved far, far too much.
Surging toward the others he has never pulled so hard, so strong or for so long. His attention flies everywhere except toward me. Frustration seems to leak out of his pores. I feel infinitesimally smaller, and more and more of a distant onlooker, powerless to contain this barking, jumping, pulling dog I thought I once knew.
He reminds me uncannily of a traumatized child, the outward behaviour much the same, seemingly bouncing off the walls, becoming so hard to reach, physically, emotionally and mentally. Stress hormones must be coursing through his body. He seems to lose all sense of who I am, or indeed who he has been. Never have I heard him bark for so long and so loudly. It seems he cannot bear to be apart from the other dogs.
The tutor says he has a lot of issues. We have a mini breakthrough to find what really motivates him and nails his focus. Not food. But a fur lined dummy. I buy two.
We go home and the dog I knew returns. I go home crestfallen and defeated. But now I know more of this dog. I know how he can be. I know what situations are far, far beyond him at present. And I know what I can do with my expectations. I know what is likely to push his brain out of action, and I have a tiny piece more of knowledge on how to help bring him back.
The next morning hope builds anew. I start work on bringing his focus to me. Not an easy task. I am under no illusion of where I stand in his beacons of excitement. But this seems crucial in helping him form a secure base. At this point he doesn’t seem to have formed an internal one. So for now I try to be the scaffolding.
I act like an absolute doofus to keep his attention whenever he glances at me.
When there is a cat, a man walking past with a salami baguette (what are the chances?!), a Jack Russell down the road, whenever we need to change direction – I act like a goon. He eyes me for longer. And then returns. I start to feel something close to relief as it very slowly, seems.to. be. working.
Supplanting the feeling of nagging dread comes something like jubilation. I initiate a mini run and may have let out quiet woop.
I realise perhaps what I have done is mirror him. With his endless curiosity and fascination for the outside world I have joined him, or at least started to mirror his emotional state: With my ‘oh my god whatisthisitssoexcitingohyeah thiswaythiswaythisway’, perhaps it is this matching that brings us closer. The emphasis is on joining his lighter ‘waa letsdothisoverhere’ rather than vocalising my initial heavy thought of ‘no you are not to do that over there, get your head out of the…’
It doesn’t always work. His frenzied barking still rears up. His straining forward makes a regular appearance. But perhaps now we have more hope of one day being a team, rather than pulling apart.
I wonder about dogs and their attachment to people and other animals. Do they have styles of attachment as we do? John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s research with children opened a whole new perspective on understanding our emotional world, and how we relate to others. Is this in any way applicable to dogs? Are there studies out there? Does the background of the dog affect his style of attachment? For example, could we say a dog is securely, insecurely, anxiously attached, or even attached in a disorganised way?
I went for a walk round the internets and found this: http://www.medicaldaily.com/dogs-become-attached-their-owners-much-same-way-infants-their-caregivers-247060
Food for thought.
But now it’s time to get back out there. Harness on. Lead attached. Reporting for duty with C dog.