Episode 10 in the story of Rowena and Cauta’s journey together.
Cauta is, in Romanian terms, a ‘medium sized’ dog. Which means he is nearly German Shephard size. But not quite. And every few steps whilst out, comments will revolve around ‘oo, that’s a big one,’, ‘he’s huge,’, ‘isn’t he dominant?’, ‘bet he’s strong’, ‘oo he’s too big for you!’
I start wondering if I bought a Shetland pony home by mistake. Cauta looks non plussed, unless treats are involved.
He sometimes seems to think he is the size of a Chihuahua, judging by his attempts to squeeze under gates, rather than jumping over or waiting for them to be opened…
Then I examine my own assumptions. If Cauta is a ‘big’ dog, relatively speaking, then I assume he needs lots of exercise. If I am not sledging with him down a remote mountain every other day, in between competing in extreme agility and herding sheep at weekends, then he is not getting enough stimulation. Right? The guilt war wages. Should I have adopted him if I can’t provide such opportunities?
But then I look more closely at him. Yes, he is a powerful dog. But if I push the assumptions to the side for a moment I see how he gets tired. His head dips, tail droops. By the end of our morning explorations his pace slows. Perhaps it is enough for now. Later he will sit by the door, I used to wring my hands (metaphorically) at this, thinking, oh no, he needs to go out again already. But maybe not. Watching him now I struggle with noticing his individual communications through the bars of what I assume.
This could be done on a meta-basis with some breeds, and it can have far reaching consequences…perhaps a particular breed is labelled ‘dangerous’, or ‘dominant’ or ‘aggressive’. Assumptions are made without looking at the individual dog and prejudices strengthened, or sometimes knocked down, if the opportunity presents itself.
For instance, my experience of Cauta is that he is the ‘boisterous’ one, he is the one who lacks social skills, but maybe not always…
One day on our walk we come across a lady with a gaggle of various size dogs, all off lead. They swarm around Cauta who is tethered to me on a long line. He stands stock still but with his tail waving apprehensively. I feel on edge, wondering fiercely how to get him out of this if needed?
After a medley of sniffing the others move on, following their carer. But one lingers, a young yellow lab. He runs in circles inviting Cauta to play, and play he does. They tear round after each other in circles until Cauta lays down to ask for a break. The other dog is too hyped to listen. He barks in his face and yanks his ear. Cauta looks plaintively at me. It is not hard to get him up and away. In this case, Cauta was the one who called time.
We continue down the path which opens out into a bridge. Thinking he may need to cool off after such an encounter, I let him under the bridge. He runs into the river where I cannot follow. The sound of huge splashes fill the air, he thunders along and then I whistle, and wait, nervously. A few seconds later a lolloping, cannonball of wet dog charges toward me. So twice in one day he has defied expectations. In a happy way.
Thinking back I now see that a lot of what we saw in the beginning was just that, a beginning. There is no definitive version of Cauta, a snapshot at a particular time is all that can be taken. What I thought were sign of ‘he is this kind of dog’, were actually just expectable behaviours from a dog adjusting to home life. And they morph as we go along. I think how difficult it is to assess dogs in shelters, how a snapshot has to be taken in a stressful environment, which affects that dog’s path in life. There are no easy answers. Perhaps it is only by treading that difficult path between art and science, that the light can filter through.