I’ve never been a patient woman. But I’ve always had endless patience when it comes to a frightened, insecure dog.
I don’t know what happened to that patience in the past year. Granted, I’m not yelling at a cowering chihuahua and making him cry. But I haven’t been terribly kind toward a gentle soul whose only desire is to show affection.
If anyone has seen me in a club (it’s happened only a handful of times) or a crowded bar, then they know that I have a personal space issue--which is precisely why I don't frequent those places. I thought it only applied to humans, but turns out I have space issues with dogs too.
Tucker is not an in-my-face dog. He’s a cuddler at times, but mainly sitting on my lap or falling asleep next to me or on my legs. There’s very little kissy-face.
Hayden, on the other hand, the grateful, sweet boy that he is, knows no boundaries. He is in my face every chance he gets. His nose is at my wrist if I’m working in the kitchen. His tongue is in my hair if I lean over to get something from the floor. His head is under my hand if I try to pet Tucker. His face is in mine if I’m talking to Tucker.
All these things are completely reasonable for a dog who hasn’t known a lot of human affection but is great with other dogs. Dogs wrestle and romp. Tucker occasionally sits on Hayden’s head. Hayden has draped himself over Tucker’s back. They somehow manage to both chew on the same fourteen inch long toy simultaneously. They drink out of the same water bowl at the same time. Dogs have no personal space.
I sleep with guilt weighing heavily on me for not allowing him on the bed, but I sleep longer into the morning.
Hayden is beginning to learn his name but it isn't 100% yet. Trying to get a dog’s attention when he has no name is frustrating. He also doesn’t have the vocabulary that Tucker has to know what I mean most of the time. Tucker gets the nuances of “turn around” or “back-back” or “can you please go to bed” or “you can’t be in here right now.” Hayden knows none of that yet.
And it’s not his fault. I know that. So why am I such an asshole?
A dog’s inability to learn a command is not the dog’s fault; it is the human’s lack of imagination and communication skills. I’m frustrated with myself.
I know Hayden doesn’t understand the words so I try tone. I try stern. Then I try physical—a push backward. Then I match stern tone with a push. It just isn’t working. I’m a jerk for pushing away a dog who just wants to be near me. He’s not attacking me; he’s not going to maul me. He just needs to show his affection. Within forty-five seconds, I blow my top at the poor fella.
And now Tucker hates me. He’s frightened of me. He hasn’t heard me yell like this—ever.
Hayden can read dog language. He and Tucker get along famously. But Hayden isn’t fully fluent in human communication yet. Pushing him away doesn’t deter him from coming back. “Stay” means nothing to him. And the most troublesome one for me is when I’m trying to relate to just Tucker for a moment, Hayden needs to come over and shove first his snout, then his whole body between us, and get in the way. Tucker has come to realize this elevates my stress, so Tucker will back away to avoid me yelling at Hayden. And that makes me more upset.
Tucker seems sad today. I don’t know if it was my three blow-ups yesterday. Or my one today. Or if he’s tired from playing. Or not feeling well. Since Hayden doesn’t respond to his name, Tucker now doesn’t respond to his. It’s like he’s showing solidarity with the boy. Tucker wouldn’t even get out of his crate for me when I asked this afternoon. I had to drag him out because I know damn well he knows what I’m saying, but he didn’t want to associate with me. And then I gave him a reason not to want to associate with me by forcing him to come out.
A couple hours ago, I went to Tucker who was lying on his bed in my bedroom to see how he was feeling. Hayden trotted in and once more shoved himself into me. I said, “No, back away, Hayden” very calmly at normal volume. I tried again. I pushed him back and repeated myself. I shoved him hard, again telling him to back off. When that too didn’t work, I finally shouted, “Hayden, get the fuck away!”
Hayden backed off, cowered and finally, finally, didn’t come back to me.
Tucker cringed and wouldn’t look at me. He tried to get out of the room. I held him. Tucker shivered. He was terrified of me. All I had wanted to do was see what was wrong with my kid, and I ended up being that thing that was wrong.
Tucker lay with his head on my lap, Hayden lay a few feet away, and I pet Tucker while all of us existed in silence and I tried to regain Tucker’s trust—and my own. After an unknown number of minutes, the energy shifted and peace was obtained.
I asked if the boys wanted to go outside before dark. I gently and slowly moved so Tucker got up and the three of us went outside.
There, the past was far away. Tucker and Hayden played and romped and Tucker smiled.
The boys romped around, using both interior and exterior locations for their tug-of-war/keep-away/chase/wrestling match. I heard the two of them go into the kitchen for what I presumed was a drink of water.
Then it got too quiet. For too long. The length of time for a plan to be thought of, discussed, and executed.
“Boys, what’s going on in there? I don’t trust the silence.”
Hayden trotted out first, Ziplock baggie of treats in his mouth and Tucker brought up the rear.
“Oh, no,” I said calmly as Hayden landed on the couch and Tucker stood by waiting to delve into the goods.
“No. Bad. That’s not something we do,” I said sternly but at conversation volume to him—mainly because I was trying not to laugh.
He gave up the booty easily.
“I blame you too, Tucker,” I said to my canine partner who had betrayed me for treats. “You’re in cahoots with him.”
I returned the treats to the kitchen, noting the wet paw tracks on the countertop.
How could I be mad? Tucker and Hayden had bonded. Disappointingly, I had given them a common enemy to band together against: the crazy, yelling, human female who seems nice, but blows up if you get too close.
Re-reading the last sentence, I see this goes deeper than my dislike of being tongue-bathed by a dog with dental disease.
Perhaps all this time my need to foster wasn’t to help others, but to help myself. Hayden is a far better dog than I a human.