Three weeks in, J is doing well with less med. Whatever glitches we faced somewhere in the middle of that initial period have been addressed and resolved. J feels good, and is responding well to all that we have put in place to make his life a little less overwhelming. That is: J is starting to realize that we cannot always remove that which bothers him, and he is tempering his response and letting us do as much as we can…and, might I add, this comes with a THANK YOU attached at the end.
Let me illustrate, please. This morning as we left for school, a neighbor’s dog (and I am supposing this is because they think of their dog as yet another human in the household and trust its training) walked into our path at maybe 5 to 10 yards from where we were walking. The dog, I’d like to point out, was off-leash which is a no-no according to the lease we all sign. The dog showed restraint, but it was because another neighbor was walking her two dogs about 30 yards from where this elegant canine stopped in its tracks. So you could say that between J, that dog and the two other dogs, I was getting ready to navigate into a branch of the Bermuda Triangle.
My plan had been to walk straight down the street to visit the new house and show J how close they are to being done (but more on that in a moment,) but the first, leash-free dog stood in the path of our progress and, furthermore, appeared to J rather threatening. I can guarantee you this dog was not in any way aggressive, but his excellent posture and elegant stance looked to J like that of Alpha, the leader of Muntz’s pack of dogs in Up,
and in a flash he was retreating and squealing rather loudly…you know what squeal I mean…the dolphin squeal that indicates danger, Will Robinson better than any robot’s pre-programmed voice could.
I turned around and calmly re-directed him to the other street and apologized for the whole thing. I explained that the dog wasn’t supposed to be off-leash and that he was right to be concerned. THANK YOU! Well, I said, I wanted to make sure you knew that I understand you worry and don’t like dogs that pop out of nowhere when you’re least expecting them. THANK YOU! So we will walk this way, and I will let the manager know that the neighbors are letting their dog walk without a leash, and I will make sure that I keep an eye out a little better so this doesn’t happen again. THANK YOU!
He kept his cool from then on, but didn’t really want to sing his Bus Song until we were nearly at the corner. Instead, we walked arm in arm, with me stepping forward to make sure that no dogs would appear from behind the buildings when we walked down the stairs towards the parallel street below us.
I know that J’s traumas and fears are not the neighbors’ problem. I know that not all dogs are going to bounce towards J in either a friendly or unfriendly manner, and that people don’t have to refrain from owning dogs just because our kid is afraid of them. I also know, however, that one of the points I’ve been stressing for J is that “the dog is on a leash, and the owner has control of it” when he’s been overreacting to any canine within fifty feet of us. This has worked. Once J identifies the leash and the owner acknowledges that the dog is tethered to them, J relaxes. A lovely, purebred, well-trained, large dog doing what to J appears like an abracadabra act of apparition dismantles my logic and slowly disassembles J’s trust.
As it turns out, this dog lives in the same row of houses where we will be living in a few weeks. Right now, this dog is in the way between here and there, and when we move it will not be as much of an issue because we will have another outlet towards the corner where the bus picks up and drops off J. The issue is not the dog, the issue is the unleashed part of it…I want J to have his own dog, and -if and when this happens- the dog and J will both be trained so that the leash is only used outside the confines of home, but I understand that a dog will allow instinct to override training if the mix of elements is right, and I don’t want J to not want to go outside because two neighbors (there’s another one across the way) don’t keep their dogs on leashes for walks and for taking them to the dog play ground.
I know that I am responsible for helping J work through his fear of dogs, and I AM doing that. I’m trying to build trust in us as the people who will serve as a shield between him and the canine population that flourishes around him (and -believe me- we are quite the shield at Farmers’ Market,) but I also need to teach him that rules apply to all and that the rule is that dogs have to be on leashes when walking around the neighborhood. Dogs that are off-leash are stray bullets waiting to hit something, and J understands that a dog on the loose is a dog he doesn’t believe will respond when called. At Farmers’ Market the policy is that “well-behaved dogs are allowed if the owner has them on a leash” and yet we hear the occasional canine face-off taking place in the midst of the crowd. J knows that we locate the dogs, announce them to him and explain how we will be navigating around them and (with a THANK YOU!) he lets us do what must be done to help him figure this fear of his out…
We’re just not yet to that “happy medium” spot…not quite…no…not quite…