Canine Capers

Charlie on the verge of meeting a dog on a walk "He really hates our dog."

A neighbor said that to me yesterday afternoon. She was working in her garden; three big bags of soil were stacked by the bushes in front of her house. She has a dog—a dalmatian, I think—and Charlie always checks to see if the front door is open and if the dog is standing in it. If it is, he makes a concerted dash across the street. Yesterday I didn't see or hear the dog myself but Charlie must have as one moment he was walking and looking towards the house's door, the next he was running, really really fast.

I jogged after and got within a couple of feet of him, and on we walked. Our neighbor's comment kept playing over and over in my head.

Having observed Charlie around (if you count up all the walks over all the years in all the different parks, suburbs, city streets, and other places) a couple hundred dogs, I would say that he's very fascinated and even curious about them. His is, 'tis true, a fascination closely coupled with intense fear. Sometimes I think Charlie's ever on the lookout for dogs not so much to steer clear of them, as to actually see them and see what they're up to—and then he's terrified and makes a run for it.

When Charlie was about 5, he was not only very interested in dogs, he was quite interested in stroking and petting them. But a couple of years later, whenever we encountered a dog (and this happened fairly frequently, as those were the days when we took Charlie on long walks in New York City), he would run to Jim and me saying "up, up!". It wasn't too long before I for one could not carry Charlie and neither of us thought carrying the best response anyways, and praised Charlie for holding our hands and not, as it were, freaking out.

And then came a new dog problem. Jim and Charlie would be out riding bikes and a dog would run after them. Or, a dog on a leash out walking with its owner might bark at Charlie, who would then, on some occasions, abandon his bike, even in the middle of the street, and go running. (Mind you, Charlie was always careful to set the bike straight and on its kickstand before running stage-down-the-street-as-fast-as-could, with Jim in pursuit and slowed down by the fact that he had to take Charlie's bike with him, while still riding his bike—it would have been even harder to get Charlie to go back for his bike). 

For awhile, Jim and I thought it was the barking of dogs that most irked our sound-sensitive boy, but so many (as you may have noticed from my photos), a lot of sounds (most sounds, it often seems) really bother Charlie, who is more likely to walk around with his hands over his ears these days than not. 

In the past couple of months, if a dog is on a leash, Charlie moves off the sidewalk (to a neighbor's lawn), but doesn't entirely run away: A little bit of progress.

On the other hand, if Charlie sees a dog without a leash—-in a field or on the beach (wide open spaces where animals couped up in small yards or apartments or other domestic spaces can move to their heart's content)—he is overcome with anxiety and a sort of fight-or-flight response sets in, and off goes Charlie  (and he is a very fast runner now—graceful to behold, but very fast).

But it's not exactly "hate" that Charlie has towards dogs. Certainly, fear. But also something like—curiosity? 

A kind of healthy respect so that he's careful of stepping into their space?

The likelihood of us getting a dog remains as unlikely as ever. I do know that therapy dogs occasionally visit Charlie's school and I think that would be a good way for him to have some more "up and close" reactions with our canine friends. In the meantime, rather than having any strained interactions with dog owners (we've had more than a few, puzzled that Charlie shows such an extreme—?—response to human's best friend), my new strategy is to be easy smiles and "hi, hi," when the owners and I pass each other. 

Charlie, of course, is already quite far ahead, shooting me a glance over his shoulder to hurry up, please, 'tis time for walking.

10 Responses to “Canine Capers”
  1. Nicole says:

    I wonder how he’d react to a very young puppy? They are quite a bit more cuddly and less intimidating!
    When Chris sees a dog or a puppy at the park that is *all* he can think about. He knows he is not to pet a dog without permission, so he’ll just sit there and stare until the dog either leaves or the person asks if he wants to pet the dog…

  2. Jennifer says:

    We had 2 dogs when my brother was small; the second died when he was about 3. Not long after, I was walking with him (he was riding in a wagon) when a small dog ran up to the wagon and yapped loudly at him. The poor little thing was trying to be nice but Patrick was terrified. For years, that meant any four-legged animal — not just dogs.
    Eventually he grew to love cats (he realized, I think, they are largely quiet, and helped to rescue a six week old kitten that was tiny and malnourished) but he’s still very iffy about dogs.
    I’ve taught him to recognize the vests that service dogs (in general) wear and the harness that guide dogs (in particular) wear, and while he’s still uneasy, he does okay, mostly, when he sees a trained service animal. He even rode in an elevator with one at Disney World this past Christmas.
    Other dogs, though, are still a no-go. I wish I had some suggestions; I’ve been taking Patrick to pet stores where the dogs are behind plexiglas, and he, too, seems fascinated and even charmed by the puppies (of course, they’re behind glass and their…er…noises…are muted) in that type of very controlled situation.
    A long way of saying, been there, done that, and I’m impressed that Charlie is doing better with leashed dogs. Patrick would be cowering behind me or across the street himself, at that point.
    Maybe Charlie would like muted youtube videos of dogs? (In limited quantities, of course.)

  3. Linda says:

    So, fast runner; almost a teenager. Is track and field in his future? Hope your day is sunny if chilly.

  4. Jill says:

    My former students had varied reactions to dogs, some pleasant and some awful. The worst was a kid called D., a very tall, obese teenager who would march up to the dog’s owner, if we encountered a dog being walked on a leash, and, scowling, demand to “play with your dog.” The owners would nervously agree because D. looked driven and imposing, like some kind of dog inspector from hell. Things usually got bad very fast when D. would attempt to stick his fingers up the dog’s butt.
    Sometimes he’d only fire questions at the dog’s owner, machine gun-style: “How old is your dog?” “What is his name?” “Does he do any tricks?” This was delivered in a monotone, leaving the dog owner visibly shaken, even if D. didn’t attempt to give the dog an impromptu proctology exam.
    It got so bad that we would quickly steer D. away from any approaching dogs and try to distract him with conversation about his favorite sitcom.

  5. Jen says:

    Thought regarding the sound sensitivity… Have you tried some sort of noise-muffling headphones? E’s gone through phases of being extremely sensitive to some sounds, and we’ve found that noise-reducing headphones helped.

  6. Sharon says:

    We had a dog until 4 years ago. The boys were fine with Duffy but afraid of every other dog. Andy is more curious about other dogs, Ryan is afraid.

  7. VAB says:

    I certainly know about that fascination/fear thing. For our guy it was generally inanimate objects such as elevators and merry-go-rounds, which were easy to examine at a distance (preferably hiding behind another object — other objects including parents, of course).

  8. autismvox says:

    Parents are handy that way!
    I’ve thought, Sharon, that if wer did have a dog, that might happen—Charlie would be ok with one he knew, and still terrified of the rest. He’s definitely doing better so long as he sees the dog as is on a leash, which is a big improvement.

  9. Hala says:

    Nico loves dogs but gives them a very, very, very wide berth. It’s a love-fascination-wariness thing. Dogs seem totally out of reality to him.

  10. Regina says:

    “if wer did have a dog, that might happen—Charlie would be ok with one he knew, and still terrified of the rest.”
    It’s hard to tell. My daughter had the love-hate thing with dogs, and as a matter of fact I still thought so until earlier this week when we were walking and I realized (doh) there was no reaction at all beyond looking. Checking in with Hubs and going through old afterschool program pics, it seems to be that the teacher’s dog, who was there on a regular basis, took a shine to our daughter and after a period of skittishness and arcing away, they became “buddies”. I don’t know if that was THE solution, since we’re in a positive transition on different fronts, but I can guess that the positive exposure helped.
    Just for the record, although I had thought about getting a dog to this purpose, the thought of one more living being to be responsible for was not a responsibility that I c/sh/could take on. YMMV.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • What’s all this about?

%d bloggers like this: