Sunday, August 17, 2014

Man's Best Friend

Beren plays with Bunny Rabbit and Puppy Dog. Puppy Dog looks a lot like Max the dog and was a gift from my mother-in-law to Beren. Puppy Dog gets some role play time as the dog a kid might encounter.

Three and a half year old versus dog. The child is out classed in height and weight. The dog presses forward. The mother squeezes the child's hand gently. 

The mother says, "He's on a leash. I'm right here."

Or, she quickly lifts her child as an unleashed dog rushes forward to touch noses with the child. The mother says, "I've got you" as she lifts her child up.

Most, if not all, public parks, trails, and nature preserves, require that a pet be leashed. Yes, it's true, even a very well behaved dog that would not hurt a soul, but still is rushing forward with intents unknown towards my thirty some pound child. Even if he loved dogs, he still might be startled. 

I'm trying to gently teach my young child to be wise and aware and unafraid and cautious around dogs. He tells me that dogs are too noisy. I grew up with cats, and I tend to agree, but I don't tell him so. 

I've noticed other children react the same way. Startled, they leap up into a parent's arms or flinch and raise their elbows to protect their faces. I've noticed dog owners often act the same at each encounter. They walk with wide steps towards their dog, calling the dog's name. "Oh sorry, this is what he does. He's friendly." It's unpleasant to watch, and even more unpleasant to be part of the interaction. 

This happens at parks, while hiking, at farmer's markets, in cities and towns, in retail stores, and restaurants. Dogs are welcome in many establishments these days. To a lesser extent, they've replaced the cigarette. You may not smoke, but you can bring your pet instead. Dogs are also increasingly considered members of an owner's family, not just Fido who sits in the backyard. They go where the family goes. I get it. Some of them wear more expensive booties than I do.

In case you're wondering, my child is bold, agile and curious. He climbs boulders, fences, and trees. He chases butterflies, watches wasps, transports daddy-long-legs and earthworms, and catches lightning bugs. He adores cats, chickens, rabbits, llamas, and ducks. With confidence he identifies plants from maples and poison ivy, to stiltgrass and sorrel. He uses tools and works on our farm. He's also sensitive, alert, and aware. Last, he does not like strange dogs, especially not dogs that rush towards him with intents unknown. 

My in-laws have a dog. A big one. A black lab pit bull mix with a lot of energy and a stegosaurus-like tail that knocks over kids and wine glasses. For the first half hour of a visit to their house, my child leaps up into my arms or Jared's. He's practically weightless. His mass is replaced with nervous power. It's no wonder that people can perform physical miracles when propelled by adrenalin.

Once Max the dog settles down, I pet him. I encourage my child to touch his ears and chin and tell me which fur is softer. By the end of our visit, my child and the dog are fast friends.

I'm not willing to put the dirt time in with every stranger's dog, not like I do with my in-laws' dog. I don't want to be pals with a stranger's dog, especially not once he scares the crap out of my child. Honestly, I just want to go back to peacefully strolling or wading or shopping.

So just in case you have a dog, and my child may meet your dog, consider that we've not met your dog yet. Keep your dog in check, please. We'll put in the dirt time and become friends as needed.

In turn, I promise not to rush up to you, my eyes wide, my mouth open and shouting, my intents unknown. And if I do, Jared or Beren will let tell you, "Oh sorry, this is just what she does. She's friendly."

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