August 03, 2009

Beware of Dog

(Photo credit: T. Feld)

Here's a guest post by my amazing sister, who lives in MD. Our son is currently down there visiting with his aunt and uncle, his two beloved cousins T & C, and their two dogs, Chance and Nina. Nina is a relatively new addition to that family, and this post is an excerpt of my sister's email to me yesterday:

It's very common for dogs to fear kids. Kids are louder, more physical, and far less predictable than adults.

Your son is awesome. He was pretty much attacked by our new dog THREE times. Every time, I slammed her to the floor and held her down by her neck and threw her out of the house, etc... to make sure she knew where he was in the pack (i.e. way the heck above her). She never got all the way TO him, but charged at him, barking, baring teeth, the whole nine. Then, I tried holding her in one arm while loving on him with the other arm and talking to him like he was the greatest. That's when she COMPLETELY freaked the heck out and went wiggy, flinging herself any which way to get the heck away from him, and cutting my nose with her tooth on the way (I really felt more as if she was running with knives and cut me on the way by than as if she actively bit me, but whatever it was, thank GOD she didn't get D, and WHO WOULD BLAME HIM if he a. wanted her banished from the house permanently or b. wanted to go home or something.)

But NO. Quite the contrary. He heard me talking to Steve about how D wasn't doing a thing to her and usually wasn't even NEAR her when she went off, and how we might need to get rid of her if she can't handle visiting kids (she has never had any similar reaction to adults). D said, "Oh, no! I hope you don't get rid of her! I like Nina. I think she's just really scared of me." What an amazing response. And he meant it.

Then, I thought about it and realized her reaction was totally wig-out fear-ish. I thought about eye contact. D had said that before each "charge" she had been staring at him for minutes on end. Well, for him to know that, he must have been staring at her, too (again, can't blame him a bit -- I would keep my eye on her, too). If she's wary of him, and then he keeps locking eyes with her, she will definitely take that as an aggressive sign (poor D was being anything but...)

I told D if he wanted, we would just keep her outside while he's here, unless he's at camp, or down in the basement, or in C's room w/ door closed, etc. I told him that would be completely understandable and fine by me. I told him too, though, that what I would prefer is to have her around some of the time, so she can get used to him, and put her out if she's staring at him, or making him at all nervous. He was 100% cool with that. I even asked if he was sure and he said "yes."

Then, I told him to completely avoid looking at her, at all, and loaded him up with treats. He carried those things like sabers! It was as if he felt safe as long as he had a treat! And without my urging, coaching, etc, he took the whole thing on like a little scientist, and began trying to offer her treats in different ways -- sitting down first, not looking, with voice, without voice, putting it on the floor, holding it in his hand. He was SO psyched when he got her to slink up and gingerly take it from his hand -- after at least 45 minutes of work -- her ears slicked to her little head. And, the whole time, he was expertly managing Chance (who needed treats, too, don't cha' know...) and C, who kept trying to "help."

Then, I told him that the most reassuring position for him would be to sit with his back to her, offering up his behind, so to speak. He said, "Okay, that's really scary." I said, "You're right -- forget it." Within 40 minutes, he said, "I want to try the really un-aggressive thing." Little sweetie. So, he did, and slowly, over the course of the evening, she eventually came up and began licking his outstretched hand, with him still not looking at her. He was on Cloud Nine!

This morning, we were all snuggling in bed, and I asked him to continue avoiding eye contact, and she came right over to him on the bed, rolled on her back, offering up her tummy and neck. I told him that was a great sign. He was still nervous every time she moved quickly, and we had to reassure him that she was coming to lick him, not attack him, but he really, really wanted to be her friend, so he hung in there through understandable fear. (She's still nervous when he moves quickly, too, so we will keep a very close eye, and not make any assumptions that everything's great now, etc...)

He is in charge of feeding her. After b'fast this AM, he said, "Tomorrow, maybe I can look at her!" He really likes her, God bless him. He's just been a gem, and I think the two of them will be fine now. And I intend to make it clear to him that he has really helped our family with his courage and his efforts to work with her. You should be very, VERY proud.

(Of course we are proud.
And SO grateful to my fabulous sister!
Our Mr. D has experienced the winning power
of kindness before,
when he tucked a non-English-speaking
classmate under his wing.
He knows about aggression from our conversations
about which games we approve of him playing,
and what makes a great wrestler great.
He knows about fear and violence because
as Quakers, we talk about the hidden roots of violence.
And he knows about the scientific method because
ever since he started asking "why" about everything,
we've been responding, "We'll tell you what we think,
but first, what's your theory?"
We have NO idea where he learned patience.)


Deborah Stearns said...

Wow -- that's an amazing kid you have. I cannot imagine being that brave and patient in the face of an attacking dog (as a child or adult, really!). You can be really proud of him.

MemeGRL said...

What an incredible story. Thanks to sis and you for sharing.
I love your addendum about teaching the roots of fear and violence. We need to find more effective ways to do this in our house. Inspiration found here, as ever!

nancygoldstein said...

Three cheers for D the Great--and for you two for raising such a great kid. He looks awfully tall in the photo, though. I told you that's what would happen if you kept feeding him:)!


Stacy said...

Well done D!

I think he learned all this from the giant dogs that live with y'all.

Wendy said...

I just love him. LOVE him! What a kind and compassionate son you both have - testament to his two amazing mamas.


Deborah Blicher said...

Wow! All kids afraid of dogs should read this. I would so love to meet your son. His courage and patience would be an inspiration to anyone.

Unknown said...

This is so heartwarming! I'm glad to hear that a new friendship has been born, even in the face of fear. Dogs and kids are amazing beings.