It’s March and that means mud season is upon us. The pond is thawing and the opportunity to track critters in the snow is ending (although it is going out with a bang: I tracked an otter up and over the mountain the other day!). It also means Bindi, our newest pup, is completing her first revolution around the sun. We don’t know when she was born but I guessed that March was probably her birth month, given her age when Foster Mama Jan scooped her up.
We’ve enjoyed Bindi’s presence in our home and pack for 6 months. She arrived here in September, a donkey-eared black puppy with that adorable wonky paw. She has grown like a weed and filled out, but her ears have also grown. All those predictions that she’d grow into her enormous satellite dish ears prove incorrect -she is still sporting ridiculous ears on a cute little black and gold brindled body.
She has been so easy, so relaxed, so happy, it’s been hard to reconcile her quirks. Now, at the six month mark, I’m ready to call it: she fits right in. That means she is both perfect and flawed. And I’m finally ready to write about her issues.
Bindi is a fearful dog. She is timid. I have no idea why. She was found very young, and fostered by a champion foster mama, in a warm, loving, safe, fun household. Her first 8 weeks or so may not have been great, but since then she has had nothing but kind structure and loving guidance, first from Mama Jan, and then from me and my pack. She is confident and playful at home with her packmates and me, the picture of a normal pup of her age. But the moment Tom gets home from work, she is distressed. She barks and hides and scoots away from him if — god forbid – he approaches her.
She is timid when meeting all new people and dogs. She warms up to dogs quickly, especially if they are submissive. She is all hackles and deep-voiced barking at first, but within 2 minutes, she is relaxed and playing. Humans? She’s ok with women but not friendly. She will take treats but doesn’t really want to interact. She will not approach men. Forget about it.
She is fabulous at the animal hospital and settles as if she’s home. Sleeps, even, while waiting for the vet to examine her. If the vet and I chat, she flops to the floor and takes another nap. She can walk nicely on a leash in stores or busy streets, but could not be cajoled or dragged into a friend’s home. That was too scary.
Don’t get me wrong: we’re not worried and we’re not unhappy. This is fine. I’d be stunned if a dog without issues called our pack home. A little wonky paw and timidity is no big deal. But I do have a few thoughts about it.
First, the temptation to assume that a man was abusive to her is natural, but I don’t necessarily buy that. Maybe. But maybe not. Her fear of men may be due to something other than a past experience. It could be something in the present – scent, size, vibe, or something else. Men are different from women (you may call me Captain Obvious), and those differences might be enough to tip sensitive little Bindi Loo Who into fear.
You see, even dogs with great pasts have issues. It happens. Just like some humans are more nervous and some are more trusting, I think it’s just her temperament. The quirks and idiosyncrasies are what make her who she is, and I think to a certain degree, this is just how she came from the factory. Maybe there was a bad experience that turned the volume up on a pup that was already predisposed to fear. Maybe not. We’ll never know.
How to handle a dog that is fearful of a family member is an interesting window into all the relationships in the home. Tom is accustomed to forging his own relationship with the dogs, separate and different from my relationship with them. He is also well versed in flux – he’s watched dogs grow and change in our care. The most dramatic is Peeka, but all of them change as they age. As do Tom and I.
Tom asked me what he should do. I counseled patience and distance. Don’t approach. Don’t ask her to make friends. Don’t push. Let her approach you. Let her do this in her own way, on her own time frame. Be uninterested and uninteresting. That conveys safety.
Tom calls her, sticks a hand out, follows her when she runs from him, and bribes her with food.
I have to laugh. He’s been pretty successful. She still runs from him and barks at him, but she also approaches and receives his ministrations graciously at certain times of the day. She seems to like him best if he is wearing his blue bathrobe. Go figure. If he is sitting still, focused on a meal or computer work, she will nose flip him… especially if I tell her to go haunt a house. She is changing, a lot more slowly that I would have expected for such an overall robust dog, but I expect she will eventually accept him with the same affection and comfort as she accepts me.
I sought a puppy to adopt with the expressed goal of having an easy, “issue-free” new pack member. I wanted a nice dog, one I could bring with me on hikes or in public places, one that would be a healing salve on the wounds inflicted by life with Peeka and Brody. I got a gimpy, fearful, barking fruit bat. And I couldn’t be happier.