My daughter’s dog Baguette treats every dog who shows up in her life as if that dog is there to play. My dog, Jackson, is the opposite. He’s typically aggressive toward other dogs. He’s a rescue, eleven pounds, a long-haired Chihuahua, and thirteen years old. I was never able to find out his history, but I’m sure he has good reasons for what he does. He’s not great with small children, or changes in routine, either.
I had no clue about the root of his aggressiveness until the day a friend of mine invited me to bring Jackson over to meet her six small dogs. My friend said she might be able to help him get along with others and play nice, even late in his life. With her assistance, I was happy to give Jackson a test, or more accurately, a pup quiz.
My friend is experienced with dogs and wasn’t as concerned about his aggressiveness as I was. She said it was important that no dog be on a leash for this event, that we should allow the dogs to work things out naturally with each other. But just in case the experiment went awry, her husband was poised (water hose in hand) to break up a fight.
After Jackson had acclimated to her yard, she let all six of her dogs out of the house and they ran toward him in a friendly pack, happy tails wagging. Jackson was overwhelmed. He fell completely silent, and his body language spoke volumes. He sat down. He cowered.
My heart went out to him. Until that moment, honestly, I had no idea he was so terrified. That moment taught me about the true nature of aggressiveness, that aggressiveness is fear masquerading as authority or power.
Now, back to Baguette.
Up to this point, my daughter, MacKenzie, and I had mostly kept our dogs apart because, frankly, it was a lot of work to have them in the same room. But after that revealing encounter with six small dogs, I wondered how Jackson might do with another chance with Baguette.
We scheduled a rendezvous at my house in the country, so that Baguette and Jackson had plenty of room to get to know each other better. We introduced them to each other outside, with no leashes. I took a deep breath and figured if anyone could make things turn out happy-go-lucky, Baguette could.
Top dog Baguette was a little surprised about Jackson’s style, but she took him in stride. She played his way. She was faster and much bigger than Jackson, and able to get out of his way easily, or take a flying leap over him if necessary, which she did once. She did whatever it took to play with his lunges, and did so happily and at full tilt. It seemed to Mac and me that Baguette was having great fun, almost as if she found Jackson’s aggressive moves hilariously entertaining! He certainly offered a new game for her. The more Jackson ran after her, barking and upset, the more Baguette invited it. How brilliant!
Then Baguette did an amazing thing. She began to imitate Jackson. When he barked, she barked right back as if to say, “Oh, so that’s how you like it!” If Jackson ran after her, she’d run away, and then turn around and chase him right back. This caught him off guard at first, because he didn’t interpret it as playful, and it threw him into a little more fear. Usually, his fear propelled him to run after her again, which is exactly what she was after. Essentially, Baguette welcomed whatever Jackson did and turned it into play.
Jackson wore himself out expressing his fear. It required a great deal of energy to run, bark, defend, and pursue. Eventually, he slowed down. When Jackson rested, Baguette hunkered down in a playful way about ten feet away from him, gazed at him, and waited. She gave him time to catch his breath. But after a bit, he didn’t come after her, so she barked a happy invitation. When that didn’t rouse him, she went directly to him, smelled him, and poked him gently with her paw to encourage him to go after her and continue the game.
Baguette is clearly a four-legged Aikido Master. She never resisted him—she welcomed Jackson’s actions and turned all of it into fun. She received him right where he was, inviting him to do more of the very thing he was already doing. She didn’t overpower him, manage him, reprimand him or growl. She bounded about as if Jackson was the most delightful and interesting friend she’d ever met.
Eventually, her play and his fear turned into play on both sides. We noticed Jackson’s tail wagging happily as he barked. Jackson was tired and happy after it was over, as if his fear had been drawn out of him like a long ribbon. He seemed lighter and less concerned, more relaxed and confident. We thought he seemed quite pleased with himself about how things turned out.
We could all learn a little from Baguette, don’t you think? And from Jackson as well.
We could apply Baguette’s built-in brilliance to our own lives. We could learn how to be authentically playful, for instance, instead of aggressive, impatient, flippant, or even hateful, with partners and ex-partners. I watched the practically impossible happen with Jackson and he’s a better dog since Baguette ran circles around his fear as if his fear was un-seeable and therefore Jackson’s fear mattered not at all to her. She could only decode his actions as reason to express herself fully—to play in a light-hearted way.
Around Baguette, maybe Jackson’s fear transformed. Maybe it lifted. Maybe it emptied out of him or some kind of magic alchemy occurred. Who knows? But what I saw, heard and felt was the wonder of how she decoded his actions: he was playing with her. And so, eventually, he played. Gradually, he matched her interpretation of him. Jackson was able to experience being with her in a happier state than he had been accustomed to around another dog.
Baguette played with Jackson in a way that demonstrated he was friendship-worthy, and that their time together could be enjoyable. She decoded his actions in a way that blessed them both. And by the way, what a good and fortunate thing to have a friend who can’t see your fear, or see your actions as a problem. What a wonderful thing to have a friend who knows how to play, even when you’re afraid. How full of grace is the moment when a friend knows how to include everything and love anyway.
Terri’s book of photography combined with poetry: 100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom to Calm the Mind and Nourish the Heart.