Visiting the Grahams was always exciting although, in retrospect, it was pretty ordinary. Kenny Graham was a funny kid, the same age as my big sister Martha. Their family was like June, Ward and Beaver Cleaver. Life was simple. I was 4 years old; Martha was 6 – average baby boomer kids. I thought the Graham family was really lucky because they had a dog, a black and white Boston terrier named Buster. I loved Buster and I was sure he loved me back. We didn’t have pets.
One day the grown-ups were playing cards and drinking tea. I was on the floor when I spied Buster camped out under the table. He sure was cute. I could tell right away that he was inviting me to creep up to him for a bit of snuggling. I happily accepted. Rushing in on all fours to hug the object of my affection I was startled by a quick snarl and was then summarily bitten on the face.
Surprise could hardly describe my emotions; that dog was lightning fast. Despite my overwhelming sense of betrayal, there was nothing unusual about what happened. Rude awakenings to the realities of canine behavior occur somewhere every day. I understand this now because I’m a residency trained veterinary behaviorist.
Looking back at that pivotal moment I realize that I had completely misread the body signals that were veritably emanating from scared Buster, hiding out near his person’s feet. I remember the pinned back ears and straight-on glare as I delightedly advanced. His body signaling was loud and clear: “I’m freaked-out. I fear that you are going to hurt me, you homicidal nut job! I might perceive a threat and panic. I have a mouth full of teeth and I know how to use them!”
As I, the child who assumed way too much, closed on Buster he issued his final, this time verbal, warning: “Grrr!!” Translation: “I will defend myself, to the end!” Which is, of course, exactly what he did.
Next week: Bad dog? Bad Child? Bad adults?
⋄ For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.