When my oldest son was about three years old we enrolled him in a Gymboree play group. This was before Gymboree was all about merchandise and more about creating enriching environments for toddlers and their Yuppie parents (guilty as charged…). There was a giant parachute that would go up in the air and fall onto of the kids who would laugh and scream with joy. Fun right? Well not for my son. He screamed out of fear when the parachute went up in the air and spent the rest of the session in my lap on the sidelines far back from the other kids and especially far away from the parachute.
I was heartbroken. I so wanted Jonathan to be with all the other kids laughing and playing underneath the parachute. And I have to admit I was a little embarrassed that my kid was scared and crying on the sidelines. Thinking back on that event over the years I realize that I let the outcome be about me when the only thing I should have been concerned with was my son and what was best for him at the time. But parents are people and people have egos and egos can get in the way sometimes. This can be bad especially when it gets in the way of your children. Or your pets…
I want so badly for Kali to experience playtime with other dogs. When we walk past the dog park and I see dogs running and playing together I long for Kali to be along side of them. I want her to be underneath the parachute laughing and screaming with joy. But she’s not ready yet. She still gets anxious around other dogs so instead we walk by or watch from a distance (albeit closer these days) and as we walk by I’ll keep my chin up and wave to the other owners as Kali and I head to the pond to look at the ducks and geese. Each time it reminds me of my son sitting in my lap crying and scared to get back into the circle of other toddlers.
And I have to remind myself – it’s not about me!
For as much anxiety and aggression that Kali has shown when we encounter other dogs on our walks or visits to town I’m convinced that within a day or less Kali would adjust and be a great step-sibbling to any dog that we brought into the family. Given the chance she would quickly realize that she’s safe and would then be able to experience the joy of canine companionship. So why don’t I give her that chance? How do I give her the chance without stressing her out too much or inconveniencing other dog owners?
When I step back and remember that it’s not about me I realize that Kali has come a long way in the past several months. We now regularly pass dogs on our walks without any lunging or barking. In fact we had a milestone moment earlier this week when a dog and owner approached us on the trail. Kali has learned to focus on me when we encounter dogs and more often than not we pass by and move along without incident. This time as Kali and the other dog got to the same spot on the trail they stopped and looked at one another. Before I knew it Kali was muzzle to muzzle with the other dog sniffing. This was a first! I was slightly stunned and very encouraged. I wanted to make sure that this interaction ended on a positive note so that I could mark the good behavior by lavishing Kali with treats and praise. I was one second too late. Just as I was about to tell Kali “let’s go” and walk away she let out a deep woof. The other dog replied and Kali started pulling. I moved her back, apologized to the dog’s owner and we walked away. But I still think this was a big step forward. I hope this was a big step forward. More importantly I hope Kali realized that this was a big step forward.
I realized months ago that it would take a very long time for Kali to overcome her anxiety with other dogs. It’s interesting that Kali was in foster care with many other dogs while in Taiwan and the report on her that I received before she was sent over was that she got along great with other dogs. I’ve watched the wonderful video showing Kali and all the of the dogs and volunteers at the airport in Taiwan before the dogs were boarded onto the plane that brought them to America. Kali is quiet and seemingly comfortable with the 23 other dogs in the terminal. The catholic parent in me wonders if there was something I did wrong to create her anxiety once she got here.
In a couple of weeks the local rescue group will hold their annual picnic where families and their rescued Golden Retrievers get together for an informal reunion. Many of these dogs will be from Taiwan like Kali. Some may be dogs that were is foster care with her. How cool would it be to have Kali reunite with dogs she was with in Taiwan exactly one year ago? Very cool to say the least!
Holly, Kali, and I plan on attending the picnic. But I’m very apprehensive. I’m apprehensive about Kali barking and being disruptive. I’m apprehensive about potentially putting Kali in a situation that is too stressful for her. Holly, in her infinite wisdom, tells me if it’s too hard on Kali we’ll leave. She’s right of course. But, I don’t want to be the parent on the sidelines far back from the other kids laughing and screaming with joy under the parachute while my kid sits in my lap scared to participate. I don’t want to be embarrassed and have to struggle to keep my chin up.
But, it’s not about me, is it? Or course not. It’s all about Kali and her continued development and adjustment to her new life in America.
Reading about Kali is like reading about Ray. We have to remember to at least try and “read” him in order to work out what he would like rather than assume that what we would want is what he would want. Would Ray have fun being let loose with a bunch of other dogs? Probably not at this point in time. Ray has been taught that dogs mean treats so he is not unreceptive to other dogs however, if the other dog misbehaves or gets over friendly, Ray will react the only way he knows. This is neither fair on the other dog nor on Ray. We have also learned that dogs have a very systematic method of greeting… 1. sniff rear …… 2. check credentials …… 3. nose to nose. Ray had no concept of how to greet and so was taught it in a class with other dogs. Now he can get quite perturbed if another dog does not follow due protocol. Ray is a very cute dog but there are many people who see his muzzle and make negative assumptions……….. but I don’t take it personally. I simply believe that their negativity is their problem to deal with. The main point here, as you well now, is not to set up Ray (or Kali) for failure i.e. avoid stressful situations as much as possible as they serve no productive purpose.
Congrats on Kali’s progress! That’s great! Keep doing what you’re doing – keep trying, remain patient (though it can be hard), & try to manage your anxiety since Kali can pick up on that. You’ll do what’s best for your blonde beauty. 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate it and sometimes need a reminder that we are making progress!