We have two dogs in our family. Bailey is a little, white fur ball, and has been with us for almost eight years. She was the third dog we’d had since we married. Then a little over four years ago, Bandit joined the family, which was the first time we’d ever had multiple dogs at the same time. Bandit was a rescue, and is some kind of Border Collie mix.
It took having more than one dog, and having the opportunity to observe the differences in their responses in a variety of situations, for me to realize that dogs operate from what could be called a “world view.” Now, I’m not saying that their world views are comparable in complexity to those of a mature adult in our culture, but I believe the term world view aptly describes the idea.
Bailey was born in the home of a breeder, where the woman who cared for and bred her mother was around all of the time, and she and her litter mates were handled and loved on frequently. This could explain her expectations of the world. You see, Bailey is convinced that every person she encounters is there specifically and exclusively to love her. If she is on a walk on a leash and sees a stranger approaching, she will tug with all the might her 13 pounds can muster to get close to them, and as soon as she thinks she’s close enough (she’s honestly a poor judge of “close enough”) will roll over on her back for a proper belly rubbing. She has no fear. Whenever she manages to escape from the house or the backyard without a leash, she darts off down the street, running as fast as she can until she finds someone new to whom she can offer herself for a belly rub.
As I mentioned above, Bandit was a rescue. My son (then 11 years old) had saved his money to buy a dog, and wanted a Border Collie. My wife located a very cute puppy online that fit the bill for him, so we travelled the weekend before Thanksgiving to a horse farm in northwest Georgia where he was being fostered. After we parked near the barn and climbed out of our car, the lady who owns the farm and fosters dogs walked out carrying Bandit. (He was actually named Arthur at the time, but once you’ve seen his picture you’ll surely understand how we came up with Bandit for his permanent name.) She had just finished bathing him, and set him down to come greet us. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he turned and high-tailed it back into the end of the barn, down the center hallway, out one side, and ran to the pen where her own working dogs are kept. (This was not where he had been kept – he and his litter mates, and at least one other litter of puppies, had been kept in a vacant horse stall at the far end of the large barn.) It seems he found the nearness of the dogs to be preferable to these strangers. After he had been scooped up again, we all went into the office in the corner of the barn to conclude the adoption. Within a matter of moments, the reluctant puppy was on a sofa with his new owner, licking his face affectionately.
The story as we were told it was that Bandit and his litter mates were found, apparently abandoned by their mother, under a vacant house in a rural area. We don’t really know how much time they’d spent with their mother before being left alone, but they certainly didn’t learn all the things from her that most puppies would from their mothers.
On arriving home that night, we began to truly grasp how many things that were unnoticed parts of our everyday life were completely new – and fear-inducing – for Bandit. He had to be picked up and carried through our front door, whether going in or out. He’d never had to walk through a door other than the gate on the stall where he lived, and the sight of a door in his path meant that he would stop and balk at taking another step, deathly afraid. Over a period of weeks he became sufficiently accustomed to doors that he would navigate them without any noticeable hesitation.
It took literally years before Bandit would dare to voluntarily roll over so that we could scratch his chest or belly, something he will finally do with our family members now. And to this day, if we return home from a trip out (even just to the mailbox) and walk into the house with a bag or box that he doesn’t recognize, he will immediately scramble to the point farthest from the new item and lean to the side just enough to peek around the corner so that he can see the terrifying thing.
It should be noted that not one bag or box that we’ve carried into our house has ever brought any unpleasant or painful experience to Bandit’s life, yet he is constantly on alert for the threat of the unknown. Things that you or I or most any other dog would pass by without thought make for fearful encounters in his life.
I don’t recall exactly when it was, but at some point I was struck by how much the natural views of the world held by Bailey and Bandit shape their respective life experiences. Bailey goes into every situation (except for someone scolding her – she hates that) with her tail wagging wildly, eager to see who she can get to love on her. Bandit hangs back, often cowering, with his tail tucked closely down behind his legs whenever something or someone new comes his way.
Then I considered the human parallels, how some people view life as a grand adventure just waiting to be lived, while others spend every moment afraid of the next surprise. The Baileys of the world have something to teach the latter group.
There are circumstances and moments in life which rightly put us in an alerted state, a focused watchfulness in which we seek to identify and defend against threats. But for most of us, those should be very unusual moments in our lives.
We would be far better served to have Bailey’s perspective on life most of the time, always eager to see what pleasure our next human interaction might bring. There are great rewards to be had from relationships with others, and a fearfulness of unfamiliar situations and people will prevent us from enjoying those rewards. Bailey’s life demonstrates that it’s rare for an eager, friendly approach to a stranger to be met with anything other than a smile and, subsequently, an enjoyable encounter. People simply can’t resist engaging with someone who is clearly happy to meet them and risks a measure of vulnerability to establish a new friendship.
Don’t let being a fearful Bandit rob you of life’s rich experiences.