Huw Le Lytle answers all your questions in his column of wit and wisdom, For the Asking!
Huw’s for the asking!
BY Huw Le Lytle
In today’s questions …
Teddy Bears and Forbearance
Q: Dear Huw, who is your favourite teddy bear?
– Isabella, Cardiff, UK, age 7
A: Dear Isabella, thank you for your question. And it is such a difficult question, but not because we have so many teddy bears. And we really do have a lot of teddy bears! Given that we accept species diversity in teddy bears, we have almost too many to count! We have Iguana Del Rey (the Iguana), Albu Turkey (the Turkey), Miami Ink and LA Ink (the Octopi), Michael J Crocodile Bungee (the Crocodile), Blue Monster (the Monster), Heifer Locklear (the Cow), and Simon Fowler (the Chicken), Bafta (the Bulldog), Dean Barkin’ (the Schnauzer), Drongo (the Drongo) … the list goes on and on. But the question is a difficult one not because the list is so long but because I really do try not to have favourites. It doesn’t mean I don’t treat all my teddy bears differently, everybody is different, but I want to make sure they all feel equally loved (until Howard and Jeff love them so much that their stuffing falls out). Did you know that everybody is happier when there are no favourites, even the ones who might otherwise be favourites? I learnt that from a clever scientist. So I guess, in answer to your question, I can tell you which one is a very special teddy bear, because it holds very special memories. In fact, teddy bears are very magical that way, so make sure you look after all of yours. This Teddy Bear came from an airport. Human had just been in Ottawa, Canada, and saw this Teddy Bear and couldn’t resist bringing him home. His tag said his name was Thatcher, so we call him Walter Parks Thatcher (after a character in a famous film, Citizen Kane). And there is a special memory of Leo snuggling up to Walter while snoozing in his favourite armchair. Walter has a position of significant esteem, a high shelf from which he can see all his favourite TV shows. Walter is not my favourite, but he has given me one of my favourite memories. And that’s important.
Q: Dear Huw, I’m a small Bedlington like you but I get very woofy round other dogs, especially if I’m on my lead. I stand up and shout aggressively and pull on my lead. I don’t think I want to hurt the other dogs but my owner can’t be sure. She uses an extendable lead in the park and that helps me meet other dogs and I like the park, but she gets nervous because I seem unpredictable. I’m friendly when I’m off the lead with my friends in their gardens. I seem to be doing this more and more and I want to stop but don’t know how. Any suggestions?
– Albert, Norfolk, UK
A: Dear Albert, I am sorry to hear you are having a bit of an anxious time. I do want to be careful and say that this is not intended as behavioural advice, as it would be impossible to do that without meeting up. So you may want to chat to your vet for some further help, or speak to a behaviourist. So, just like R.E.M., you may find that, “I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough”, but I do have a few thoughts on the troubles you are having and what they might mean.
At the outset, please be assured that what they say really is true – size doesn’t matter. As you know, I am the biggest little dog in the park.
And the other thing I want to assure you about is this. What you are describing happens to lots and lots and lots of dogs. And being more anxious when on the lead is very common. And it’s common because it makes a lot of sense. You see, when you are on the lead you know you don’t have any control over a situation. You can’t make a run for it if you want to, for example. So when you don’t have control, your nerves probably get even worse, and you get woofy when otherwise you would be perfectly fine if you were off the lead. Humans are exactly the same. Did you know that people are much happier at work when they have a bit of control over the things they are doing (but not so much that they have to worry of course)? I am sure this is why most of the famous French directors of the auteur tradition have lived into their 90s and 100s. They were so happy because they always had so much creative control! But I digress …
My other thought is about the lead itself. When you say extension lead do you mean one of those retractable leads? If so, my other thought is that you may want to do away with the extension lead. The problem with retractable leads is that they are always putting some tension on the collar or harness, making them a little unsuitable as a training tool. So you never feel like you are really off-lead and you never get to enjoy a loose lead. Are you a big flight risk? Maybe you could see if your human could get you a super long recall training lead. I would recommend the 15m lead (I think that’s the longest one you can get). Your human will have to carry a lot of rope around, but it’s probably still better than carrying one of those chunky plastic boxes that retractable leads have. Your human can then let go of the long lead and let you play, grabbing it only if it looks like you are going to reach the end of it and go to infinity and beyond. This is also a lot safer for you when you’re playing, as extension leads have a nasty habit of turning into a giant cheese wire slicer (like the ones in Neal’s Yard), even the tape ones. Now, while cheese in the park is wonderful, wire slicers are less so. And of course there’s also a risk that if the lead is dropped then the box will retract up and smack you on the bottom, and then the thing chases you when you are running away as well!
Now to the big question … why are you woofy? Well, without meeting you and talking to you about it all, it could be a few things. It could be enthusiasm. It could be that you are simply extremely excited to see other dogs and that sometimes this overwhelms you so much that you turn yourself inside out. The other possible cause is fear. I don’t know if you have had an altercation while on lead, but because of what you say about the lead versus off-lead and that it might be getting worse, it makes me wonder if the woofiness is likely to be a kind of fear-based reactivity. And it won’t be a reaction to every dog, and it won’t be a reaction to the same kind of dog, and it won’t be consistent … and so it always seems unpredictable. Some dogs never really get over it, but it becomes manageable. And your human may always have to monitor potentially provocative situations. Sometimes you might just have to walk down a different path, but the important thing is to avoid a woofiness situation if you can, because you are getting anxious and upset every time and that’s not good for you and can make things worse for you and for your reactions. Your poor human is probably also feeling anxious for you, which can also make it a bit worse each time. But you can make it so much better and you can certainly build your confidence slowly and surely.
So, if it is fear, then you are going to have to try and change your impression of the things that make you scared – like a dog approaching you while you are on a lead. And, if you do feel scared, just ask your human to walk away with you and avoid it. Don’t force yourself into anything. So to change impressions of the things that make you scared, of course, I always recommend cheese in these situations. As far as I am concerned, cheese can change my impression of everything.
Helping you through this is a long process and people have different approaches, but I like to see everyone follow a basic rule – don’t make a scared dog more scared, don’t make an anxious dog more anxious.
Patience and kindness I think will hold the key for you, my good friend.
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Categories: For the Asking