This is Sequoia.
Sequoia came to us as Toby, from a shelter in the East Bay, last Thursday.
Thanks to Sequoia, instead of watching the full debate last night, we shut off the tv and I played fetch with him and his favorite squeaky toy that looks like a fox-cat-bat and rubbed his belly.
There are many times I have looked at a dog and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice?”
Nice to not have any thoughts in my head except for what’s right in front of me, to spend my days playing and eating and sleeping, to love and be loved unconditionally. To have a goofy smile on my face and my tongue lolling and my ears flopping.
But I am learning from Sequoia that even dogs can have early events in their life that engrain anxiety and over-reactivity. In his case, he hasn’t been abused, but he didn’t learn from his first family that he didn’t need to guard them. He didn’t learn who was in charge, so he thought he was.
So, he stands at our living room window that looks out onto the street and barks when other dogs go by. When he’s on leash, he lunges at dogs and bicycles when they go by. He becomes entirely fixated and forgets to focus on his people and get confidence and reassurance from them.
It makes me think about what are the things I lunge at in life, the things I think are scary and need to chase away, that truly are innocuous. Or, even if they are scary, that I have people in my life to help me navigate, that I have other tools than lunging and barking.
It also makes me realize that anxiety isn’t something you can just “fix.” In Sequoia’s case, and in mine, the anxiety may always be there. It’s working out how to react to the anxiety that’s the key.
With him, the idea isn’t to remove the trigger completely. We can’t shelter him from the fact that there are things out in the world that roll by quickly or make noise. So instead we focus on the behavior, and try to get him to focus on us instead of on the trigger, to reassure him that everything is fine, to get him to equate dog = treat. To work on the basics when he’s not amped up so that he can recall them when he is.
The comparison to my own anxiety really is almost too on the nose. The cute, wet, black nose that nudges me to say hello.