Monday, May 6, 2013

On Inconsistency

As I've mentioned before (here, here, and here), ever since we've known her Lily has struggled with some fear issues and is particularly afraid of strangers (people, not other dogs). So, it has been interesting to observe that when we take her to doggie events (see posts here and here) she is remarkably friendly and unafraid. Peter and I think this is probably due to a combination of factors which each help make her less scared, including the fact that she is outside, surrounded by other dogs, and most of the people she encounters offer her yummy things to eat.

This increased friendliness at events was on display as far in the past as the 2011 Walk for Paws, only a few months after we adopted Lily:

and as recently as this month at Dog Day Afternoon:

While we obviously love how comfortable and confident Lily is at these doggie events, and how much fun she obviously has, it can lead to some confusion among people who don't know her. Such a situation arose at Dog Day Afternoon. Among the many organizations with a booth at the event was Paws 4 Comfort, a wonderful group that arranges for dogs and cats (and their owners) to visit the elderly at nursing homes, senior centers, etc. As we passed their booth, Lily trotted up to the woman stationed there and promptly sat prettily at her feet, expecting a treat. After giving Lily the anticipated biscuit, the woman leaned down to pet Lily, who gazed up at her happily with a big doggie grin on her face. At this point, understandably, she enthusiastically began trying to recruit Lily and me for her cause. It was up to me, then, to explain that the adorable, smiling little beagle at her feet would in fact turn into a terrified, cowering mess if I tried to take her into a strange building with lots of unfamiliar noises, a bunch of people she doesn't know, and no other dogs. This kindhearted woman clearly thought I was either crazy or lying, and I can't blame her, because at that moment Lily was displaying no hint of shyness whatsoever. I felt terrible about it (what kind of horrible person doesn't want to help the elderly?!), but I know my dog.

Anyone else's dog have a bit of a split personality depending on his/her surroundings?


  1. Whenever we take Sir Balton to the Dog Park, I keep a watchful eye and dance a delicate dance between letting him be a social butterfly and explaining to people he has some stranger danger. Just the other day, he kept worming up to one lady and trying to play soccer fetch with her, so my comments were met with a raised eyebrow. Being off leash, out of our house, and surrounded by dogs make for a perfect combination of sociability.

    This morning, we opened the door to one neighborhood child headed to the bus stop, so we quickly went from calm as a cucumber to barking disaster because of off timing by about 10 seconds. So, we shut the door, reset, and had a much more successful take two for our morning potty break. The element of surprise and being caught off guard is something that we're still working through, and makes him appear fully nuts to people who don't know any better.

    1. Glad to know Lily's not the only one! She tends to be friendlier towards people at the dog park than on our walks as well, but not as friendly as she is at doggie events, which I think is because at events there are other dogs AND everybody gives her treats, whereas food isn't allowed at our dog park.

    2. It really has to do with mathematical balances and imbalances. :) I think that the treats would be trumped by the leash in those settings, which causes him to feel constrained and extra fearful.

      Treats from me, Nick, or someone in the circle of trust on leash: okay. Treats from outside the circle of trust: still very questionable.

    3. Interesting! So will he take treats from someone outside "the circle" if he's off-leash?

      Leash versus no leash doesn't seem to have much effect, if any, on Lily's fear levels. Though she definitely prefers not to be on a leash so that she has full freedom to follow her beagle nose ;)