My dog is special. Since the day we brought him home, Wallace has marched to the beat of his own drum. You might not notice it if you visit him inside our house, though. That’s his happy place; he can relax there and be normal. Mostly.
Outside is a different story.
Wallace gets overstimulated when we go for walks. That’s understandable, right? I mean, there are houses and trees and flowers and mailboxes and cars and people and leaves and colors and birds and…so many things! He shuts down and refuses to move. And at 110+ pounds of mostly muscle, I can’t move him.
So we walk on a local trail when we go out during the day. It’s calmer there, with only grass and trees and an occasional passerby. More often, we walk at night in our neighborhood. The darkness seems to throw a veil over the visual diversity, making it somehow more palatable to him. There’s a lot less traffic, too. We have to stick to our appointed route–no deviations allowed, period–but we usually get the job done.
Sometimes Wallace senses something that triggers his fear. I’ve never been able to identify what it is; maybe it’s the wind or a smell or a sound I don’t register. Maybe it’s nothing. When this happens, he freezes. Completely. No amount of pulling, pushing, cajoling, or scolding can make him budge. He won’t even comply for treats. His tail ends up completely around his backside; he’s petrified. The only thing that incites movement is the word “home.” The second I utter it, he turns around and begins a near gallop back to the house.
Last night was one of those nights. Everything went fine until it didn’t. He stopped, lowered his head and seemed to listen for something. Oh no, I thought. Here we go again.
I tried all the usual maneuvers: reassuring him in a soothing voice, giving him a gentle tug, issuing a firm command. Nope. We were destined to return home.
Then I tried something new. Rather than urging him forward, I came at Wallace from the side. I used my body to push him slightly off-balance, and he side-stepped to the left. I said, Let’s go! and he took off in a trot on our designated route, tail held high.
What the what?!
Nothing ever works. In my surprise, I considered what made Wallace move this time. (Here I go again, trying to find meaning in the mundane.)
My dog stood paralyzed by fear. Whatever he had sensed grew to epic proportions in his head. It blinded him to the path and deafened him to my instructions. It became all-encompassing and didn’t allow him to feel the safety of my presence. And then I knocked him sideways out of his paralyzing panic. If he were a person, he probably would have given his head a little shake, blinked once or twice, and said, How did I get HERE?
Aren’t we like that, too? When we get too wrapped up in our heads, imagined scenarios can overwhelm us. Rather than cajoling or threatening or strong-arming ourselves out of it, maybe the solution is to get knocked sideways. Go a different direction. Do something unexpected. Find an distraction. Like Wallace, we may have to get pushed off the path for a bit in order to approach it again. We often can’t see what’s really surrounding us while we’re standing in the middle of it.