My dog, a Blue Heeler named Buddy, watches every move I make with detached interest. I sometimes feel as though I am his personal reality TV star. After all, he follows me from room to room, even sitting outside the bathroom when I go. This never bothered me; in fact, I found my short spunky shadow a reassuring, accepting presence in my life.
Because I'm off work, I am beginning to notice that his clingy behavior is getting worse. He's expecting too much from me: walks five times a day and pets 24/7, even as I sit in my cushy office chair, attempting something literary. When I leave the house to meet with friends or run errands, he pouts--this is the one time that he refuses to look my way. With the jingle of keys and the turn of a knob, Buddy sighs loudly and curls up on the couch, facing anywhere but the front door I will selfishly exit.
Buddy is the first dog I've owned since I was a kid. He's a lapdog, rarely hyper, and he never barks unless threatened by another dog. And even then his bark is low, a hybrid growl-bark that seems to say "Back up," or more likely "Get the fuck away from me."
When out with friends, I speak of Buddy as they do their children. "Guess what Buddy did today?" I'll ask eagerly to hesitant gazes. "I'm kind of worried," I'll go on; "he seems less social than other dogs." Friends will listen and nod, and fellow childless, dog-owning friends will match my stories and sometimes raise the bar, including the far more dramatic tale of say, a Lab jumping out of a second story window or a Chow biting the UPS guy.
OK, so here's the problem: I baby my dog. This wasn't an actual problem, really, until it was pointed out to me--rudely--by a neighbor. I was walking Buddy in the courtyard of my apartment complex (where dogs are allowed) when he stopped, as dogs do, to smell a bush. I stopped too, only to hear a shrill voice scold me: "Get that dog," it said.
I looked around to find a short elderly woman with close-cut curls and schoolmarm glasses, frowning. "What?" I said, confused by her demanding tone.
"I said ... Get that dog!! You need the dog whisperer, that's what you need. You better get him." She gestured to Buddy, who was now peeking out from under the bush, not exactly afraid, but understandably wary of the hollering woman.
Being a writer, my initial reaction to this expression of insanity was to tell the woman to speak slower as I grabbed for my Moleskine and pen. Instead, I asked calmly why she felt the need to yell at me, a person she doesn't know, when my dog was merely sniffing a bush.
"What did you say to me?" she screamed. Yes, screamed.
Not quick to repeat myself, I simply yanked lightly on Buddy's chain and continued on my way. Buddy followed, reluctantly, and then he stopped again, this time to smell the cement sidewalk. I stopped, too.
"Get that dog! Get that dog!"
"I think YOU can walk another way, walk around us, or wait," I said firmly. Then, I did repeat myself, "And what makes you think you can talk to a person you don't know like that?"
She just stared. I shrugged, fighting the tingle of exhilaration one gets during the start of an argument or fight. I yanked Buddy onward, resolving not to turn back around. As we walked away (of course) she began again: "I said that because I don't trust dogs, and you're obviously not the pack leader here."
"I no longer care what your crazy-ass reason is," I yelled back, not turning around. But, as I consciously kept Buddy close, I realized that he resisted as I yanked him along. He stared up at me as if to say, what are you doing? And, I realized that the woman might be right. Perhaps I should work a little harder to train Buddy, stop treating him like a child, and maybe think about my reasoning for spoiling him. But, if I do need to work on my dog owner skills, I can only hope my neighbor works on her people skills.
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