My delight was short-lived. The new kid on the block stiffened, raised his tail and growled. Zuri's response was immediate. The play bow and bouncy body language was replaced with a lowered head, stiffened body and tucked tail. She froze. He froze. I froze.
The sorts of things that raced through my mind at break neck speed all involved "what do I do if these guys attack each other?" I tried evasive action and called Zuri's name. She didn't glance in my direction. I could understand why. She was frozen on the spot and looking at me might put her in a vulnerable position. He was staring at her and she was averting her gaze, looking ahead, one lip raised. They were half a metre apart. I was standing behind her, a metre away. If she looked at me, or moved towards me, she would have to turn into the other dog's space or away from him. Either way, her back would eventually be turned to him. That's not a very safe place to be.
The guy on the beach kept reading his book.
I made an executive decision despite not knowing this dog's history and reaction to strangers, especially when aroused. I needed to help Zuri out of the situation using my body positioning. So I moved sideways and closer to her. When the other dog looked at me because I had moved, she found her opportunity to break out of the "freeze" and run behind me. Mr Humongous turned his gaze from me back to her as she stood behind my legs. He now squared up to face us both, still stiff and still growling. Oh great - now I've become a living shield! Back to the question, "what do I do if these guys attack each other?" I kept facing forward and spoke gently to Zuri, "It's alright". I don't think she believed me. Mr Massive wasn't staring at me, he was staring at Zuri, so I felt some comfort that he probably wouldn't be a threat to me.....it was Zuri he was interested in. This fact, however, was little comfort to Zuri.
I wish I'd had the presence of mind to yell out, "Can you call your dog, please?" Instead, I didn't take my eyes off Mr Muscles....I needed to be ready for any event. For some reason, I didn't want to raise my voice to yell. Just a feeling. And, to be honest, I was frickin' scared.
Literature lover finally looked up from his book and called his dog a few times. The dog responded, way too slowly for my beating heart, and with a few intense looks back in our direction. I felt Zuri's sigh of relief and the tension drained from my body when I realized the episode, which had only lasted seconds, was over.
Or was it?
We were at the start of the dog beach with only one direction to go - right past Cujo and Reading Man. (By the way, the dog wasn't a "Cujo" BUT for a split second the fear he engendered, warranted or not, felt as intense as if he had been). I looked at Zuri to guage how much the incident had affected her. She was shaken. Her body was no longer relaxed. She was sniffing the ground more than usual. You get to know your dog's subtle signals. Should I abort the beach walk? Or soldier on?
I decided to seek assistance. If I asked for help and made the situation safe, we could make it past. So I called out, "Hey, could you hold your dog while we walk past?"
Book Man looked up and replied, "He won't bite."
Now, the conversation I wanted to have was, "I'm sure he won't, but I'm a little shaken and my dog is scared. She's even scared when dogs look in her general direction and I've done a lot of work to get her confidence back. One bad incident can set us back for months. So if you just held him for our peace of mind, just until we get past, that would really help us." But, instead I chose the abbreviated version, "Could you hold him, just until we walk past?"
There was no answer, the man paused, then deliberately looked away from me and went back to reading.
You gotta be kidding me? I stood for minute looking in his direction, blinking like a deer caught in headlights.
Next decision. Abort or forge onwards? Maybe it was indignant pride, but I chose to make the widest arc possible and traverse it as quickly as I could - my body between the Colossus and Zuri, guiding her not to look at him. We had come for a walk, we were going to have our walk. Cujo's eyes were firmly fixed on Zuri the whole time. I know because mine were firmly fixed on him the whole time. He broke his down-stay next to his guardian and started towards Zuri again. His guardian yelled at him a couple of times to "get back here." Which, to the mammoth's credit, he did, never taking his eyes of Zuri. My dog trainer's heart sank a little, though. If he'd just held the collar, he wouldn't have had to yell at his dog. It was a predictable event.
We made it past. Both a little shaken. I was sad for Zuri. It will take her a while to get back to greeting any new dog without fear again. It reinforced to me a valuable personal lesson and gave me some insight into how others might be feeling when I approach. Zuri is a big dog. I've had an incident where Zuri went to play with a little white fluffy dog. Zuri's best friend is a little white fluffy and they play well together. However, this little white fluffy was not privy to this information and squealed in terror as Zuri bounded up. It would have been scary for her owners as well. I didn't ever want that to happen again.
I have often noticed that when she is off lead on the beach and people are approaching, they may show subtle signs of discomfort. It could be a child reaching for a parent's hand as they see her, or a person slowing down and starting to make an arc around us, or someone with a small dog putting him/her on lead as we approach. That's all I need to see. They don't need to have a conversation with me and tell me that they feel a little uncomfortable or scared at the sight of my big dog off lead. Sometimes I don't even wait for signals, I just put Zuri back on lead. Even on lead I'll often anticipate and make an arc or engage Zuri in some distraction games. This is my wordless way of saying, "I respect you and I'll do what I can to help you feel at ease. See, I have my dog's attention. I understand you don't know my dog from a bar of soap."
Being on the other end of that fear has cemented this for me.