You know how some people get stuck in their ways and become less flexible as they age? For Riggins, my adorable 11-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer mix, that has translated into a grumpiness a la Mr. George Wilson yelling “get off my lawn” to Dennis the Menace. My darling baby boy has entered the George Wilson phase of his life.
I can just hear him from my home office during the day, scolding kids as they walk past our fence after school, “Look at those whipper snappers! You go home and don’t cause any trouble here. You hear?”
Riggins’ grumpy ways are especially obvious during our evening walks. When we moved recently and I changed jobs, it changed our exercise schedule from daily trail hikes to twice-daily neighborhood walks. It’s been a few years since my darling baby has had to walk on leash through a crowded neighborhood, and he is relearning his manners. Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when his eyesight is getting worse, which is especially evident during our second walk at dusk.
The human figures coming at Riggins, backlit by the sunset, that he can’t make out are obviously evil demons. You certainly can’t fault him for barking and growling at these otherworldly creatures. The fact that they are actually elderly couples walking around the neighborhood or a woman waiting for the bus is just a misunderstanding — a play of light, a trick of the mind.
Recently Riggins reactions toward fellow pedestrians has caused negative reactions. “Oh, he isn’t a nice dog” or “That dog is mean” has been said more than once to me. I just smile and say, “He is just old and grumpy” while leading him away.
These interactions make me really sad. First of all, Riggins isn’t mean. He is a lover of all humans. Well, almost all humans. Just this morning on an off-leash hike, my friend yelled back at me, “Riggins joined another pack!” I looked forward on the trail to see him happily trotting along a group of young men who had passed us minutes earlier. One guy had his hand down on Riggins’ head, petting him as they walked side by side. “Yup,” I replied, “He loves men.”
Once you add a leash, busy street, high-traffic wheels (cars, skateboards, baby strollers, etc), or a sunset, though, he is no longer willing to give a stranger a chance. Instead, his reaction is to scream, “STRANGER DANGER” and make sure he, his mom, and fellow pack (whoever is walking with us that day) are safe.
Not only do the sidewalk strangers’ reactions hurt my feelings because they doesn’t understand that my baby is a sweet boy, but it also reminds me that my baby boy is getting older. A truth no one wants to face, certainly not me.
I remember walking Riggins when he was in puppy of about 6 months old. A car stopped in the middle of a busy street in Hollywood, just so a woman could yell out the window that Riggins was the cutest puppy she had ever seen in her life. My darling boy soaked up that compliment and pranced for a good mile after that, reaching out to anyone he saw as if to say, “Hey! Have you seen how friggin’ cute I am?!?” Anyone on the street was fair game for a chance at some extra love!
I have become more protective lately of Riggins on our walks. Something, I’m sure, makes his behavior worse and has us stuck in some kind of vicious co-dependent cycle. I’ll walk him farther away from people I’m confident he won’t like, or I’ll hold onto his traffic lead tighter to keep him close to me. I’ll smile big as I pass someone and say “Good evening,” hoping my kindness will overshadow a low growl coming from Riggins.
If a sidewalk stranger asks to pet my baby, I’ll decline and let them know it isn’t a good idea. They look at me with hurt in their eyes and back away slowly from the vicious dog. It hurts my heart because Riggins isn’t vicious. He’s a love-bug at heart, one who wants to cuddle up next to you and cover you in kisses under other circumstances. Still, it’s better for me to hold back the grumpy old man because who knows when he’ll transform into Mr. George Wilson and start shaking his paw at people to get off his sidewalk!
How has your dog changed as he has aged? Has it forced you to change how you handle him or her? Let me know in the comments below.