Not me, but my dog does… Dusty and His Neuroses

No. It’s difficult enough being myself without pretending to be someone else or believing (as one does with Imposter Syndrome) that I’m not as “good” as others think I am. In fact, the question of “internalizing accomplishments” is kind of strange because every achievement is the end of a quest. Anyone who’s achieved anything knows that.

It’s a common disconnect among people though I don’t think dogs or other animals suffer from it, except, perhaps, Dusty. Dusty — a classic example of an adult in continual recovery from early childhood trauma — does not have an easy time with normal things most dogs are confident about. About half the time, he still squats to pee, even though he’s a large, long-legged dog with the ability to lift his leg like a Russian ballet star. Only lately has he relaxed within his inner self enough to actually play, you know, P-L-A-Y.

Dusty explained this to me, “Until Bear came, I was afraid to play because I was beaten severely when I was a puppy, as you know. Puppies play and I thought I was being beaten for all the things puppies do, so I resolved to be very, very grown up all the time so you would love me. But after Bear came, and I saw you play with her, I realized that you wouldn’t have beaten me when I was a small puppy. I decided to try to play with her because I really wanted to, anyway.”

It went well. When Dusty broke out of his shell and was himself, he had a lot of fun and got substantial approval from me.

He doesn’t know it, but one of the most challenging aspects of his little personality is that he’s so tense and worries so much about who he is. It RADIATES. Faking it all the time causes him to — sometimes — behave badly because it has kept him from learning important boundaries such as, off leash, hearing, ‘Go! Run! Play!’ means he’s free to run and play. On leash, or with the command ‘Stay with me,’ means, ‘Walk with Martha.’ If he never runs and plays, he never learns either command.

I’ve spent all of Dusty’s lifetime trying to convince him he’s a good dog. BUT…sometimes he isn’t, and I have to let him know. If he gets reprimanded, he can’t take it in stride. He turns into a quivering mass of large, black, muscular Doberman mix. And I admit; sometimes I get very frustrated with him.

Challenging as Dusty is sometimes, I know he always tries his best to do well. I know he’s scared, and I know how much courage it takes him to do any new thing. I know his mission in life is to make me happy and keep me safe. He is loving and affectionate to anyone who comes inside the circle of our lives.Ā  Dusty has a heart as big as the world.



10 thoughts on “Not me, but my dog does… Dusty and His Neuroses

  1. How do a human knows so much about what a dog goes through or for that matter feels, thinks or reacts? May be I don’t have one and never had an opportunity to stay close to pets that’s why for me it is unbelievable. A very good read. Dusty is a GOOD dog.

    • I’ve had more than 20 dogs over the past 30 years and I’ve lived with Dusty for 9 years, so I have gotten pretty familiar with “dog speak.”

      When I got him, Dusty was only 7 months old. The animal shelter had his history and a long description of his behavior in the shelter, all of which said, “Scared dog.”

      Dogs are like people (or all animals) in that certain behaviors mean certain things pretty much always. For example, a puppy that throws himself on his back and urinates is showing complete submission. This is true in a wolf pack as well. It’s a way to deflect danger. When a dog likes a person he will always wag his tail and show joy with his whole body. Again, wolves do this, too. A frightened dog will shake just like a frightened person. A hurt dog cries just like people cry. When Dusty was a puppy he was so happy to have a person who loved him and a safe place to live, that he would NOT go out of the gate or get in the car even for good things like going hiking. That was a clear message that he was afraid he would go back to whatever place he didn’t want to go to.

      He’s extremely aggressive to strangers walking past the front of the house — clearly protecting his home and his person but he will not jump the fence (he could).

      He will lay his head on the knee of someone he loves and ask for pats. He’s both showing and asking for affection. On a walk, Dusty is torn constantly between his desire to obey me and his needs; one need is to stay ahead of me to ward off danger, another is his hunting instinct which can get him fixated on squirrels. It’s all pretty obvious if you’re around him for a while. I’ve had a lot of dogs and all these things are completely consistent. There is little variation from dog to dog — this is jut canine language. But Dusty has never played. At first he regarded Bear playing with me (or any dog playing with me) as my being in danger. Now he’s gotten the idea that it’s OK. šŸ™‚

      • Thank you so much for such an effort to make me aware of Dog theory. I had never imagined that dogs can be so possessive about his human. How does a dog knows all this? Who briefs him ? It was all mystery to me but not anymore.

        • They are intelligent animals with strong survival instincts. Some breeds have been “designed” to demonstrate certain traits or do certain things (like retrieve). Mostly I think dogs are just very aware of their world (a survival tool) and do what they can to fit into it (again, a survival tool). It makes a good dog a great friend! šŸ™‚

  2. Some dogs are like that. Hmm. Bishop is that way. I think it may be early bad experiences. We didn’t get Bish until he was all grown up and it has taken years to get him to be something resembling a “normal” dog. He’s still ultra sensitive to tones of voice, even when it isn’t a rebuke.

  3. It’s good that Dusty is beginning to be more of a dog now after you got Bear. IN his later years he is still learning and maybe now he will enjoy life a bit more and play. Good for him and good for you too.

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