One of the surest paths to human unhappiness is the expectation that one should be universally liked.
This wisdom - imparted to me at an early age by my parents - saved me a lot of grief in grade school (and, later, in the board room). Still, I always hoped that more people liked me than didn’t.
On the other hand our Lilly, the Boston terrier, does not ponder her popularity among her peers. But that has not stopped Lilly’s “mother” and I from wanting her to at least get along with the other “kids” on the block.
Of course, there’s no way we can control other dogs’ reactions to our girl. The very sight of Lilly inspires acrobatics among certain canine specimens that I didn’t think possible. One dog (possibly a Black Russian terrier that I swear is as tall as retired NBA star, Manute Bol) snarls and writhes while doing 3-foot vertical leaps when Lilly walks by.
Who knows what Lilly sparks in that dog’s head. To Lilly’s credit (and our desensitization training), Lilly has come a along way toward tamping down her own reactivity to other dogs. The endless “helicopter” spinning triggered by an approaching dog down the block had mellowed to a “one-spin-wonder” she snaps out of every other time a dog gets to within 15 feet of her. Certainly, Lilly is more relaxed and happy today than she was when we adopted her five years ago and we take greater joy in neighborhood walks.
My wife and I would be ecstatic if Lilly could someday meet all the American Kennel Club criteria for “Canine Good Citizen.” Not because we hope she’s runway material (being spayed and rescued immediately knocks her out of contention) or to ally ourselves with the blue-bloods of Beverly Hills. We think that Lilly could become be a good therapy dog one day. Most important, we just want her to enjoy as many happy opportunities to socialize as she wants.
As she wants.
Ah, there’s the rub! As conscientious pet parents, our greatest “training” strategy of all might be to give up the “honor student syndrome.” Curiously, I make no bones about hating those “my-child-is-an-honor-student-at-blah-blah-school” bumper stickers. Secretly, I harbor a desire for our girl to be head of her behavioral class - or at least Miss Congeniality.
Time to get real. Lilly many never be valedictorian, but she is learning how to make a good case for being a good friend. She’s strengthening her existing bonds and making new ones from unlikely prospects.
During a walk last week, we ran into a young couple in our neighborhood and their French bulldog puppy. We’ve seen them several times from afar and watched their pup sputter and snort each time Lilly came into view.
Our latest meeting was a surprise collision at a street corner. I instantly took up the slack on Lilly’s leash, but consciously kept it “loose” to avoid transmitting any tension to her. The message must have been received because Lilly’s posture belied more curiosity than caution.
My reflexive thought, “This may not be a good idea,” was immediately vaporized as Lilly sidled up along side their pup and offered her underside for their dog to sniff. Their pup accepted the “invitation” and - within seconds - “Ozzy” and Lilly were kissing each other on the mouth! During their latest “kibble klatch,” Lilly rolled onto her back and Ozzy nibbled on her toes.
Lilly doesn’t have to befriend every dog, just the ones that matter to her.
When it comes to making friends, why would I expect any more from my dog than I would from myself?