Over the weekend, we had a guest in our home. His name is Cooper and he is my sister-in-law’s miniature Dachshund. You might remember from other posts here that I have a dog, Charlie. And you might also remember that Charlie is a mix of Boxer and Greyhound. The thought of having two such similar and yet polar opposite dogs in my home made me smile. What can I say, I like Mutt and Jeff scenarios. I really was hoping that they would be a match made in heaven, albeit a doggy-tail-wagging one. Alas, as all veterans of the playground dynamics know, mere proximity alone is not all that is needed to create a meaningful and lasting relationship. Relationships take work.
Because both Cooper and Charlie are technically male and because both are dogs, this doggy-sitting adventure was filled with much butt-sniffing, peeing, and barking with a few moments of outright hostility thrown in for excitement. But mostly, it was a a day of ignoring one another while vying for all the humans’ attention.
It was not a weekend love affair. The sparks I hoped would fly did, but they were not of the canine bromance kind. Instead, they were the “I’m so stressed out I’m going to be unlike my normal self and pretty much exhaust myself with all this angst” kind of sparks.
The whole thing got me to thinking about their poor little identities. Cooper, obviously much smaller and obviously stressed out by being left at our house, was more aggressive towards Charlie and our cat then he is in his normal environment and familiar relationships. And Charlie, who stands three feet taller and weighs 60-some pounds more was often the more subservient of the two.
But two things happened that hinted at what was really happening in their minds. Because Saturday was actually not raining, Charlie went out to the backyard and I took Cooper out there as well. Charlie proceeded to be in the sunny backyard in his normal fashion: running like a wild stallion around the playground and periodically tossing sticks into the air for which to chase. (Yes, my dog plays fetch with himself.) In between each stick throwing session he would run towards Cooper and charge at him, tongue lolling and that big dog grin that he has plastered across his face.
Cooper, meanwhile, cowered beside me and peed on the deck.
Charlie wanted to play. Cooper thought Charlie was planning on beating him to death with a stick or running him over.
Later, the dogs were in the house and Cooper decided to show his dislike of Charlie’s “walk by and sniff his butt” move. Cooper snarled and barked, jumping up a bit and looking bigger and scarier than he really is. Charlie looked down at Cooper, batted him down with his paw and then walked over and sat on the couch. I took both experiences as evidence that they were working things out in their relationship.
By the time my sister-in-law arrived to pick up Cooper, the two dogs had found a sort of rhythm they could work with. I think tolerance is the word I’m thinking of. Neither did they become best buddies but they weren’t each other’s arch-nemesis either. Or perhaps they were both too exhausted to continue the pretense any longer.
I think there is a lesson in the Cooper/Charlie saga.
How many of us act “badly” at times and its purely because we are out of our comfort zone or because we feel completely out-matched by our peers? I know I do. There are folks out there who have no idea what I’m really like because I get so stressed out around them, or the situations I see them in are so stressful for me that instead of being myself, I metaphorically snarl and jump around a lot. I have a pretty good idea that neither the snarling nor the jumping are very pleasant to be around.
I think the best I can hope for is to ask for grace at those times. To remember that in order to have working relationships with people, sometimes I need to find ways to make things tolerable for myself and for others — because chances are if I’m freaked out in a situation, others are too as well. If I can do that, then perhaps I can find a way to simply be present with another.
Cooper and Charlie found a way to sit butt-to-butt on the couch and relax a bit around each other. They weren’t so relaxed that they fell asleep, nor were they ready to cuddle canine style, but at least they weren’t barking and peeing themselves.
Perhaps the bumper sticker says it best. In order to find the best working relationships with others, “Bark Less. Wag More.” Or at least hush up and chill out a bit.