Sunday, September 12, 2010

Control your dog - please!

I like dogs. AwesomeCloud wants to like dogs. Dogs themselves aren't the thing that's got me so annoyed right now. It's the dogs' owners.

Dog owners love their dogs. Their dogs are like little children to them, or grandchildren, or princesses. Dog owners are very concerned about the well-being of their dogs, and they are quick to defend their dogs against any hostile humans who don't want the dogs around. People who dislike dogs are persona non grata. And anyone who doesn't actively dislike a dog is a dog lover, or at least is able to cope with the dog.

Even if the person is... two years old?

Apparently so!

And if I, Mama, disagree?

I get argued with.

Gah. I want AwesomeCloud to spend time with his relatives. But it's getting to the point where it's easier to avoid the relatives with dogs than to explain to them the adoption issues that turn me into an overprotective parent. This is about adoption. Oh hell yes, it is. But as much as people love to talk and think about adoption, they want it all to be pretty. They want it all to match their nonadoptive parenting experiences exactly. They certainly don't want to alter their own thoughts or actions to accommodate adoption issues. And don't even think about speaking up against the dogs.

But if they think I'm going to accommodate THEM instead of my son... well, sadly, they're right. I screwed up yesterday. It's natural to favor the adult relative's perspective over my son's. My adult relatives argue a very convincing case, and my son is so stoic that it can be easy to doubt that he's struggling.


AwesomeCloud is still learning the act of trust. He may be cheerful, quick to laugh, and full of hugs, but that doesn't mean he's 100% on track with his ability to trust. Sure, he's been a member of our family for 12 months. But he was institutionalized for 18 months. That's quite a time delay, especially when it occurs at the beginning of his life.

I watch him closely and I see signs that he's working hard to learn trust. Adoptive parents frequently use the phrase "fake it till you make it" to describe the act of creating a warm and loving environment for a child before the parent and child form any attachment to each other. Cloud fakes it till he makes it, too. That's the kind of 'trust' you learn in an institution - fake trust.

(I know this from personal experience, of course. I could talk extensively about fake trust. But I'll assume you get the gist of it.)

Cloud has a pretty decent trust of his parents, all things considered, and he's working to build up trust of relatives and friends. It's a lot of work, and he watches people's actions vigilantly. He tests them and tests them and tests them. It's all very passive, and I'm probably the only one who's noticed him doing it.

Most of the time, people pass the tests. There are a few recurring acts, though, that qualify as test failures. Waving stuffed animals at him is a breach of trust. If it's only for a second or two, he forgives, but if you keep doing it, it becomes a black mark on your trust card.

Withholding food is another one. Food is the Great Healer. But not giving him food can create a lot of resentment and a trust issue.

And dogs. AwesomeCloud is interested in dogs. He seems to realize that dogs are animals, like cats, but with higher stakes than cats. Dogs are bigger, faster, more assertive. And they always have a person accompanying them. One person is always the dog's master.

Cloud seems to realize this, and when we're with a dog, I see him identifying the dog's master and watching that person to see how well he/she can control the dog. When the dog crosses Cloud's boundaries, he projects the trust injury onto the dog owner. For instance, if he holds his fist out to the dog and the dog bumps his arm, Cloud looks up at the owner. His face registers small changes in expression. He knows. He's keeping score.

My problem? A lax dog owner earns a very low score. A dog that's allowed to cross Cloud's boundaries without consequence is a mark of failure for the owner.

This isn't about the dogs. I'm not afraid that Cloud will grow up to be dog-phobic because he perceives dogs to be threatening and overwhelming right now. In fact I anticipate him becoming a dog lover, and begging us to rescue a dog at some point.

The issue is with his dog-owning friends and relatives, and how their lack of control affects his development of trust.

We humans may be born with a sense of trust, but recent studies have shown that what happens in our first hours, days, weeks, and months affect our development of trust. AwesomeCloud doesn't have a year's worth of trust just because he's been with us a year. He has eighteen months of fake trust, plus the rudiments of real trust that he's been growing for the past year. I know you don't want to talk about it or think about it, but it's true. That's what adoption is.

Lax dog ownership may be good for the dog, and it may be harmless to AwesomeCloud, but it's detrimental to you.

What's worse, if you fail, then he turns to me to show signs of controlling the situation. That puts me in a corner. Either I meet my son's expectations and make a big show of protecting him from the dog, thereby annoying the owner of the puppy princess, or I let him down with my casual attitude.

I like dogs, but if I choose to meet my son's needs, I'm going to appear very much to be a dog-hater. It's not about the dog. I've dealt with animals much more challenging than dogs - opossums, hawks, Canada geese. I don't actually think your dog is going to hurt my son. But somebody has to start passing his trust-tests, and if it's not you, it should be me.

We'll like dogs for dogs' sake later, when we get one of our own.


  1. Good post! I was cycling in the park today and saw this dog just chasing one of the parks deer, which is of course not allowed, and so frightening to the deer, whose home the park is! No owner around, not for a long way. We cycled past and this poor deer was running so fast to try and escape it... frightening for us too, as there are cars in the park. I get annoyed too at animal owners who think it's okay to not take control.

  2. I LOVE this post and how you touched on the two subjects that re closest to my heart.
    I also have a huge issue with most dog owners. For just the reasons that you stated above.
    I also love what you said about folks wanting and needing our adoption experiences to match up with their life.
    Great post!
    My sister just said to me the other day "Even though you are so protective of your kids...." and I realized, she's right I AM protective. Good! I have met a goal that I set for myself. I knew from the start that I would have to be the interface for my children to the rest of the family. Because I know that everyone else has no idea of how deep these trust issues and bonding issues go.

  3. Oh, that poor deer. I wish dog owners didn't feel as if their dogs' right to run around trumped other animals' right to live in peace. Dogs chasing shorebirds on the beach is an equivalent problem here.

    Michal, kudoes to you for thoughtfully overprotecting your kids. Society is experiencing a backlash against overprotective parents, which is not helpful at all to us adoptive parents who really do have to be extra vigilant! The key is that we're doing it with lots of thought and insight. People should trust us more.

  4. Good for you for protecting your child. I wish my own parents had seen the needs I had with dogs. I had a great fear of dogs my entire childhood and to this day only want to deal with cats. I was always made to feel the one in the wrong and stupid for being afraid of something larger than me, with teeth and a growl that could knock me down in a nano-second! Really why can't dog lovers understand this???? I did finally learn how to put my knee up to protect myself but I hate being licked even. Yuck! Keep up the good work with your son.