playing with Banjo
We are dogsitting this week for our friends’ pup, Banjo. It’s great to have dog company and Banjo is a real sweetheart. He has some hang-ups… a little separation anxiety, sometimes debilitating fear right outside his house, sometimes trouble with other dogs, prone to laying down mid-walk, and not wanting to move when he’s nervous. It strikes me how differently Banjo’s anxiety manifests itself than Bubba’s did. Bubba was always on high alert and 150% excitement level. His instinct was to confront his fears head on, vocally and energetically. Banjo is more subdued. He cowers, curls up, and slinks along the side of buildings when he’s uncomfortable. The difference in human emotional responses to those two sets of behaviors is incredible. You instinctually feel sad for Banjo and want to encourage and treat him gently. Bubba’s fear responses were so explosive that he scared or angered most people. Even though we knew and understood him well, it was still frustrating and exhausting to deal with. It could be very hard not to be upset with him about some of his behaviors, especially those that put himself, other dogs, or people at risk. Who knows what makes animals (and people) respond differently to their fears. For all I know, Banjo could be just as uncomfortable as Bubba was in some situations. But his challenging reactions have not been so dangerous, so he and his owners have a much better chance of successfully managing them.
Banjo has a food dispensing toy similar to the one Bubba used to have, to encourage him to eat more slowly and spend some time stimulating his mind. His energy while he works at it is so much different than Bubba’s was. He would have been jumping and throwing that toy around the whole house. That’s not a judgment about Bubba, but another illustration of differences in dog personalities and behaviors.
This week we’ve been taking a lot of walks around Franklin Park, Banjo’s regular haunt. I’ve always been told what a great spot it is for dogs, but for obvious reasons I was never able to hang out there with Bubba. Well, believe the hype, the park is beautiful, there are great dogs and dog owners who are mostly familiar with each other and very friendly. Banjo gets along well with most dogs. It’s a new experience for me to be able to relax when another dog approaches, and to be able to walk through the woods unleashed and hear the jingle of dog tags always close by. I’ve also taken him on a few walks around our neighborhood, up to Bubba’s hill where we played ball for a long time, through the woods, out to the pond where Bubba and I stopped almost every morning. The pond is frozen solid and Banjo and I wandered across to the small rock island, something Bubba and I were never able to do during his one winter with us.
It’s all a little bittersweet. The time with Banjo is wonderful and we’re both enjoying having a dog around. We’re actually able to walk him together and carry on a conversation without him acting up… something else we were never able to do with Bubba. Our time together with him inside the house has been comical and sweet, aside from keeping him and Elvis separated when he’s at our house. (I actually trusted Bubba not to REALLY attack the cats, but I am not sure I give Banjo the same credit.) Bubba’s behaviors could create tension and often disrupted the harmony of our little family and that hasn’t been the case this week at all. It makes me wish again that things had been different. Spending time with Banjo makes me realize even more how exceptionally challenging Bubba was. Poor guy. It’s encouraging though, to feel like the next time we bring a dog into our family it can be happy and successful… once the cats are gone.