Ah, my sweet little Mack-a-doodle!
I worried that he would never really be a normal dog. Or at least not a normal Berner. His social skills were so opposite what they should be for a Bernese Mountain Dog. He was afraid of people. He was afraid of other dogs. He was afraid of his leash. BMDs are supposed to be confident, yet a little aloof with strangers.
When I first got him and I’d try to introduce him to new people, he would freak right out! He wanted nothing to do with new people. Last weekend the kids came out for our annual friendsgiving dinner with our group of people off the grid. He would bark at my son and son in law and they each had to do some coaxing to get Mack to interact with them. I did my best to not intervene because I’m not sure if that really helps Mack. He has to learn to be a dog without me constantly breathing down his back. So I left the two boys to convince Mack that they were alright. It’s like he’d do great with them, but then one of them would leave to take a potty break and when they’d come back to join the group, Mack would bark at them again like they were just meeting for the first time. I’m sure this will get better as he gets older and gains confidence.
Well, then a bit of a miracle happened. Mark and I were packing everything up and getting ready to leave. All the kids had gone home and we had the cul-de-sac to ourselves. Then our neighbors showed up. Mack went to the edge of our driveway and did his little low-growl/bark thing at the two guys. I said, “Mack, it’s OK.” He looked at me and then continued to bark. I let him bark a little bit. He wasn’t going overboard and being maniacal about it, just barking enough to let them know that he was there. And really, isn’t that what dogs are supposed to do? Alert strangers to their presence? After a few more barks he stopped barking. Then he slowly started making his way towards the two men. One of them saw him coming so he squatted down, held his hand out, and started talking to Mack. Mack went right up to him and sniffed his hand. Then he pulled back a little, but then moved back in towards the guy and let the strange man pet him!! I could not believe it! Without any coaxing from me, he let a stranger pet him. Then the other guy came over and Mack backed away again, but then went up to the other guy. He voluntarily walked up to two strange men! It might seem like a little thing, but it was a HUGE step in the right direction for Mack.
Well, the miracles don’t stop there. Last night just after Mark left to go to volleyball he called me and said there were fire trucks next door and wondered if I knew what was going on. I peered out the window and saw my neighbor out there talking to a couple of fire fighters. I put my shoes on, put Mack’s leash on him, and headed out the door. Meeting people on his leash has been a struggle. He still doesn’t like his leash very well, so the discomfort with that PLUS meeting strangers doesn’t always go well. I stood there talking with my neighbor and the two firemen (in uniform, I feel I need to add) and Mack started inching towards one of them. I loosened the slack on his leash to let him get a little further away from me and he began sniffing at the fireman’s boots, then legs. The man wiggled his fingers a little and Mack reached up and licked his hand, then let this big man in an enormous, overbearing uniform reach down and pet him.
And the angels sang!
That makes three strange men that Mack willingly and without coercion introduced himself to.
He’s also getting better about his leash. He still doesn’t like it, but he’s getting better about it. And he’ll run with me! I know he won’t always be able to go running with me because as he fills out and bulks up it’ll be too much for him, but for now, I really like having him as a running companion. He keeps me on pace and he really seems to like being out there, even if he doesn’t love his leash. The last two nights after I’ve brought him upstairs when he finishes his dinner, he goes to the garage door and pushes his nose against his leash. So even though he doesn’t care for the leash, he seems to understand that the leash means that he gets to go outside and run with Momma. So he tolerates it.
Last, but not least, is other dogs. Our group of friends off the grid are all dog people. We hang out and all the dogs and people hang out – not a leash to be seen. He has bonded pretty well with a couple of the dogs in our group. He hates with a passion one of the dogs in our group (an un-neutered male, so probably not that unusual). He’s not a fan of wee little dogs. But he’s not aggressive at all towards them, and he’s quit running away from them. Progress. I take what I can get. His favorite dog in all the world is little Luna. He loves her. LOVES her! She is my youngest daughter’s dog and is about three months younger than him. They will grow up together. They have play dates most days of the week. Earlier this week we had just finished our run (3 miles) and my daughter’s car was in the yard. He knows that her car means that Luna is somewhere near. He damn near yanked my arm off to get into the house so he could see Luna. We walked in the door and he saw her. Standing on the deck. Fortunately, I still had his leash on or he’d have gone through the screen to get to her. We headed out back to the deck and they romped and jumped and bit and rolled for two hours! He loves her.
So – my three big worries – people/leashes/dogs – all seem to be working themselves out. He has some really irritating quirks, but mostly, he’s just amazing. He’s going to be such an awesome dog and I’m no longer worried that I got a lemon. He was not permanently broken when I got him. Makes me happy!