When he lived in Washington, Chico was part of a multi-member family. When he moved to New Hampshire it was just “me and he.” I had a full time job and, outside work, I moved around a lot. So, I started taking Chico places with me. If he couldn’t go inside, he still seemed to prefer waiting in the car ** to staying home without me.
Then Julie explained to me that taking Chico places and exposing him to new things was an important step in overcoming his fear (and thus his fear aggression). “If he understands that no matter what the situation, you’ve got it covered, he will be able to stop trying to take care of things and start to let you do that. Remember, the only way he knows how to take care of things is to come at them looking as fierce as he can. Taking him places with you is an excellent idea.” Here was my trainer telling me that there was a really good reason to do what I was already doing. I took to the idea like the proverbial duck taking to water.
In the ten years I spent living in the Netherlands and traveling around Europe, I saw dogs go what seemed like everywhere. Dogs come to the office, they go to cafes, they go into shops – they get to be participate in human activities (and after all, that’s what thousands of years of human-canine relationships have been about: them going places with us and helping us do what we do). The Dutch dogs seemed to be so well socialized. They didn’t pull on their leashes, they were agreeable to each other and to strange people – they were happy members of the community. That seemed so civilized.
So in the spring of 2010, in addition to taking Chico into pet stores and feed stores, when I was invited somewhere, I started asking if it was possible to bring Chico. My friend M was particularly welcoming, always including Chico in her invitations to me. And her husband J was quite gracious whenever Chico barked like a maniac at the poor man when he was coming into his own house. We’d go to their house for a glass of wine and dinner, J would return home after a day at work and Chico would leap to manage the situation by running to the door barking furiously. During the first visits, Chico paced around the house, he was nervous; he wouldn’t eat the dinner I had brought for him. After we went there a few times, he understood what was happening and he started to lie at my feet. After six or eight visits, once I settled into a chair he was able get far enough away from me to go to a corner, lie down, stretch out and go to sleep. Huge victory.
** I didn’t want him to feel abandoned by leaving him home, alone in a still-strange to him place, and he seemed to know that I would always come back to the car. Early in our time together I was at someone’s house and Chico was uncomfortable – pacing and whining and such – inside, so I put him outside on their dog’s tie-out. In about 15 minutes, Chico started to bark. I went to look and found him on the tie-out, sitting in the open back of my small station wagon, apparently wondering why the heck I hadn’t joined him outside.