Scared by … a dog?

Lyra has never been afraid of a dog on sight. The only time I heard her growl (excluding play growls) at another canid, unprovoked, was the time we encountered a coyote up close. Until yesterday.

On her walk, we passed the dog park. Only one other dog was inside (my rule for entry, unless I know the dogs/owners) so I called over to the owner. He told me his dog was a puppy (13 months) and friendly. Lyra, in turn, loves to play with young dogs (they bounce and tend to be less assertive), so I took her inside. The dog came toward Lyra in a happy but polite way. Lyra took one look at him, and leapt backward with a growl. He approached again, and she leapt back with another growl.

I called her over to me to take her out of the park — she gave no signs of intending to attack, but it didn’t seem fair to stay — and she came. Just then, she looked at my pocket where I keep her ball, and got all waggy, and her face got soft and happy. So I took her over to the other side of the park and threw her ball for her. She had no trouble with the dog after that — even when he tried to run with her after the ball.

Her initial reaction was exactly like what she does when she sees a new object in the road (for instance); i.e., the unexpected. Well, guess what. Lyra had never seen a bull terrier before — or any dog with a face like a bull terrier’s. I feel certain she was startled by this dog’s face. I’m writing about the incident — not because it worries me, but because it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t generalize too much about our own dogs. I tend to think Lyra is “fine with dogs” on sight. Yet, dogs come in many shapes. She was “fine with the green compost bin” until the city replaced it with a slightly taller bin of a different shade of green. What pleases me is that she gets over her initial shock more quickly than before.

(Readers might think that I was wrong to let her play in the park after growling. Perhaps. But all my instincts told me that Lyra was not even close to an attack, which, in any case, would be out of character for her in this situation. It was the short growl she often gives when startled. Moreover, the other dog was very friendly, calm, and appropriate in his language; nor was his owner upset or worried. So I made a judgment call.)

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