ESSAY-MY CONFLICTED THOUGHTS ABOUT THE EFFORTS OF MEGAN’S NEIGHBOR, MARY, TO CURB THE AFFECTIONATE ENTHUSIASM OF HER SHEEPDOG LOUISA
Megan’s next door neighbor, Mary, is one of the nicest people I know, and her sheepdog, Louisa, may be one of the most ebulliently affectionate animals I’ve ever met.
Mary is trying to curb this ebullience just a tick, as Louisa’s ebullience manifests itself in her insistence on launching herself onto just about every person she meets, and smothering them with dog kisses. Though I of course understand this bit of obedience training, I nonetheless find myself reluctant to endorse it fully.
Look, I get it…you simply can’t have a dog jumping on strangers. When a big dog launches itself at a person who does not know the dog, there is always that bit of the primitive lizard brain that kicks in. Said brain reminds its owner that dogs have teeth, that big dogs have big teeth, and that occasionally, unfortunately, they use them.
Thus it is that though Louisa means nothing but the best when when she launches herself at a potential target of her affection, there is always the possibility that the person will take it the wrong way.
Again, I get it, I really do.
The trouble is—and here is why I shall miss it so—I know Louisa, and boy, do I love that dog.
And, well, uh…I love it when she launches herself on me.
Louisa is sort of like that student in an elementary class who raises her hand after every question, even when she doesn’t completely know the answers. Show and Tell is, of course, her favorite time of day, during which she holds forth on whatever item she discusses with such charm and energy that the hands of everyone in the class springs up, so eager are they to ask her about the item she just discussed.
When Megan takes her Bassett Hound Samson for a walk, it is a meeting of opposites. Samson, the most laid back mammal on the planet, will approach her and gently sniff her nose, and then it appears, for all who see it, as if there are in a discussion about current affairs. And at some point, inevitably, Louisa will hop in the air as if to say “NO! I can’t believe it! That is so…that is so amazing! OMG, OMG, OMG…that is AWESOME, you hear me, Samson? Totally awesome.”
“I’m gonna tweet about this,” I imagine her calling after Samson. “Message me on Facebook…we HAVE to talk about this more, okay? Okay? OKAY?”
I have to admit to keeping a watch on myself for the subtle ways that I encourage the very behavior Mary is trying to curb. Dogs can smell intent, and it’s clear, when Louisa comes up to me, muscles twitching, that she knows I welcome her acrobatic love. I have already conditioned myself to refrain from obvious endorsements of this behavior, which have included slapping my chest repeatedly, and saying “here, girl…here girl.”
These obvious instances of enabling this behavior were clearly no great thrill to Mary, who is far too polite a person to snap something at me such as “stop.” Instead she took to looking at me with an almost imperceptibly downturned face, one that said “uh…look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but, uh…could you dial back the enabling bit, just a tick?”
And so I have. When I see Louisa, I quietly say hello, and kneel down. Then I gently put my hands on either side of her head and hold her ever so slightly, the better to send a subtle signal that jumping on me is a no-no. Her tail wags furiously when I do this, and she almost seems to be saying “I’d, uh…jump on you if I could, but, uh…Mary’s trying to, you know, put the brakes on that. Which is hard. For me. Because I really, really like to do that. Really.”
Yet, because I’m sure dogs can smell a person’s thoughts, I always think, very strongly, “I know you can’t jump on me Louisa, but know that when you wag your tail like that, you’re doing it in spirit.” I do this because even though I know that Louisa must curb her enthusiasm, I adore her for her enthusiasm. And though I must be part of the group of good neighbors who seek to encourage good and proper behavior, there will always be a small part of me that will say, in my thoughts: “Louisa, darling…you can jump on me anytime.”