While traveling in Sicily, we used Air BnB to stay with Antonio and Maria in the mountains of Cefalu. They have two Dachshunds and a large Doberman Pincher. The Doberman is kept in a pen down by the garden and is obviously a guard dog. Antonio warned us to stay away from the pen, “He’s a mean one.”
The Dachshunds, Romeo and Juliet, quickly became our friends and visited us every morning. They learned to join us for breakfast and enjoyed whatever we shared with them from the table. One morning, I watched Juliet come out of the house and make a bee-line for the Doberman’s pen. I was instantly worried.
The big Doberman could eat that little Dachshund for breakfast–and still look for a proper meal. Instead of a confrontation, I watched the two canines greet each other with wagging tails. I was a bit naive, they’d lived together long enough that Juliet had lost all fear of this otherwise vicious dog. The Doberman had adapted to his miniature friend.
This reminded me of a story that Cindy, a friend of mine, told me while I was visiting her in Florida. She had a little Chihuahua, Sandy, that loved everybody.
The story of the Chihuahua and the Doberman:
Living next to Sandy, the Chihuahua, was a Doberman. This burly black dog was the terror of the neighborhood. It had killed two cats and a dog and had to be kept locked up in the back yard.
Whenever the Chihuahua would pass, the Doberman would immediately cower and retreat.”
“Why does the the Chihuahua cause such fear in the Doberman” I asked.
Cindy explained, “Because when the Doberman was a puppy my neighbor took him to get his ears clipped. When they retuned the Doberman and Sandy were playing together and Sandy grabbed ahold of a bandaged ear and wouldn’t let go. That Doberman howled in agony. It was so awful, I had to go out and separate them. My neighbor was so upset he never let them play again. To this day, on the rare occasions that the two come face-to-face, the Doberman either cowers behind his owner or runs in the opposite direction. He never got over that incident. As big and fierce as he his now, the fear of that little Chihuahua has never gone away.” Cindy smiled and shared a little secret: “I have to admit, I get a kick out of how embarrassed my neighbor looks when Sandy chases his dog across his front yard. His little cropped tail trying to fit between his legs as he runs for the shelter of his backyard.”
The Morale of the story: Fear is a funny thing. It can be adaptive or it can be completely irrational. We all have these little episodes buried in our past. Fear of water, fear of strangers, fear of heights, fear of abandonment. Just a single incident at a young age and the neurons can be locked into a pattern of anxiety that lives long after the real threat has disappeared.