Far from shore – is that how it feels?
The other day I was out walking with Cerise. Just the two of us. It’s rare that Cerise goes anywhere without a sibling. As we headed out from home I wondered how she’d fare for the next hour, as her instincts are to draw comfort from them when she worries. Anything can set her off. Sometimes we know what the trigger is and other times it’s far from clear – to us that is, to her there’s a reason. So many things can worry Cerise. It can be obvious like a passing vehicle, understandable as we don’t encounter much traffic and with the exception of Renae none of the dogs are comfortable with it. But it can be as benign as a leaf blowing along catching her unawares. When she’s off lead she’s less reactive, as she has the freedom to position herself, react and bring her anxiety down. But on-lead her responses can be sharp and sudden.
Our walk was good. We were moving smoothly along, Cerise’s tail was up, it forms a perfect, fluffy curve over her back when she’s relaxed and happy and the curve was there. Her nose was down snuffling out the choicest smells; she was taking great pleasure in finding and assessing each one, appreciating and adding her own here and there. The breeze was a little stiff but at least the relentless rain of recent days had subsided long enough for us to walk up the hill to the next hamlet without risking a drenching. That’s another thing that worries Cerise – rain – but at least she’s not rain phobic like Twinkle was, her dislike is on a par with Renae’s, a level familiar to most schnauzers we know!
Past the first house we went, Cerise’s nose leading the way, pushing hard under the lavender bush which borders the lane. She was being particularly industrious, I could only imagine the scents her busy black nose was absorbing. She was relaxed in a canine world of aromatic happiness. We continued past the garden where just a few weeks ago, our eyes would catch on heavily laden tomato plants ripening in the hot summer sun. Now they stood bedraggled, giving the very last of their harvest.
Cerise made a sudden, not panicky, beeline across the lane, her excitement tugging me along. Over to the farm gate where Mustique is often found, wagging his whole white and brown Breton spaniel body in greeting as we pause to say hello. She stood and pushed her nose through the bars, seeking him out, her eyes, ears and nose scanning the farmyard hoping to find him.
Nose down, once more sniffing, past the gate and along the lane we continued. All was going perfectly. And then it happened. Her brakes went on. In an instant her body language flipped. Tail dropped, head lowered, ears tucked back and she refused to move.
She looked behind her, ahead, to one side, then the other and wouldn’t catch my eye. Her eyes were everywhere but on me. I was ignorant as to what had tripped the switch, what sudden threat she perceived. Was it a sound? A leaf? A sudden realisation she was not with her siblings. Only she knew what set her off in that moment.
I took her lead off to let her mind settle. To reduce any sense of stress from the lead or me. We were safe where we stood. I knew it would pass. These moments are not unusual with Cerise, but thankfully they’re not as frequent as they once were. They also don’t last very long, especially when she has Renae, Angel or Albert to hitch up with as she works her way over the hurdle in her mind. But she had just me, so together we stood a moment. Both thinking.
As I watched her, almost seeing her brain tick its way through the process, I was reminded of something from my sea swimming days. Of what it’s like to suddenly find yourself further away from shore than you expect to be when you look up from the water. You look around, trying not to panic as a sudden awareness descends of the vastness of water between you and safety. You might mildly worry about what lies below, however confident a swimmer you are. A sense of how surrounded by potential danger you are begins to form. This could easily escalate into a state of stress and panic. Your mouth feels dry and your brain runs through various scenarios before a sense of calm returns as you grapple through and find your common sense once more, reminding yourself you’re a competent swimmer. Confidence, not panic gets you moving again, swimming back to shore, knowing there’s really no need to worry, you’re a strong swimmer, the sea’s calm, the water’s safe. Everything’s fine once again.
That, I think might be a little how Cerise felt as she conquered her anxiety and on we went with our walk, calm, confident and together.