There were a lot of very scary things early on in the life of my office administrator and cockapoo, George. In fact, pretty much everything was scary. I realized that unless we confronted these fears directly it would soon get to the point where we couldn’t even go to fun places like the park.
When he was quite young, I worked in an office that had a dog policy (that was much of the reason for working in that office, actually), and George was famous for sitting in his mesh crate under my desk in utter silence for hours at a time. He really didn’t want anyone to know he was there. People were amazed at his good behavior. George and I knew it was simply a very effective method for avoiding all attention and therefore all threats—or so he seemed to think.
Oddly enough, one of George’s favorite toys was a squeaky rubber orange dragon about the size of his head. He looked very tough when racing around the house or diving through the dog door at full speed with that dragon in his mouth. But in real life, he had a tendency to vomit at the sight of other dogs. We worked very hard to improve his sense of self-confidence. It took months. I talked him through many difficult situations on neighborhood sidewalks, refusing to let him go home and assuring him that I was there to provide backup. He confronted his fears (with a suitable backup) and slowly but surely he became a braver and braver dog.
We began his enrichment program with the small dog rooms at local doggy daycares, and advanced to various dog parks. Girded in his blue gingham flannel coat with the Viking-styled pewter clasp under his chin, he looked like a very capable person. Over time, he got to where he could bear the approach of other dogs, and he even learned to enjoy playing with them. Sudden sounds around the house no longer caused him to run for a hiding place. Riding in the car and waiting calmly for me while I ran errands became a completely undaunting experience. These days, he is well known for playing with gigantics (extremely large dogs sometimes weighing as much as two hundred pounds–or more), both at the park and at daycare.
But, first, he had to confront his fears—and there were so many.
George’s experience reminds me of what I’ve seen in myself and in others. We all have our peeping dragons, those things which seem large and terrible when spied out of the corner of our eyes, but which shrink drastically in size and ferocity when approached directly. Sometimes we need backup to face these peeping dragons, but they will surely multiply if we do not face them down. Eventually, they impair our quality of life, and then we have problems meeting new people or going to the park to make new friends. Our digestion (or some other bodily system) is likely to become impaired, and our quality of life overall is likely to degrade.
Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor. And there are occasions when the wisest step is the first one taken in retreat. But, often, that’s not the case. When we have peeping dragons that we actively avoid facing, eventually the world becomes a very scary place.