Are things always as we imagine them to be? I think not.
This morning we took the dogs to the beach. As we walked through the pine grove which borders the beach a black lab came tearing up to us, wagging her tail very fast. She was clearly looking for someone. She was wearing a red leather collar but no tag. We thought perhaps she had come with someone who might be fishing on the rocks but, when we reached the beach, it was deserted and there was nobody standing on the rocks.
She greeted the dogs and followed us, but she was showing great concern and ran back and forth to the sea. She went into the water as labs love to do, but the waves were quite strong so she could not go too far. Then it occurred to us that she might have come with a surfer, so we looked out to sea and far out beyond the big waves two heads could be seen. This was a surfer’s dream: big waves that allowed them to travel quite far. Surely one of them must be her person, but from the labrador-eye view she could certainly not see him and this was clearly the cause of her great concern and anxious behavior.
I decided to try and catch his attention. I began to wave a bright red scarf and call out, but I did not think that I would be heard over the sound of the surf. Meanwhile the poor dog kept running into the sea and then out again. Eventually I realized that the surfer had seen me and he began to come ashore. The minute she could see him, her behavior changed: she began to wag her tail in an excited but not stressed manner and ran up to him, clearly happy and relieved to be reunited with her person.
I explained that the dog had been out at the road and was showing clear signs of anxiety. The young man said that she was ten years old and had been coming to the beach since she was four months old. I agreed that she was clearly well cared for but what he did not realise perhaps was that when he was surfing she could not see him and her behaviour, at least on this occasion, was anxious and stressed. We suggested that one solution might be to leave a towel or some other familiar object to mark a spot so that she would know that he was coming back.
He did not want to leave her in his van. This made me think that if she were left in his van he might be more aware and concerned whereas, leaving her on the beach he thought that she was enjoying the freedom to run in and out of the water. His reading of her state of mind was based more on his own comfort zone than on that of his dog. He clearly loved her but this was a case, it seemed to me, of assuming that all was well. When he came out of the water he would see her happy and contented and would think that she had been like this all the time, not realizing that while he was out of sight she was concerned.
Will our conversation have any effect for the future? Who knows!