Max has developed a weird habit when we walk through a certain section of the trail around my apartment complex. He starts picking up speed and constantly looking back as if something threatening was chasing him. We sometimes even run through that section as he pulls me along. Then, once we get around the bend, he goes back to normal as if everything is fine.
I think this behavior developed from a couple times when neighbor dogs that lived in that section got out and actually did chase him down. Normally Max loves encounters with other dogs, but these are the kind of dogs who really don’t want other dogs around their house, so they barked and chased Max until we were around the bend and far enough away.
So, I don’t blame Max for not liking that stretch of trail, I sure wouldn’t want little tiny bully dogs barking in my face (though I wish Max would realize how much bigger he is and that he really shouldn’t feel threatened).
But I also recognize that those encounters haven’t happened in a very long time. In fact I don’t even know if those dogs still live there, as there is so much turnover in these apartments. I can’t even hear them barking from within the house anymore.
And yet, Max is still haunted by something.
Assuming it is the bad memories of the bully dogs, Max has taught me how gripping paranoid fear can be and how much it can impact daily tasks. Max is clearly uncomfortable in those times when he could be having a really nice walk. And this is a real shame, because he used to like that stretch and all the unique smells it had to offer.
Something from his past that is not even real anymore has taken control over how he is living his life now.
Not to get too Freudian here, but Max has taught me that if he doesn’t face that fear, if he keeps running away from it, it will continue to haunt him. In running, that fear only chases him farther down the path. I am pretty sure that if Max walked over to that apartment and smelled around and realized that there was nothing to fear, he wouldn’t be so paranoid when walking by.
Max has taught me that it is easier just to run by, or to avoid that section when possible. He has taught me that it is easier to give that fear the space it needs to grow and prosper.
But he has also taught me that it is not a good, comfortable, wholesome way to live.
The worst part is that Max doesn’t even realize he has created such a space of fear in his life, and until he does his fears are far from being resolved. So, he has taught me to examine my own life to see what fears I am running from, so that I might find ways to face them and create spaces of understanding, joy, and acceptance rather than paranoia.
So thank you Max, for teaching me that fears have real power over our lives, even though those fears are often unfounded. And thank you for teaching me that it is much better to face those fears than to run from them. I do hope you find a way to face your fears, overcome your paranoia, and begin to enjoy that stretch of our walks again.