With Dog as my co-pilot.

I’ve recently returned from a trip Up Norf with the boydogs, roaming & camping in the van. My old boy has done this a million zillion times, so he just fell into his usual groove. This is still relatively new stuff for the puppy, though, so it was interesting to see how he’s getting used to the whole deal and finding his role in the pack in a different setting.

Note: the puppy, aka Gamble, is actually five. However, he is, well, he’s kinda special. He is the most loving and ebullient dog you’ll ever meet, thereby conclusively proving that they don’t always take after the owner. However, as his Uncle Bob says, “if brains was black powder he couldn’t blow his hat off.” As a guard dog, he’s generally anti-useful: he’s the kind of dog who keeps trying to drag you into the local crack house, because the door is open and there are people lying all over the floor, so they must want hugs and kisses, obviously.

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During this trip, the Gambler took a giant leap in learning. All on his own, he developed a set of rules for the van-as-home:

  1. People who walk past and around the van must be ignored. No making noise or trying to climb out the windows to say hello, or Boss becomes displeased.
  2. People who get nosy around the van are a cause of concern, and one must alert Boss with warning barks (“Intruder? Intruder?”).
  3. If Boss acknowledges approachers, then they must be greeted with squeaks and wags, and ideally loved & squished.
  4. If Boss does not acknowledge the approachers, they must be told to go away with growls and barks.

I was seriously impressed. I love my boy to bits, but I never thought I could rely on him for protection. Turns out I’ve been underestimating him.

There was one particular occasion where a total twerp decided to pull the standard creepy guy narrative on me. I had stopped in the middle of nowhere, parked in such a way that anyone wanting to get a good view into the back of the van would have to stand in the road. I was sitting our of sight, on the bumper between the back doors, writing. So of course I was giving out all the signs of wanting some random interaction with strangers, right?

Depressingly predictably, this twerp decided that he’d risk getting ran over so he could pop over “to say hello” and “find out what I was writing”. Normally I’d have to tell them to fuck off and die, something that doesn’t worry me in the least, but it does get frustrating. This time, however, the Gambler decided that he had this. Every time the twerp opened his mouth, Gambs barked at him, and carried on barking until the the twerp shut up. I left them to it and kept on writing, and after a couple of minutes of this crap the guy apologised to the dog and walked away.

[I’ve yet to have a single creep apologise to me. Da Gambs clearly haz skillz.]

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So what? I hear you cry. Should we all get a creep-alert dog? Well, yes, we should, because dogs are awesome, but that’s not it. That thing that struck me is that the Gambler, a dog who is by all accounts severely educationally subnormal, with the attention span of a fruitfly, the social awareness of a potato, and a near-suicidal inclination towards misplaced loving kindness, got it. He worked out what the situationally relevant red flags are in the people around us. He worked out what my reactions indicate. And he worked out that the normal rules of conduct that apply to people don’t apply to creeps. He got the Creepy Guy Narrative, and how to derail it.

Yes, a lot of that is him responding to my cues, but even with that he’s still doing better than a lot of people. People routinely fail not only to notice creeping, but to notice the creepers’ impact on the people getting creeped at. There are plenty of people out there stuck between a creeper and an unsupportive support group. There are plenty of people tearing their hair out in frustration because they can’t make their partner, their parents, their co-workers, their boss, their friends, see or accept that there’s something off about someone in their vicinity. There are plenty of people getting socially punished for taking steps to protect themselves.

Now I’m wondering how much work we actually put into hobbling ourselves. Much as I like dogs, I’m disinclined to believe that they have a higher potential for learning than people have. If we find ourselves consistently behind our canine companions, there’s got to be something we’re doing to put ourselves there. I guess the real question is why. Cui bono?

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