“Dipper, say hi!” I said, almost pleading, as my dog walked away from his first meeting with our new neighbor, uninterested.
He seemed excited enough at first, running up to greet her with a sniff. But soon enough, the novelty wore off, and he left us to sit a distance away in the grass. By himself.
This was a scene I’d seen play out countless times before, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by my dog’s bad manners. I assured people that Dipper was friendly—he certainly wasn’t mean—but friendly was beginning to feel like a lie. Why was my dog so rude?
Months after adopting Dipper, I’m still getting familiar with the little dog’s quirks. His standoffish nature has been the most confusing of them all because it comes with a major caveat: it’s only when he’s outside.
Inside, his behavior is very different. As soon as someone walks through the door, he presents the visitor with one of his toys, prancing around our guest in circles until they take his offering. If he can’t find a toy, he’ll pick up whatever he can; I’ve received socks, receipts, and even a bandaid.
But stray socks and stuffed animals aren’t all our guests receive. Dipper says hello in another very unique way: he smiles. Dipper displays a primitive defense behavior called submissive grinning, in which a dog bares its teeth to show it poses no threat. It looks a lot like a snarl, but means the exact opposite. And unlike snarling, submissive grinning is usually paired with excited, erratic movements.
My dog literally smiles and wiggles at people when they come in the house but refuses to even acknowledge them outside.
Dipper’s behavior with dogs is very similar. He pulls ahead to greet another dog only to stop caring after two seconds of sniffing it. Even worse, he’s started using other dogs as an easy way to catch me off guard and pee on something he shouldn’t, like a bike or a flowerbed. On several mortifying occasions, he’s turned around and scratched up dirt all over another dog after nearly marking his territory on them.
“He’s just really standoffish outside,” has become my catchphrase when meeting dogs on our walks. I normally throw in something about how he’d rather sniff for squirrels, but his behavior sends mixed signals to both dogs and their owners.
Other dogs don’t understand that, after two seconds of sniffing, my dog is done with them. They usually try to continue interacting with him, much to Dipper’s annoyance. I’ve seen him tense up when other dogs try to engage him in play, or even when they just keep sniffing him.
I’ve mentioned before that Dipper’s independent nature has elicited some different responses from people. They wonder why he doesn’t get excited like other dogs and ask why he’s ignoring them. They mock offense at being insulted that my dog doesn’t like them, and despite the humor, it still stings. This behavior wasn’t what I was looking for in a dog. In fact, he ignored me when I first met him, too.
Dipper still ignores me outside. It’s nearly impossible to get his attention when he’s focusing on something in the bushes, and it’s become obvious over the past few weeks that he has a very high prey drive.
On one particular occasion after a meeting with a neighbor’s dog, I texted my mom, exasperated with Dipper’s behavior. After he started ignoring her to examine the backyard fence, she tapped him with her paw to get his attention again. He was, in a word, nonplussed. My mom’s response? We were just alike.
She said Dipper’s reserve and goal driven mentality were reflective of my own personality. Like my dog, she said, I’ve always taken time to warm up to people. And she personally has seen me snap plenty of times after interrupting me working.
All in all, I love him for who he is. His laid back behavior and low-maintenance are perfect for my student lifestyle. But I can’t help but wish he was as intense with his love for me as I am with mine for him.
Do any of your dogs behave similarly? Do they like people in the house but not out? Leave a comment! Let’s chat.