Passing the Litmus Test


Of all the things Banjo has taught me, I am learning to trust his reaction to people.  True to his Greyhound genes, he can seem a little aloof at first, but once he knows you, you’re in his inner circle you’re in for life.  Like most Greyhounds, he will often sleep in the ‘cockroach’ position – but only around people he trusts:

Banjo spends most of the day sleeping – also true to his Greyhound genes, he is a 45-mph Couch Potato!  Having said that, he is also what is affectionately known as a ‘reactive barker’ – a dog who barks at certain triggers, like the doorbell.  (He’s good at being quiet when told, but we’re working with a trainer to lessen his barking.  There’s always room for improvement, right?) But there are some people who he just won’t shut up about!

A few years ago, we lived across the hall from a woman, J., who was going through a difficult time in life and was on half a dozen medications for various forms of chronic mental illness, including major depression and anxiety.  We had a few things in common, and so a friendship grew.  There were only two apartments on our floor – hers and ours – but Banjo would always howl at the sound of J.’s footstep or her key in the lock.  I always assumed it was because her door was so close to ours – after all, he wouldn’t bark at our other neighbours that way. I always thought it strange, and tried to train him out of the habit, to no avail.

A couple of years went by, and J. became very paranoid.  One day she sent my husband and me an email that accused us of doing something that was not only ludicrously unrealistic, but deeply insulting.  We responded with an email that was supposed to reassure her that what she thought simply wasn’t true, but her response  showed me that she was very unbalanced and destructive, and from there the friendship quickly unravelled.  We were all relieved when she moved out a few months later – but no one more than Banjo.  Other people soon moved in; a year later, others still.  Banjo never had the same reactive barking problem with any of these new neighbours.  To this day, I maintain that Banjo knew all along that J. was someone to be avoided, which is why he never warmed up to her.

Looking back, I must have first started paying attention to Banjo’s people skills when we were looking for a pet sitter.  In those days, living in New York and with half the family in California and the other half in Europe, Wonderman and I wouldn’t travel out of town often, but when we did it was usually for at least a week at a time.  Being a sweet and sensitive dog, it was very important to us that not only Banjo love his sitter, but that his sitter love him back equally.

We found the lovely Jamie through our vet, and as is typical with someone who understands dogs (i.e. not making aggressive eye contact), she was greeted quietly and curiously.  Banjo quickly formed a deep attachment to her and loved going to Jamie’s – hearing her name put a spring in his step, even after the ‘wheelie-boxes’ were taken out of the hall closet…

It isn’t hard to accept that a dog can tell a ‘good person’ from a ‘bad person’ if you remember that dogs’ language is primarily based on body language.  Dogs are hard-wired to read even the most minute of body movements, and pick up on all sorts of things that we humans miss.  Banjo has proven himself over and over again in this regard, as I’m sure your dog has too.  What’s not to trust?

Banjo says: Aroo! Yea, I has a big clever becos I knoes a scareful person from a luffly person.  Does any oder doggies out dere doing dis? Wat yoh hoomin sez?

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