Many adult dogs have difficulties with unexpected events. This is why socialization as a puppy is so important- it reduces the likelihood that a particular event will be unexpected. A dog who has never before seen a person with a beard is likely to find facial hair unexpected. If that dog has not been well-socialized, it may over-react, resulting in scenes that are often embarrassing to the owner. That’s not to say that a well-socialized dog will never be surprised, but in my experience they tend to recover from their surprise better than dogs who had not been well-socialized.
Yesterday afternoon, a drunk driver came careening down my street and slammed into the power pole just opposite my house, sending it crashing down (thankfully not into any houses). Naturally, I was alarmed and jumped up to investigate. Naturally, the dogs were also alarmed and were crowding at my heels as I went to the window. However, the dogs and I have a protocol for when I have decided there’s nothing for them to worry about. Therefore it was easy for me to get the dogs calmed down while I left the house to check on the driver (who walked away without any apparent injuries, and was on the phone reporting it. There were no passengers in the car.) . When I returned to the house, the dogs were excited, but not overly so. It was still easy for me to get them to listen and calm down. And then the police cars showed up (7 minute response time!) and the fire truck showed up. There were suddenly a bunch of people walking up and down in front of our house and in the street, along with flashing lights and everything. Then there was a bang bang bang on the side door of our house- knocking with only elicited a few alert woofs from Boo before I assured her I had everything under control. I went outside to talk to the fireman, who had kindly come by to warn us to stay out of our front yard because they were worried that the power pole directly in front of my house would fall down because of the tension from the wires. Indeed, the pole quickly began leaning quite dramatically. The fear was that if the pole fell, the wires would hit the ground and send electricity potentially arcing everywhere. We were asked to stay in the back of the house (whereas generally we all hang out in rooms at the front of the house).
So dogs, cats, kids, and I all holed up in the office, the backmost room of the house, for a good hour and a half while the electrical company came out and dealt with the power lines and the drunk driver got arrested. The cats were a bit difficult to get into the office, as they do not like change, which is quite common for cats. Still, I coaxed them inside within two minutes. Both power poles had to be replaced, which involved lots of cranking and bumping and whirring from outside. The dogs, however, ignored all the commotion, including all the people called in to help. I was quite pleased with them! And then, about two hours into this unexpected event, the dogs asked to go potty. I knew they really probably had to go pretty badly by now, as they hadn’t gone all afternoon. So I let them out with a simple command “Quiet” in a calm neutral voice and stood on the stoop. Not a peep from them, even with the power guys in our yard and the machinery cranking away.
Even now, the power company is back with more machinery (I don’t know what they’re doing, but I’ll just trust that they are doing their jobs) and the dogs haven’t a care in the world. This is despite the fact that my Lab is a bit territorial (she likes to bark at people on her territory) and my Rott used to be afraid of great commotions like this. Simply by teaching them the words I need them to know for happy everyday life with them and staying calm and taking charge myself, we were able to handle this in a way I know a lot of people dream about. But the great thing is, it’s possible! My dogs, my family, are not outliers. With patient, consistent practice and enforcement of house rules and commands, you too can expect to face The Unexpected with confidence, and maybe even a smile!