There is a house on my route that, for a few years, had quite a few people rolling through it. It seems to have stabilized with the people who are in there know, and they have been there for about three years. One day, shortly after they moved in to the house, I was walking their street and I turned up their walkway. I wasn't really looking where I was going. I had my head down and was sorting the mail as I walked, but I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye, looked up, and stopped dead.
Right there, not three feet in front of me, was a dog I had never seen before. A Boxer. It was a beautiful animal, all tight bunches of muscle beneath that thin, shiny coat they have. Large, intelligent brown eyes were open wide and staring at me as the animal strained at the end of his tether. I got the impression that he was a puppy, but a puppy right at the end of his growth. He might get a little heavier, but he wouldn't get much bigger.
“Hey there, Big Guy,” I said, in as calming a voice I could muster. “You're new around here. Who are you?”
The Boxer didn't answer, obviously, but he continued to strain, pulling hard and steady at the end of that tether. He didn't bark, or snarl. His ears, though cropped, were up and forward, his little nub of a tail was wagging. I was a little nervous, though, since this was a new dog to me, and they had pretty much tied the other end of his tether to the mailbox I had to get to.
I love Boxers, but sometimes they are a little high-strung. By 'a little high strung', I mean 'like a squirrel on amphetamines'. Not all of them, but enough. And, like I said, this was a new dog to me. What made me even more nervous was that, though he had not made a sound, he was quivering all over. Visibly. Like he was barely under control. Remember what I said about a squirrel on amphetamines?
I decided to take a chance. I knelt down, still out of the actual reach of that tether, and held out a fist for the big dog to sniff. You hold out a fist rather than an open hand because that way, even if they do bite, you're more likely to take all of your fingers home with you.
I consider that a plus.
He sniffed that fist like a maniac, and eventually I felt okay reaching down to flip over the tag that was hanging off his collar. Engraved on the back was one word, all in capitals.
“Harley? That's your name, Harley?”
Harley was busy sniffing my arm, and the knee that had shifted into his range when I reached for the tag. He was still straining against that rope, and quivering like a struck tuning fork.
Well, it's nice to meet you Harley. Here's the deal. I need to get to that mailbox over there, and I need you to not take a chunk out of my leg when I walk by. In return, I won't feed you, but I will scratch behind your ears. How's about it?”
I took his not having tried to bite me yet as an assent, stood, and started up the walkway. Harley kept pace with me, sniffing my leg, hip, mailbag, everything he could, but he didn't try to stop me or get in my way. I made it to the mailbox, which happens to be falling apart, and started to work the mail inside. That's when I felt Harley's front claws digging into me, one set in the front of my hip, the other in by backside.
Harley wasn't quivering because he was high-strung, or because I made him nervous.
Something hard and a little damp poked me in the thigh. Then again.
Harley wasn't afraid of me at all. Harley liked me.
Poke – poke – poke
Harley really liked me!
You know, people always talk about getting bitten, and how strong dog's jaws are. No one ever talks about what a good grip they have! I'm not sure how many pokes to the thigh I took while I twisted and pried those fore claws of iron off me. All I know is that I got out of there without the need to wash my leg … although I did walk out of there feeling that the damn dog owed me something.
I wasn't sure.
The good thing, tough, is Harley's always glad to see me, and I haven't had any problems with him at all since then.
I refuse to turn my back on him, though.
Not without dinner first, Big Boy!