What do we do when we meet an aggressive dog? Perhaps autistic synaesthesia has an answer… the autistic or primitive way isn’t always the socially worst way. It may in some instances just turn out to be the right way.
By Patrick Jasper Lee, The Psychic Autist
We were taking a leisurely family walk in our favorite wood, the four of us – Milo’s 8 and Will’s 6. There’s a wooden bridge where it’s good to stand and watch the narrow river flowing below. We thought we’d take some photos. A beautiful day, bluebells beginning to appear. We were busy enjoying ourselves.
Suddenly we hear a gruff growl and a bark from the other side of the bridge where a big black dog stops and stares at us. He’s the black retriever variety, and reminds me of the big black ghost dog that traditionally haunts the Sussex Downs.
Immediately I call our two boys to our side. Anni joins me. We stand absolutely still, together, in a kind of a circle, not speaking, not moving, and especially not looking at the dog, who is by this time barking aggressively again as he rushes across the bridge, landing directly beside us.
But although he barks and moves about around us, he does nothing more, because we are absolutely still, so still that we are no competition for him. We do not look at him, nor do we make eye contact – which autistic people are adept at doing so at this time this works in our favor! The dog honors this in us because he honors animal language which, interestingly, all human beings would also have honored once long ago. That means both animal behavior and primitive behavior come together here in this situation, and actually might have more to teach us than we believe. But this is all our family can do at this moment in time if the dog’s owner isn’t choosing to do anything constructive.
The owner herself soon appears, an older woman, walking through the wood in a leisurely way with a casual smile on her face. She crosses the bridge and pleasantly calls, “Morning!” We do not respond. We can’t. This is a moment when most NTs will feel they should respond. But I am seeing what I call my mist signals floating around me big time at this point: my synaesthetic ability to perceive what is going on for me and how I need to respond to a situation, so I know I am doing the right thing to protect my family.
“Lovely day,” the owner then says to us having received no response to her first comment. Lovely? It doesn’t feel lovely to us, having to stand so still while a vicious dog is barking threateningly all around us and scaring us half to death. It isn’t the dog’s fault, though. We all realise that. He’s left to his own devices when he’s being given no discipline whatsoever.
We do not answer the woman. We play it safe. I know she is probably wondering why we’re not honoring her comments as we are still standing absolutely still facing each other while my mist signals are busy flying about to the left of my mind, a sure sign to me to take care. It is also a sign of a severe cryptic situation – or crisis – as triangles are also filling my mind, which represent cryptic thinking. Our boys are helpful and co-operative, fortunately. They copy Anni and me exactly as we continue with our impression of mannequins. “Don’t look at the dog,” I keep calmly telling everyone. The owner probably hears me but doesn’t acknowledge me. She is only confused about the fact that we haven’t spoken politely to her, that we haven’t honored the “social cue” game.
The dog eventually stops barking, but another dog, identical to the first is suddenly rushing across the river to join us. This dog somehow seems like a “she”, and she is not barking. She is merely standing beside us, as if joining our circle. And we feel she knows what we’re actually doing, what language we’re speaking. We are amazed as she honors us by standing still with us awhile, quietly, and we feel she is apologizing for her brother, and for her owner as well. The first barking dog has run off by this time. And we then hear the owner moaning to herself. “Don’t speak to me then,” she mutters, offended as she walks off, briskly, probably believing we’re being extremely rude. But where does the rudeness lie?
Even when the owner has walked away the second dog remains and continues standing with us awhile. We haven’t looked at her; we haven’t moved. After another moment she leaps off to join her owner and all is then quiet and peaceful again in the wood. We congratulate the boys and each other and discuss the situation so that the boys understand what we’ve done. We let the owner and the dogs know that in the face of viciousness we will use primitive autistic animal language to protect ourselves where we need to and where we don’t receive any other help from the neurotypical world.
This is where neurotypical language and autistic language disagree, and separate. Questions: should we have forced ourselves to forget our own fears of the barking dog and honor a woman socially when she bade us good morning purely because she needed a social response from us? Should we have ignored the fact that she was not taking control of her own barking dog who she was entirely responsible for? Who was in the wrong here? Our family, using our autistic, animal and primitive language? Or the owner of the dog? Who in this situation was able to initiate the necessary changes to make the situation better?
Later, on our way out of the wood we were, interestingly, given an appropriate demonstration of a positive response to what had happened. We came across another dog, a boxer, who looked as if he wanted to run towards us to bark again, but the dog’s owner immediately called him to his side, put on his leash and they walked calmly past us. “Good morning,” the man smiled, holding the dog close to his side. We said good morning in return. And all was well.
Dogs usually express the way we are ourselves, if we happen to own them. They express hidden primitive emotions. Direct Messaging and black and white thinking, as I call it, is what is needed. Humans find it hard to say “Stop!” They find it hard to say no to their dogs. People in general would rather acknowledge cowardice and the inability to deal with a situation before standing up for what is normal and courageous to do. It hurts autistic people like me a great deal when we get the blame for seeing things as they are, and for things which NTs could easily change.
Because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and because I am blessed by my wonderful “signals” which are mental signs to me that I need to react in a specific way I can only react or behave in the way my personality allows me to, which means a substantial dollop of good common sense and accuracy is always at the forefront of my mind, woven into everything I do. If the owner of a vicious dog would have sat down with me awhile and talked, I might have introduced her to the situation she was creating in a realistic and structured way. And her dog might have changed his appalling behavior and had a happier life, while her second dog might just have been relieved!
Most of us have a lot to learn about being direct and about how to use natural animal language which I am called to talk about more and more. The rewards can be great once we learn this and take it all on board.
Basically, remember these few valuable tips when being confronted by vicious dogs.
1. If a dog rushes at you barking, do not look at it. Avert your eyes and just stand as still as you can with your arms held in close to you.
2. If an owner isn’t keen to restrain their dog you are not obliged to talk to them. You are busy doing a job the owner themselves should be doing, so don’t worry about it. Just do whatever you have to do in the face of a difficult situation. The dog will understand exactly what you’re doing, even if the owner doesn’t!
3. If you want to mention to the owner that they should keep their dog under control, you can do this if you choose. I find it’s often better to say nothing at all and avoid further conflict. If the owner can’t learn by understanding what message you’re giving via their dog, then they have to go away and think about it and work it out for themselves. That’s not your problem. So don’t take responsibility for it. The main object of the exercise is that you keep you and yours safe.
4. The vicious dog will end up honoring you by moving away and you can then carry on with whatever you’ve been doing, happily.
I hope this helps. Getting on in the outside world is always difficult for autistic people, but it needn’t be if we realize where responsibility lies and what how we can help ourselves to bring that about. Remember that the autistic or primitive way isn’t always the socially worst way. It may in some instances just turn out to be the right way. Sometimes this way of reacting will get you out of a sticky situation and into a brand new way of thinking about yourself and autism.
Patrick Jasper Lee, The Psychic Autist – Artist, author, and autistic synaesthete explores the psychic portals that link us with the natural world and the otherworld. You can follow him on Facebook.
One winter’s day out by our river, where I walk my dogs (not leashed, it’s wilderness) a Moose came crashing up the bank through the trees – a near collision. She lowered her head and swung it back and forth: my dogs knew exactly what to – turned tail and ran. A young moose soon clambered up to join its mother: I was in trouble – you’ve no idea how large a moose is until you’re twenty feet away. I averted my eyes and stepped backward slowly, the moose feigned a charge, but stopped and ran off with her calf close behind. I thanked my dogs for sticking around to help me –
Interestingly, all animals speak the wild language. It’s something I talk about a lot in all my books. We need to understand more about the autistic perspective with regard to animals, and how most people with autism are more like animals than they are humans! It’s a good experience you had, although admittedly, scary. Dogs have always been valuable companions for humans and it’s wonderful when they’re appreciated.
Beautiful, moving, strong, and true.
Thank you for your warm comment.
Interesting story * merci for sharing 🙂
Merci in return Fred. Thank you.
Interesting perspective! Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m just curious, but do you think you could have been overreacting to the situation with the barking dog? As someone on the spectrum who works with dogs (I work at a dog daycare center) I’ve found that a lot of dogs are all bark and no bite. Avoiding eye contact was a good idea, but I don’t think responding to the lady would have triggered the dog to attack you. Maybe the situation wasn’t as dire as you perceived it to be. I’m curious, do you have a fear of dogs?
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