(Picture posed by an actor)
When I was quite small, my mother let me play out in the street when I was at home (we didn’t have cars in those days). We actually lived on a small hill of some fifty houses and I enjoyed walking right to the top and then sailing down on my scooter.
Trouble was, in the house at the top of the road, there lived an Alsatian dog and, occasionally, it got out and prowled the street. I was terrified of it. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the road, there also lived an Alsatian. It too occasionally got out, and I didn’t like that one either.
One day, I was playing with my brothers. The dog at the top of the road was out, which I discovered only when I got close to the house. To my acute alarm, it ran towards me and, in my terror, I raced down the hill, no doubt screaming, the dog in hot pursuit.
My mother came out of the house, three quarters of the way down the hill, wondering what the fuss was all about. “It’s only a puppy!” she said “I expect it was trying to play with you!”, an insight into canine psychology that I felt was not particularly helpful at that moment.
From that emotionally charged experience, I developed an emotionally charged memory (no doubt unintentionally exaggerating the size of the dog, the loudness of its barking, and so on). And from that came quite a phobia of all dogs, but especially Alsatians.
Fast forward fifteen or so years. I was now a barman in the local real ale pub (the same one that appears in the first case study here).
The manager owned three dogs. Alsatians as it happens. But they were usually upstairs, so that was alright.
Except that, one evening, I had to replenish the crisps, fetching a box from the stockroom immediately behind the bar. The door was always kept open and so it was possible to see into the stockroom from the vantage point where the manager played “mine host”.
To my horror, one of the Alsatians was “guarding” the crisp supply, lying on the floor between me and the box I had to fetch. My apprehension must have been visible for I heard the manager’s voice behind me saying “Just walk on it”, ie, just keep walking. Assessing rapidly that the humiliation of not fetching the crisps was worse than being torn limb from limb by a crazed dog, I kept walking.
Whereupon the dog sloped off.
It must have happened dozens of times. Now, it came to pass that I was given a special job at 11pm when the pub shut. Instead of washing the glasses and tidying the place, it became, by a process I never fathomed, my job to take the three Alsatians for a walk in the park opposite the pub. Now, in that area, one might think twice about walking in that park in the dark at that time. But, once I had got the hang of having three Alsatians on leads, all keen for exercise after being shut up in the pub for six or more hours, I felt curiously unafraid.
I recognised that they were more interested in the exercise than they were in sizing up my precise level of fear with their doggy brains. Mind you, whilst one was quite normal, and another rather old, the third was a notorious and violent psychopath.
But, you know, he was putty in my hands.
> The behaviour cycle