The Cleavers’ Boston

girl and dog

First in a series

Visiting the Grahams was always exciting although, in retrospect, it was pretty ordinary. Kenny Graham was a funny kid, the same age as my big sister Martha. Their family was like June, Ward, and Beaver Cleaver. Life was simple. I was 4 years old; Martha was 6 – average baby boomer kids. I thought the Graham family was really lucky because they had a dog, a black and white Boston terrier named Buster. I loved Buster and I was sure he loved me back. We didn’t have pets.

One day the grown-ups were playing cards and drinking tea. I was on the floor when I spied Buster camped out under the table. He sure was cute. I could tell right away that he was inviting me to creep up to him for a bit of snuggling. I happily accepted. Rushing in on all 4s to hug the object of my affection I was startled by a quick snarl and was then summarily bitten on the face.

Surprise could hardly describe my emotions; that dog was lightning fast. Despite my overwhelming sense of betrayal, there was nothing unusual about what happened. Rude awakenings to the realities of canine behavior occur somewhere every day. I understand this now because I’m a residency trained veterinary behaviorist.

Looking back at that pivotal moment I realize that I had completely misread the body signals that were veritably emanating from scared Buster, hiding out near his person’s feet. I remember the pinned back ears and straight-on glare as I delightedly advanced. His body signaling was loud and clear: “I’m freaked-out. I fear that you are going to hurt me, you homicidal nut job! I might perceive a threat and panic. I have a mouth full of teeth and I know how to use them!” As I, the child who assumed way too much, closed on Buster he issued his final, this time verbal, warning: “Grrr!!” Translation: “I will defend myself, to the end!” Which is, of course, exactly what he did.
Next week: Bad dog? Bad Child? Bad adults?
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.