Early in the morning, when the yard is still dark, I switch on the outside light to check for skunks before I let the dog out to do her morning business. Don't want a first-thing-in-the-morning confrontation with a skunk. No thanks.
For a game the boys have been playing, they set up an old stump. In the early morning darkness, with shadows being cast by the yard light, the stump does look spooky, unknown.
Our dog is a Great Pyrenees, a breed used for guarding herds of sheep or goats. They are a watchful breed, not active herders like the border collie, or attack guard dogs like the German Shepherds or Dobermans. They guard by observation: watching, smelling, keeping a close eye on their herd.
Our girl is twelve, old for a dog of her size. She isn't able to do her perimeter checks any more. It used to be irritating to wait to bring her inside while she made a complete, slow, deliberate check around the edge of the yard to be sure all was safe - no intruders, no danger- before everyone went to bed. Once we realized what she was doing, that she wasn't just being ornery and not listening, it became funny to watch her, knowing she took her job very seriously.
Now, she sleeps most of the day, outside in her shady spot. She is still alert, though (well, most of the time) to strange smells and sounds and activity. In a herd, they will take on a bear or a wolf that threatens the animals they are guarding. They may look like a big cuddly bear, but they are capable fighters when need be. Those days are past for her; her way of protecting all of us - her herd - is a big woof or two or three to scare off danger.
That stump in the yard, in the early morning darkness, spooked her, though. Maybe she still had early morning fog in her eyes like I did. She knew that "That Thing" was not supposed to be there and barked at it. Loudly. Then, she came and leaned against my leg, pushing me back toward the house. No aggressive attack for her. I'm not sure if she was scared, asking me for protection, or if she was pushing me toward safety.
Of course, the stump was no threat, but it made me think of times I am afraid of the unknown. The easiest path is to back off, turn around and get away. She did go over and smell the stump when I let her out later, after it was light. Wonder if she was thinking, "That was a silly thing to bark at." For me, it is a reminder to have the courage to take new steps, and to turn on the light and face my fears. Maybe the fears will turn out to be just barking at a stump.