I Love My Dog but She’s a Psycho

(In advance, I would like to extend my apologies for the incoherency of this post. I have been sick, I am undoubtedly high on Lysol fumes, I am on my second bottle of Gatorade – which I never drink – and I have been watching instructional videos conducted by a British girl for the last 2 hours.)

It is just after 10:00 PM on Friday night and my mother is walking down the hallway with her shirt over her nose and her finger pressed to a can of disinfectant spray. Judging by the noises of protest from my sisters, she just bombed their room.

That stuff tastes worse than hairspray if inhaled through an open mouth.

The stomach bug is currently making its rounds through my family.

Practically half of the church congregation has had it over the last couple of weeks, as well as most of Mom’s coworkers. Jo picked it up when the little boy she nannies (“is a nanny to”? “watches”?) got sick and graciously brought it home to dump on Gram earlier this week (without getting sick herself, I might add). I tended to Gram and drank the tea/ACV/ginger concoction prescribed by my mother and prayed I didn’t get it.

Well, I did. Between exposure to Mom, who undoubtedly was carrying it even if she was boosting her own immune system with vinegar and oolong tea, and to Jo, I didn’t stand a chance. (I have seriously neglected my personal health this winter.) Thankfully, I can typically get everything out of my system in one tearful go and spend the rest of the time sleeping.

But I digress. Because this post is not actually about a stomach bug! I just think it’s fun to dress up the totally normal and mundane happenings of our lives. You know, because I love my family.

(BTW, my mother’s love language is not physical touch. When I announced I was sick, it was, “Stay in your room, lock your doors, wash everything down, soak it in Lysol, and drink ACV. Stay away from me.”)

When I am on quarantine, it means my dog spends most of her day on my bed. Of course she can roam the house by herself as she is not one to chew things or generally cause trouble, but she tends to be clingy and will always come find me. Also, Gram and the cats are roaming the house as well and that can lead to conflict.

So I was sick yesterday, and the dog was with me. I was recovering today while my siblings took turns falling ill, and my dog was with me again and getting rather stir-crazy. Having sickies in the house is the one time I wish I didn’t sleep with my head up against the bathroom wall. To my dog, dry heaves sound uncannily like barking, so she was on edge from 3:00 AM onward. She barked a lot today. (She’s usually mouthy, but more so when she’s bored.)

To make matters worse, the neighbors were taking advantage of the snow and the approaching weekend (though I don’t know that the men ever work) and were playing with their snow mobiles. And their dogs were chasing them and barking happily and obviously having way more fun than us, so that set my dog off.

I am a self-trained dog owner. My dog has been my experiment in this process, so she cannot fully be blamed for her faults (and I like to cast much of the blame on a particular toddler present and evil during her formative months). I will admit I used to yell at her quite a lot when I was frustrated. It was thanks to her, however, that I addressed my own problem with raising my voice, and I have been able to use my dog to monitor this habit. As of late, I have kept my tone even and firm when correcting her. Who would have thought that would work better?

My dog (man, I need to get her an alias) is also very food-motivated. Like, nothing will hold her attention more than food. Not even strangers. She shamelessly begs. She’s also very intelligent (I say with some chagrin). I read in multiple training manuals that when a dog starts to act nervous around unfamiliar creatures (people or otherwise) one should offer them a steady supply of treats so they associate those creatures with pleasant thoughts. My dog will bark while simultaneously swallowing treats.

I have tried to teach her how to be quiet on command with limited success. Usually she has to be ignored for a moment until she realizes that nothing is wrong. Of late, I can attempt to calm her with a soothing tone and she will reduce the volume to squeaks, which are actually adorable. So I tried that today every time she tried to burst my eardrums.

When she was quiet for several seconds, I would praise her and occasionally toss her a cracker and everything would be good for a half-hour. Eventually she pieced together the fact that I had a substantial supply of these crackers and was feeling sympathetic because we had both been locked up for so long. With a quick look at me, she darted to the window and let out a sharp bark without any preliminaries (usually she raises her hackles and growls first). She waited a moment, turned from the window so she could look me full in the face, and then came to sit for her reward for silence.

My dog had decided that I am not in fact looking for her to be quiet in general but that I am looking for her to keep her protests short and then subside.

I really don’t know where I went wrong.

A couple of weeks ago Mom scheduled a trip to the vet. This is a new vet, though they are located about a mile from our house. My dog is due for vaccinations this year and she is also in need of being spayed, and Mom wanted to get on top of it. She called up the vet beforehand and advised them that my dog is super sensitive to new people and places and can get aggressive. Unfazed, the vet recommended some drop-in visits to get her used to things and to learn that the vet’s office is not a bad place, so we did just that.

What this meant was that we sat in a small square room for an hour while doors banged and chihuahuas yipped and nice 20-something girls with straight teeth and fishtail braids stuck their heads in to chirp, “Hello!”.

Then one of the vets came in to assess my agro Aussiedor. I liked her immediately. She was confident, collected, and unaffected by everything my dog did. We chatted about my pup’s history, our concerns, and possible options. Then she opened the treat jar.

My dog had barked at first to establish her position and then settled into a very tense stance while we had talked. The moment she heard “Treat” she was on alert. She snatched every scrap out of the air like a pro and even allowed the lady to feed her by hand. The moment the treats were gone, however, she was back to hating the woman’s guts.

Then the prognosis was announced. “She has anxiety.”

Thank you for establishing that.

Instead of labeling my dog “bad”, which is what most people do when they see her, this woman said she was just a little wonky (my words, not hers) and we all needed some life adjustments. And that gave me hope. Because I love my dog, but I am not blind to the fact that she is troublesome. I have to be constantly vigilant with her. I can’t trust her like a dog should be trusted by the people she adores. (It doesn’t help that she’s so bright and can find ways around anything she deems a problem.)

We were given the name of a local behaviorist and promised that if things were not sorted before it came time to get my dog’s shots, we could get a vet’s note excusing her. When my tax returns came, I set aside a chunk to help my poor monster deal with her problems.

Word of advice: unless you’re getting a Golden Retriever, take your dog to some classes or be really diligent in training them yourselves (like daily, and not just for a few minutes). I used to sneer at classes, but not now. And for the love of all the children who only see a fluffy dog and want to pet it and haven’t yet learned that some dogs are touchy, please socialize your puppies and don’t rely on a few evil neighbor kids to set the standard for what they should expect out of strangers.

There. I’ve got that off my chest: I made some major errors out of ignorance, my dog is borderline-aggressive and clearly needs help as a result, I took her to the vet and we all survived, there is hope for everyone, and it’s a good thing I got a dog before I had children because dog classes are cheaper than therapy. I hope.

I really don’t blame you if you got this far and felt cheated out of the last 10 minutes. I never promised everything I wrote would make sense. (I am honestly just trying to provide a little insight into my life in several large strokes so the bulk of what I write doesn’t require info-dumps.)

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