For the three of you who regularly follow my blog, I want to let you know that I am Anxious (Please note the uppercase “A”. It was not a typo.)
You probably think it was pandemic anxiety. No. I have shoved aside the prospect of the pandemic. I’ve buried myself in work. In useless tasks. I don’t listen to the news. At best, I do a cursory review of the print edition of the local paper. Why? Because I cannot change the course of history. Best to bury my head in the sand, do what I can in my tiny ambit and hope for better days ahead. Oh, yes, I wake in the middle of the night, terrified about the health of those I know in the “high-risk group,” wonder if despite my spectacular triathlon performance last summer, I am in such group, worry about retirement funds, furloughed employees, mental health, and despair. But, at some point, I realize these are all out of my control. We are what we are. Buckle up.
So, why the anxiety? Otis. You remember him? The adorable cuddly, ball of fur that we brought home in November? Well, he is no more. He has morphed into Cujo.(Aside, I have an inability to remember what I deem trivial knowledge, so several years ago, in the days of movie “rentals” (how quaint), I counseled my spouse to rent the movie Cujo, telling him it was rumored to have beautiful photos of nature. Alas, I was thinking of White Fang.
I present the photos of Cujo and Whilte Fang:
Guess who is who?
(And, a further aside: I also confused Silver Streak, a comedy featuring RIchard Pryor, with Midnight Express, a very violent movie about drug smuggling. I wish you could see the faces of my coworkers when I told them I found Midnight Express very, very funny… But I digress.)
Back to Otis a/k/a Cujo.
Otis was purchased to be Lassie. I have put my heart and soul and money and time into him to alleviate all my loneliness, to make me feel important and loved and useful. He was destined to curl up at my feet, to serve as a comfort dog as I carried out my noble charitable work, weaving in among the very sick and very old, Otis and I were going to bring joy to the world. And he was to be my companion, through thick and thin.
But then he turned on me. He has become an adolescent terror. Not satisfied with ripping apart the bushes and digging holes in the yard, he has turned to systematically ripping out the landscape edging and trotting around the yard with his prize. I stride outside and sternly instruct him to COME. He looks at me, clearly thinking, “You must be kidding.” I close in and he goes on the attack. Jumping at me, biting at my sleeves, baring his teeth, growling. One day this scenario transpired when I was still in my robe. My lovely robe was streaked with muddy paw prints. I retreated into the house, dragging him by the collar. To say he didn’t seem to give a shit is a gross understatement.
Then there are the “walks.” We start out nicely enough, then Otis decides things are dull, so he pulls and tugs at the leash. I remind him, patiently, to come along and he does his leaping and nipping routine.
By the time I am home, I am capable of strangling him. But, at least to date, I have not.
I have, however, contacted a few trainers. The first pronounced his behavior “unacceptable” and “alarming,” advising me to clamp down. Think those hot boxes in Bridge Over the River Kwai.
NO, NO, NO my other consultant counsels. Yes, he is acting in an “alarming” and “dangerous” manner, but he needs counseling. Think of Otis on a couch, pouring out his grievances.
I am anxious. All right, downright panicked. I wake up in the middle of the night and read about aggressive dogs and conclude Otis will ultimately eat me. Think Lord of the Flies. After I mourn my ugly and untimely death at the paws of Otis, I lament the money, time, and effort spent on a lost cause. I remember everyone’s shock that I would purchase a puppy at my advanced age. “Yes, yes,” I scold myself. “They were all right. You are a dope, a fool, and if not dead soon, you will be at least maimed beyond recognition within a few days.”
I turn to a third advisor — the one who, I was told, was the end-all-and-be-all of dog aggression expertise. This time, I send a video. “This,” I explain, “is my own-fault Cujo that everyone under the sun warned my not to get. Can this marriage be saved???”
She responds quickly. She has watched the videos and opines that Otis seems “very frustrated, which is common when dogs are distracted and not getting reinforced.” She then adds, ” I don’t think he’s being aggressive, he’s adrenalized and frustrated. He’s still a baby and will need a lot of guidance and reinforcement for the behaviors we want.”
My head is spinning. What am I not reinforcing? How can I de-adrenalize him? (Note to self: Remove speed from his kibble starting tomorrow.) Why is he frustrated? He isn’t trying to train himself.
But, despite my questions, I find her response reassuring. Perhaps he is rehab-able. Perhaos he will become Lassie. Perhaps everyone will say, “Gosh, we were wrong. Nancy is the perfect dog owner and Otis, the perfect dog.” I am hopeful. Tonight I plan to sleep the entire night without once googling. “Can a 6 1/2 month golden retriever kill me.”
Tomorrow is our virtual training/meeting/assessment. I will keep you posted. Or, I will be torn to pieces and eaten.