Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Living with a shy dog: the house full of spiders

I’m lying on my bed, cuddling with the person I love most in the world, periodically eating chocolates. And yet I’m shaking with fear. Just one flight of stairs away from me, the bottom floor of my house is teeming with spiders. Big ones, small ones, masses of them, crawling all over each other, completely covering the floor in a sheet of black. My loved one tells me not to worry. Why would the spiders come up here? I'm being silly. Yet I can’t relax. Who is to say what a spider might do?

No, that didn't actually happen. What did happen was this: I had my shy dog Jenny upstairs in bed with me and I fed her little smelly meaty dog treats while she shivered in terror. Outside, our tenant was moving out, and burly men were carrying boxes and pieces of furniture down the driveway. I knew none of these men were going to come inside, pin Jenny down, and extract her organs, but somehow she couldn’t believe that. Every time I found myself getting frustrated at her over the top reaction to these men from whom she was completely safe, I reminded myself about my vision of the room teeming with spiders. Who am I to say what will happen? Who am I to say what is terrifying?

Jenny, always alert!

Jenny barks in fear when my husband comes home. She loves him, and after her initial startle, she comes up to him to be petted. My husband sometimes gets (only so slightly) frustrated with her: she knows it’s him! She loves him! So why is she scared every time he comes through the door? I imagine what I'd feel if my loved one had a habit of coming home waving a large gun in my face. Even if I knew intellectually that he had no intention of firing it, I’d still feel deep apprehension. I think that the sound of the opening door is as scary to Jenny as the sight of a loaded gun would be to me. When I’m feeling unsympathetic to her fears, it helps me to translate them into images that are as viscerally compelling to me as her fears clearly are to her.

We continue to give her treats and reassurance when something scary happens, to teach her how to relax in the face of her fears, and to provide her with both daily and as-needed medications to aid her brain in processing her fears. Over the years, she is gradually becoming an entirely different dog. But it’s an ongoing process.

Jenny, learning to relax with a loved one.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dogs and brains link fest

Here's what I've been reading and tweeting about this week (in between scrambling to get an NSF grant proposal submitted):