Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Typical conversation this week:

"So, my dog has a broken rib."

"What?? Which one?"

"Which one do you think?"

"Oh. Right. Of course."

Seriously, if something is going to happen to one of my dogs, it WOULD be Maisy. We don't really know how this happen; best guess is she got in a fight at the dog park. She stole a lab's tennis ball, lifted a lip at a lab, and the lab nailed her. The puncture wound healed quickly, but she became reluctant to jump on the bed, and was more sore in the back than usual.

Long story short, we did x-rays, a diagnostic ultrasound, and now we get to wear this very fancy swat-team-esque back brace for a month and hope the bone chip that's floating around heals up.

Sigh. This dog.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Study Break!

I take my dogs to the dog park, and I ain't even gonna apologize for it.
I mean, look at this happy face!
This dog is so damn photogenic.
Even The Crazy One had a good time!
Lola takes having fun very seriously.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Coddling is not comfort

A friend posted a comment over on the RC FB page in response to yesterday's post about comforting fearful dogs. Basically, she said that comforting one of her fearful dogs in pretty much the exact same way as she did with her other dog actually makes her dog worse. My initial response was, "Nope, wrong, comfort is awesome," but I've internet-known this person for years and years, and I know she's sincere.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that comfort is a lot like that saying, "One man's treasure is another man's trash." In other words, it's subjective. We all find different things comforting, so yeah, actually, comforting one dog the same way as you might another is not always going to be successful.

Here's a personal example:

I have PTSD, a mental illness that sometimes causes me to have panic attacks and depressive thoughts. I'm a lot like our dogs, actually. If someone were to sit down with me when I was in the midst of one of these episodes, touching and hugging me, feeding me chips and jelly beans, I would enjoy it. I would appreciate their efforts to comfort me, and I would LOVE all the attention (and food). But I don't think it would make me feel better. I tend to be easily sucked into self-pity, which usually leads to a downward spiral for me.

What does make me feel better is spending time with my friend Laura. Laura is incredibly practical and no-nonsense. I cannot even TELL you how many times she has literally drug me out into the woods to go hiking when all I wanted to do was lie in bed. She's not a touchy-feely person, and I can count on one hand the number of times she's hugged me. She doesn't spend a ton of time talking about my problems with me. She does not "comfort" me in the traditional sense. In fact, she might even appear cold, distant, or callous.

She's anything but. My friend Laura has consistently given me an amazing gift: the gift of her presence and her time. She has made a lot of sacrifices in our friendship, and she knows that "comfort" is not coddling. It's not catering to my every emotional whim. It's not treating me with kid-gloves or being excessively careful.

Instead, she knows that comforting someone is not about what you do, but instead about the end result. Comfort should soothe someone's soul and reassure them that they are loved. Above all, comfort should express a sense that we are in this together. Yes, life is hard sometimes, but no, we do not have to face it alone. And that's what my friend Laura does for me. It makes me feel better every time.

So... don't get caught up in what you're doing with your dog when he's scared. My dog is not your dog; what each one needs when they're upset is going to be different. Don't think about comforting them in terms of any specific action. Instead, offer your dog your love and presence in whatever way helps him most. You know, like Laura does.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Does comforting a scared dog actually reinforce their fear? (Answer: who cares?)

There was a thunderstorm here last night, an event that doesn't really merit comment here in the Midwest, especially since it was a pretty mild storm. Not windy, no loud thunder booms, just your run-of-the-mill storm. But of course, when you have a thunder-phobic dog, there is no such thing as a small, run-of-the-mill storm.

When Maisy first developed her thunder phobia three or four years ago, I put a lot of time and missed sleep into the problem. I spent many nights awake and feeding her everything from deli meat to potato chips in an effort to counter-condition thunder. I also used situational anxiety meds to reduce the amount of panic she felt so the training could work better.

Overall, it was worth it, because Maisy rarely has the full blown panic attacks that she used to have when a storm would roll in. Most times she's mildly uncomfortable, choosing to stick closely to me or my husband for comfort, and we ride it out with meds, food, or missed sleep.

Last night's storm started about an hour before bedtime. Although Maisy was not panicking, she was a bit restless. She kept walking back and forth between the bedroom and the living room, where my husband was watching TV and I was reading the DSM5 as a bit of light reading homework. We invited her to sit with us several times, but it was clear that she did not want to be near the big picture window with its view of all the lightning.

I finally gave in and went to bed early. Maisy followed me into the bedroom, hopped up on the bed, pressed herself as close as she could to my side, and... fell asleep. No panting, no pacing, no panic, just sleep. All she needed to get through a scary situation was a bit of comfort.

Think about that for a moment.

I know there is a lot of talk about how comforting a dog who is scared is "reinforcing fear" - as if that's a bad thing! I personally don't believe that you can reinforce an emotion, and even if you could, I cannot imagine a living being that would volunteer to be truly scared in order to get a cookie or a hug. Of course, there are those too-smart-for-their-own-good dogs who figure out that if the act scared, they get good things. It may appear that fear (or more accurately, fearful-looking behavior) is being rewarded in those cases, and honestly, so what?

Now, I believe that Maisy was actually scared last night, and I do not think that going to bed a bit early to provide her some comfort was that big of a sacrifice on my part. But let's pretend for a moment that her behavior was a calculated attempt to get my attention. WHY IS THAT A BAD THING? Seriously, all my dog wanted was some affection! She wanted me to show her a bit of love! She wanted to be comforted! Isn't that actually a GOOD thing? Don't we humans get dogs because of the unconditional love they show us? Don't we enjoy being able to lavish all kinds of love on them in return? When it comes down to us, don't most of us say that we love our dogs more than we love most people?

How about, instead of getting all wrapped up in questions about whether or not our dogs are manipulating us, we look at their behavior as communication instead - and respond to that in a loving, caring, affectionate manner.