A Dog’s Life

Nick Is Afraid of Things

The world can be a scary place for a dog

After a day of aerobic anxiety, Nick needs his sleep. (photo by the author)

This is a repost of my inaugural story last December. If I understand the rules, it’s OK as long as I delete the original. It’s also not on the Partner Program, so no money will be changing hands in any event.

Update: the nerves in Nick’s back are degenerating and he’s slowly losing function in his hind legs. But when he’s lying on the sofa with Julie, he’s still the happiest creature on Earth.

He’s a big, strong boy, with a bark you can hear up and down the block. When he had a perforated colon the vet did everything but say outright we shouldn’t get the surgery, just let him go. They only gave him a 50/50 chance of ever leaving the hospital. That was the summer of 2019 and he seems basically none the worse for wear.

So why is Nick afraid of so many things? Actually, why is he afraid of almost all the things? What is the root cause of all that anxiety?

He hates being at the vet’s office, but not the way most dogs do. I’ve seen other patients frightened and shaking, but he doesn’t tremble, he vibrates. As in, if it were a science fiction film he’d either blow apart or phase into another dimension. Or like somebody stuck a Magic Fingers massage box on him and won’t stop putting quarters in.

He’s very weird about floors. Our house is all Pergo, which might be why when we stay in hotels he typically sets his feet on the carpet as few times as possible before bounding onto the bed, where he will remain unless ordered off. On the other hand, he was fine with the carpets in my mother’s apartment but hated the linoleum floor in her kitchen. At the pet store he’s fine with the tiles except for the ones in the aquarium area. So secure footing is clearly an important need in his hierarchy, but the pattern of what constitutes that is murky.

Paper is an ongoing issue. If a sheet is hanging off the edge of the coffee table he’ll give it an exploratory nose poke. If it moves too much he’ll take a second poke before moving on. If he’s chasing a toy that ends up next to a table with paper hanging over the side he’ll give the thing a wary glare, pick up the toy, then give it one last look over before returning. Maybe he thinks the paper will try to follow him and attack from the rear?

This might be related to his unwillingness to walk to the end of the hall — every foot you go in is a foot you’ll have to cover on the way out, every door a chance for some nasty to leap out. How many of you cast a nervous look over your shoulder when leaving a dark garage or basement? Is anybody keen on an attack from the rear? Never turn your back on the enemy if you want to live. And you’re human, you know there’s nothing there, right? Even though there is. Leave the light on until you’re as close to the door is possible, then scurry out. But coolly, because there’s nothing back there.

Except there totally is.

He absolutely hates the trash trucks, but I have some personal experience that sheds a light the way he sheds hair: we lived in Simi Valley, CA when the Northridge Quake struck. The force of it came very near to throwing us out of bed, which if anybody asks is a terrible way to be awakened in the middle of the night. Then came day after day of aftershocks that scared the bejeezus out of me. For several years after that my heart practically jumped out of my chest every time a passing truck shook the house.

Along this same vein, fear of thunder and fireworks make sense, lots of dogs are afraid of those. I also have some sympathy in this as well, as a kid I went through a thunder hating period: after a fried chicken dinner I came down with a food poisoning/stomach bug during an intense thunderstorm. And not Seattle-style, a real one, where the lightning bolts are so close together you can practically read. It was a while before thunder or fried chicken was on my nice list.

So those all make some sort of sense together: he doesn’t like things that shake the ground. Is he dealing with doggy PTSD for some reason? But what was the precipitating event?

Or was there one? Should there have to be?

I could make an argument that he’s the smart one: “Dude, the ground is ****ing moving! DUDE! Why isn’t everybody trying to crawl into Julie’s lap? How come everybody else is so calm when THE ****ING WORLD IS ENDING!”

So one thing is clear: I’m a freaking anti-dog sociopath. Here I was setting out to write an article accusing my dog of being a coward and it turns out I hadn’t walked a mile in his shoes. That’s not really fair, though, walking on all fours is super awkward and going a mile that way is asking a lot. But that’s just making excuses.

Oh, and no shoes. If we’re listing excuses I gotta get that in.

So Nicky, my man, the world is scary. Should I try to figure out why you’re so worried, or should we both just crawl into Julie’s lap every time something gnarly happens? Can’t begrudge you that, I like it there too. It’s where I want to go whenever the shit hits the fan.

So am I less afraid of the world than you are, or just using my supposedly superior intelligence to lie to myself that everything is fine? Because nothing is ever totally fine. The night really is dark and full of terrors, maybe you just can’t or won’t ignore it…in which case I guess you’re the brave one.

But one thing is true: through the barking, shedding, questionable odors, and drool, we love you. Hang in there, Hairy Man. We’ll get through this. One day at a time.

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