My dog is a weirdo. There, I’ve said it. My home is his third, and in fact, I have no idea what his circumstances were before landing here besides the hearsay from his former family (his second home). What I do know is that he has an accumulation of neuroses that have come from…somewhere. Case in point. I just watched an hysterical stand off between Griffen and the hardwood floor.
One day a few weeks ago, Griffen suddenly became petrified of the floor. This isn’t that odd for dogs, apparently. It’s unpleasant to discover that the ground underneath your feet is somewhat less than stable. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. But for Griffen to discover this after almost three months of walking on it with no trauma is the part that’s odd. I came home from a trip and was told by our trusty pet sitter that, “Griffen hasn’t gotten off the couch in two days.” Oy.
Sure enough, there he was, very happy to see me but obviously marooned on the couch like he was floating on an island in a sea infested with sharks. What to do? I put his collar and leash on him and led him around the livingroom, reintroducing him to the very scary floor, and after a few minutes, he was walking as confidently as before. But every few days since, he wakes up terrified of another stretch of hardwood. The other day it was my bedroom. Coming out of the shower, I found him up on my bed where he normally isn’t allowed. Same routine. And today was a piece of the dining room floor.
I’m not sure that Griffen ever played with a ball before he got here. Despite being half Lab, he seemed mystified – and still is – by the concept of fetch. If I throw him the ball, he does retrieve it, but there’s a 50/50 chance he won’t give it back to me, and tug o’war ensues. Sometimes he’ll abandon that particular ball and bring me back something else; I think he gets offended that I’ve thrown away his present so he tries something else I might like better. Today, I threw him the ball and it landed squarely in shark territory, also known as No Dog’s Land. Griffen went trotting after it, only to sit a few yards away and whine at the offending ball that simply wouldn’t move towards more auspicious ground. He’d back up and try the approach from a different direction, but that didn’t work either. No matter where he started out, he was still required to cross that terrible spot to get the ball. This went on for close to twenty minutes. And all the while, I sat here at the computer, calmly playing Candy Crush and attempting not to help.
Now, for those of you of the human parent variety, I know you’ve experienced the helpless feeling of watching your child fail at something. Do you rush over and coddle? Let them get up, dust themselves off and try again? Obviously situation-dependent. The former is tempting. We never want our kids to get hurt, or hurt by the world, but they don’t learn much if they always depend on us to come running to fix it. And so, this time, I decided that I would try a different tack with my furry child. I let Griffen work it out for himself.
Blocking out the whimpering (which is not easy to do – that distress call works wonders!), I steadily offered encouragement: “Good boy!” “Go get it!” He’d try over and over, and every third or fourth time, he’d get a little closer. Finally, finally, he got within striking distance. He got his mouth on it but still wasn’t close enough to grab it. And then the proverbial light came on. Hey, this part of the floor is no scarier than any other part of the floor! Mom tried hard not to laugh her coffee through her nose at what she was watching. But all of a sudden, he leapt and got it, then brought it back to me as if there had been no issue in the first place. Oy again.
While I have little area rugs dotted around the house expressly for the dog’s comfort, there isn’t going to be any carpeting here. So I suspect that this same little routine will play out several more times before Griffen gets the hang of the floor, the same floor he was perfectly able to negotiate a month ago. I wish I knew where he initially came from, where he was named, of all things, Potluck, and lived for three years unneutered, and obviously unsocialized. I wish I could ask him why he has all these fears. Instead, we’re learning together how best to keep him safe and happy in his new world. My dog is a weirdo. There, I’ve said it.