Sunday, May 2nd, 2004

Not sick, just bad.

Filed under: dogs,illness,psychology — alison @ 20:19

Poupoune is my favourite dog. She is alert, attentive, attached and one of the most fully alive of earth’s creatures I have ever known. She is also irritable, ill-tempered and quarrelsome.

This winter she’s been grumpier than usual. Cranky. Snappish even. Things she’s never enjoyed — like having her paws caught during wrestling matches — get snarls and air-bites now. She’s become totally fed up with Pepe, not tolerating his presence anywhere near her. And she’s bitten us three times, drawing blood once. The first two times we could kind of understand what provoked her. But when she and Mark were napping together as usual this week and she bit his leg when he shifted in bed was just too much. I immediately made an appointment with the vet.

As I explained to the vet yesterday, my hypothesis was that she’s in pain and snapping at whoever happens to be nearby. The vet put forth another hypothesis, that she’s becoming blind and panics when approached by someone or something she can’t see.

Well, both hypotheses were eliminated. Her vision is excellent (no cataracts, pupils respond well to light, and she blinks when you tap your hand towards her eye), her joints are smooth, flexible and non-tender, her innards sound and feel perfectly normal, and when she runs excitedly around the room sniffing and leaping she doesn’t hesitate or favour any side or leg. For good measure, her temperature and bloodwork were also checked and show absolutely no abnormalities.

This is when hypothesis 3 was brought out: not sick, just bad. (Or in vet-speak, “exhibiting inappropriate dominant behaviour.”) The first question the vet asked me when exploring this hypothesis was “Does she exhibit this behaviour in one particular place or situation?” The answer being “Yes, in the bed,” the take-home advice was “Don’t let her in the bed any more.” (Recalls the old joke: “Doctor, my arm hurts when I go like this!” “Well, don’t go like that.”) We were also offered psychoactive medication (for her) to help in the behavioural-modification program.

We’re pretty much going ignore the advice. We certainly don’t need drugs to manage her. We were worried she was ill, and $212 later we know she isn’t. We have our answer. She’s 11 lbs / 5 kg (about the size of a cat but without the sharp claws) and bites us maybe once every one or two months. We don’t have kids. It isn’t a safety concern and we enjoy napping with her. We’ll just be a little stricter: she won’t be allowed in the bed without us. And more severe with consequences when she goes too far, because we won’t be worried about her.

[originally transmitted by e-mail May 2, 2004]

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