Strange Men Make Me Nervous

January 2014

Doodle is sensitive. New people scare him; men, in particular, stress him out. He’s come a long way since he came home, but it doesn’t take much to trigger a tail-tuck, ears flattened, coat blowing, eyes-wide panic pupttak.

Yesterday, I took Zo to the vet. Right after Thanksgiving, he had a small cut on top of his paw that he licked so much that he removed all of the hair around it in a perfect circle. We cleaned and treated the wound, and kept it covered so he wouldn’t agitate it further. It healed. Hooray. Then after New Year’s, he started compulsively licking at the same spot. There was an abrasion, and the hair pattern was taking on crop circle patterns. Time to call the professionals.

After work, Zo and I hopped in the car, seat warmers a-toasting, and made our way over to the vet. Parking was a nightmare, since it’s freezing and everyone was fighting for spaces that required as little outdoor exposure as possible. Oh, and the vet’s office is in the same complex as a Gold’s Gym, and the Resolutioners were resolving… Noise, traffic, people, strange smells. Eyes, ears, tail. Poor guy.

Once inside the vet’s office, he settled as best as he could by fortressing up under my chair.

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The vet saw us quickly: a new-to-us male doctor. Treats were issued to bribe friendship. Zo has always been food-focused, and it calmed him down enough for his check-over. His foot spot? Scabbed and healing. It looks good and clean. But there’s some discoloration from the attention Zo has been paying to the spot.  He can take some medicine to help it heal.

A dramatic retelling (paraphrased):

Dr. R.: We see this sometimes with nervous dogs. They fixate on a behavior until it becomes habit.

Me: So, he’s licking his paw because it’s a neurosis?

Dr. R. (Oh, he’s a Brit): Yes. The steroids will take down the inflammation, and he’ll stop agitating his paw.

Me: OK.

Dr. R.: Right now, his nervousness is manageable. It could be this is a unique episode…

Me: He’s come a long way since we brought him home so many years ago. This is the first time he’s ever done something like this to himself!

Dr. R.: It could be this is the only time this will happen. It could be that the nervousness escalates. If it ever gets to the point when it’s too much, we can put him on medication to help with the symptoms. Prozac or Xanax.

And there it is. The words that I knew in my bones would come up at some point in relation to Doodle, but that we never hoped to hear. When he’s calm and comfortable, or when we can get in front of his discomfort, he’s mellow and a dream.

many treats later...

many treats later…

Part of me thinks this is actually something in our future: a dog who we just can’t get through to anymore, no matter what jobs we give him to do, emotional padding we envelop him in, and positive reinforcement and praise we give. And we’ll wait as long as we can to make a decision like this, so long as Zo isn’t completely miserable or licking his own legs bald.

Anyone out there have a nervous dog that needs a little pharmacological assistance? What have your experiences been with meds? Anyone try anything more natural as a calming agent?

Overreacting? Probably. Overthinking? Definitely. But I’m a worrier.