What he doesn’t have is us and so, like a tragic figure in a Greek myth, he preys on cruel and indifferent gods. Aaaaand now he barks.
I resist the urge to comfort Archie. I resist the urge to yell at him. I try to acclimate him to a sobering reality: sometimes he will be alone and he has to be okay with that.
Archie is a rescue. To be honest, I used to think “rescue” meant “free dog”. Now I realize another definition is “mentally unbalanced dog”. He is almost 9 years old. In September, we will have it for two years. He is no longer a skeletal, heartworm-carrying refugee from North Carolina. But he still carries some sort of psychological trauma.
It’s not the kind of trauma that makes him evil. It doesn’t chew on table legs. He knows not to go to the bathroom in the house. But leave Archie alone and he’s private. He pants. He yells. He barks.
The neighbors swear they can’t hear him bark, but we don’t like knowing Archie is upset. So most of the time we got it, we didn’t go anywhere. When we did, we hired a dog sitter to stay with him, 24 hours a day. He makes any impulsive decision – Hey, let’s go see a movie! — nearly impossible.
Not so long ago, we finally contacted a trainer.
“You’ve had it for almost two years and you’re only calling me now?” she says.
Well yes. At first, we thought Archie would acclimate to his new living situation. He would realize all he had and settle down.
When it became clear that Archie’s idea of settling down was different from ours, we reached out to trainers. It turned out that everyone was doing the same thing. All of these pandemic puppies had started going psychopathic at the same time and all the trainers were busy.
This trainer told us some interesting things. She doesn’t think Archie has separation anxiety. Sometimes, when he is alone, he knocks over the kitchen trash can and eats its contents. With true separation anxiety, a dog is so upset that he can’t even eat.
And Archie is fine when we’re gone, as long as there’s a human with him. Archie gets bored and angry when he’s alone. He does not have a rich inner life. He doesn’t want to spend his retirement doing what I plan to do: take a nap.
The fact is, my wife, Ruthand I are his entertainment and as the coach told us, “You gotta stop being the party.”
First step: change the way you eat. Put Archie’s food in a bowl and he crushes it in about 30 seconds, then sticks to us. Now we have something that looks like a large plastic Fabergé egg. There is a hole at each end and small rubber baffles. Unscrew it, put a cup of kibble in it, put it on the ground, walk away and the dog will push the egg with its nose and paws to make the food flow.
Sure, it looks like someone is rolling a sandstone boulder across the floor, and sure enough, despite the lack of opposable thumbs, Archie has found a way to open that magical ovoid, but it distracts him for a while. It’s a beginning.
The coach also told us that we couldn’t give Archie all the hugs, caresses and pressures we were used to. We can’t pet him unless he’s successfully completed a task, lest he think we’re the party. And we have to leave him alone for a while, behind the baby gate in the kitchen.
It’s hard for us too. There’s something beautiful about a dog at your feet while you work. But not if this dog has be at your feet, and will panic if he is not.
We hope the panics will lessen, but the truth is that they probably won’t. And so, when we know we’re going out, we calm Archie down with vet-prescribed tranquilizers.
The coach tells us Archie is unlikely to be a ‘normal’ day. He will never be like our previous rescue, the holy Charly, who was content to be alone for hours. Everything Archie went through in the first half of his life inexorably affected the second half.
We all do our best, which I guess is all anyone can do these days.