My name is Ruby, and I’m a seven-year-old golden retriever. I live in the countryside with two and a half humans, a poodle and a cat. I’m an agility dog by trade, and my hobbies are eating, swimming, chasing squirrels, swimming, digging holes, swimming and baiting the neighbour’s dogs. However, I’ve also been observing human behaviour for several years and consider myself to be something of an expert. In my blog, I’ll be exploring a few of the more bizarre problems dogs are likely to encounter with their humans, and proposing some solutions. Please feel free to contact me if you need advice.

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Reactive Hypochondria

March 11, 2014  •  1 Comment

There has been an outbreak of human hypochondria syndrome in our house. Normally it’s the male who gets it; he always needs copious amounts of Kleenex and red wine, and the main symptom seems to be a fear of dying. This time, however, it’s the female. There has been a lot of hopping around on one leg, bad language and strange exercises on the floor. No Kleenex, and unusually for her, no wine either. She must really be sick.

I, however, am on the alert, and am not letting her out of my sight, so I can monitor the situation. There’s a very good reason for this. I used to think hypochondria syndrome was confined to humans, but a couple of years ago we experienced a strange manifestation of it, when the humans projected the symptoms onto the household poodle. It hasn’t happened since, but I’m worried in case they do it again one day, with me as their victim.

It all began when the male human suddenly started treating the household poodle with exaggerated care for no apparent reason. “Poor Ziggy, what a terrible thing,” he would say. “I’m really sorry, mate, I wish I could do something.” All accompanied by extra cookies and special treats at mealtimes. We dogs couldn’t figure it out. The poodle seemed fine. He wasn’t sick, or limping, or infested with fleas. He hadn’t managed to get to the chocolate stash, which we know from bitter experience will send humans over the edge. But now, every time the male human looked at the poodle, it was with a wince and a shake of the head. One time, I’d swear there were tears in his eyes.

And then there were the strange dinner table conversations.

"Do we really have to do this?” the male would say, looking at the poodle. The female would get that stubborn look on her face and start banging crockery around in the kitchen.

“You know we do. We don’t have a choice.”

“But it’s so unnecessary! Poor little dog.”

“Look, just stop it, will you? It’s hard enough as it is. It has to be done. It’s one of those things.”

We dogs were worried. They were clearly planning some kind of attack, but we didn’t have enough information to prepare for it.

Then, one morning, the dreaded words: “Time to go. The vet’s waiting.”

The poodle panicked, ran off and hid in his crate, but the female human hauled him out and carried him to the car. The male stayed behind, staring at the door. “Bloody hell,” he muttered, “what a horrible thing to do to a dog”. And off he went to his den to sulk.

Sure enough, the female came back without the poodle. Nobody spoke for the rest of the day. I wondered if I’d get extra treats, being the only remaining dog, but none of my usual cues worked on either human. They were nervous and bad-tempered. I thought it was probably a manifestation of human grief, so I decided to leave them alone for the rest of the afternoon and reinforce their training the following day.

But then, the strangest thing happened. The poodle came back. They’d installed a very inconvenient white plastic cone on his neck, but otherwise he seemed exactly as he was before. And he still felt fine. We racked our brains to figure out what they’d done and why, but we couldn’t. It was a complete mystery.

The new cone was a nuisance, one of those weird human things that have no rational basis for existence, like soap and hair ribbons. And like those things, its only purpose was apparently to make life more difficult for the dog. We were easily able to dispose of it, of course, but the first time we did so, it triggered a bout of human rage. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, it’s for your own good, don’t you dare take it off again” and the like. Human rage can be dangerous to dogs, so we decided to leave the cone in place for a while, so as not to risk an escalation. The poodle was annoyed, but resigned. He actually found the cone helpful when manipulating the humans – they seemed to feel sorry for him, even though they’d installed it – so he was willing to put up with it.

The humans continued to behave strangely for over a week, yelling at us if we tried to play with one another, and carrying the poodle up and down the stairs. He wasn’t allowed to jump onto the furniture – he had to be lifted. And he could only go outside on a leash. Neither of us could figure out what had happened. This was such a peculiar manifestation of human hypochondria. We just hoped it wouldn’t last.

And in the end, it didn’t. One day, they picked up the poodle, poked around his penis for a while, and then took off the plastic cone. We were allowed to play again, and the special treats stopped. The male human seemed relieved. “It hasn’t changed him at all,” he kept saying. “He’s still the same as he always was.”

That’s what’s so odd about it. A perfectly healthy poodle went off to the vet, came back with a plastic cone attached to his neck, was subjected to reactive human hypochondria for over a week, and then was suddenly allowed to become a normal dog again – well, as normal as a dog can be in this household.

Sometimes it’s not worth trying to understand what goes on in the human mind. This, we think, was probably one of those occasions. We’re just keeping our paws crossed that it doesn’t happen again.

However, incidents like that are unsettling. I don’t think I’ll be able to relax until our female is back on both feet again.


Delightful entertaining reading.
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