Our Dog T-Bone

A Heartwarming Story of Life with One Really Nervous Dog

"Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should rise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear." -- Dave Barry

T-Bone and I were going for a ride in my old Nissan truck.  I looked over at him at he was leaning back on the seat, looking so contented with his tongue just barely hanging out.  I’m almost positive I heard him ask, “Is this heaven?”  “No,” I said, “This is my truck.”  He looked out the windshield and replied, “Oh, I could’ve sworn this was heaven.”


I’M GONNA SEE A SHRINK!...Again, after some time he seemed to settle down and for a lengthy period of time we would come home and find that his blankets had hardly been moved.  (The question my wife and I would always ask of the one who got home from work first was, “How was his room?”)  But as always, something would “trigger” inside of his dog mind and he would again go through a season of panic and anxiety attacks.  Once we came home and he had somehow gotten through the end of the shelving unit in the laundry room (where we never even imagined he could get into) and had chomped through a couple of plastic and steel paint cans.  Fortunately when he was all done destroying the paint cans they landed with the puncture wounds “up” so that all of the paint didn’t run out.  Good thing he didn't have latex allergies.


We would put him in his room but he still wasn’t happy -- something else had to be done with him.  I made an appointment with the local vet and brought some pictures to show him.   He was a “veteran” veterinarian and had been around a long time and seen a lot of dog “stuff.”  But you could tell he was surprised by what T-Bone was going through.  I asked him for his advice.  Two things still stand out clearly from that conversation.  He told me the story of a guy who also struggled with a dog suffering from separation anxiety.  His solution?  He took a mannequin and dressed the dummy in some of his clothes.  Over time he gradually kept removing a piece of the mannequin.  I can’t remember the total length of time it took but at one point he removed a leg, then an arm, then another leg, than another arm, then the head (not sure if that’s the correct magical sequence)….so eventually it was just the torso clothed with one of his t-shirts.  Finally, the torso was removed and just the t-shirt was left.  Apparently the dog bought it –eventually all he had to do was leave an unwashed t-shirt and the dog thought the master was still home.  I wonder if the dog ever thought while all of that was going on, “I wonder why my master is being so lazy today, doesn’t he have to go to work? And I swear he seems to be getting smaller.  But it sure smells like him so I guess he must be here.”


The other item that stood out from the conversation?  “Your dog may need to see a shrink!”  It wasn’t phrased exactly like that but that was the thrust of it.   Now I was the person who made fun of people who dressed their dogs in little coats and who took their dogs to doggie psychiatrists, but we were at the end of our rope. So we asked him to make an appointment with an “animal behavior specialist” at the University of Minnesota Vet Clinic. 


We drove the 150 miles to the clinic and were ushered into a little exam room.  I half-way expected to see a small leather couch for him to lie down on.  I imagined that maybe the exam would go like this….


Behavior Specialist (in her best Dr. Freud voice):  Zo, T-Bone, pleaze lie down on ze couch and tell me about yourselv and your problemz…


T-Bone (in his best doggie patient voice):  Well Doc, I just get so nervous and I don’t understand myself.  I don’t mean to chew up all that stuff (although my master said that when I chewed up all those Martha Stewart magazines that that was ok), and I feel so bad after I do it that I just hate myself.  I know my master loves me and I am soooooooooooooooooo glad that he and his wife are so patient with me.  I over-heard them talking about me one time (they didn’t know I was nearby) that they might have to put me to sleep.  Now Doc I don’t know what that means exactly, I just know they both sounded so very sad when they were talking about it so I knew it couldn’t be good.  If you could help just help me not to be so nervous and get so filled with anxiety…I’m just not happy unless I see my master’s face and when I don’t, I panic.  Please help me doc – I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this.  I will give you as many doggy biscuits as you want if you can help me.


With me in the room, the doctor and her assistant watched T-Bone for awhile.  She immediately recognized the “anxious smile” and witnessed first hand his panting and shaking and constant pacing.  Her diagnosis?  She gave him a prescription for a sort of “doggie Ritalin” and instructed us on how to try to reprogram/retrain him.  “Is there anything that triggers his anxiety and is there some common or consistent thing that you do that lets him know you are leaving for the day?”  Well, let’s see – what triggers his anxiety?  How about the microwave (honestly), the toaster oven, the regular oven, CNN, cooking, baking, people visiting, people not visiting, little kids, thunderstorms, clouds, leaves falling, in other words: EVERYTHING!  And is there something consistent we do that lets him know we are leaving for the day?  Well, we both take showers, get dressed and have breakfast.  We have to altar that routine?  Well I ain't giving up eating and I ain't going to work naked, so how about we skip the shower part?  “No idiot,” she snarled as she glared at me (not really – she was very, very nice and very, very compassionate).  No, she said, I mean it could be something as simple as the sound of picking up your car keys that triggers his anxiety.  Can you alter your routine?  Go out a different door, have your clothes packed and go out the door in your pajamas (honestly, she suggested this, I’m not making this up).   Somehow you have to alter your routine. 


Well we left.  I was now suffering from separation anxiety myself (my money had separated from my billfold).  We got him the prescription and kept him on it for awhile but took him off from it because he lost his playfulness and seemed to be in a stupor (plus, the behavioral specialist informed us that the medicine was only meant to assist in retraining him and wasn't meant to be a permanent solution).  And we did try to alter our routines – I ate my cornflakes in the truck as I was driving to work!  Seriously, we did do some things differently but it didn’t help.  I realize some people would perhaps say that we weren’t consistent or patient enough in trying to “reprogram” him, or that we should have used more of the “tough-love” approach and that any dog can be trained to handle his persistent anxiety.  Maybe so, but after having lived with “Bone” for so many years I doubt it.  


"Things that upset a terrier may pass virtually unnoticed by a Great Dane." 
-- Smiley Blanton