Wanted: Ideas to help manage a neurotic, barking dog

Have you seen the bumper sticker, "I was rescued by my rescued dog?" Neither have I, but I'm keeping my eye out.

I have from reliable source that it's out there. It seems to me the Humane Society should use that phrase in a fundraiser. Maybe they already do. I'd be willing to lend them a photo of our pooch who, as my husband put it at the time, "won the lottery" when he left that Human Society sick bay and came to live with us.

You may remember Toby. I've written about this dog before — cute, but in a bad-hair-day way. I've used the word "neurotic" to describe him, but that may be under-reporting.

Here's the relevant moment in this particular Toby story. My husband and I are taking a lovely afternoon walk with "our" dog when a complete stranger comes up to us and asks, "Is that the dog that refuses to walk on wooden floors?"

I tell the observant woman, "Well, Toby will occasionally walk across a wooden surface on his tippy-toes." My hubby groans.

Toby is in the proverbial dog house with "our" husband right now, so I thought I would write a column about Toby's most endearing attributes and try to get things back on track. For example, a dog on tippy-toes; now that's pretty darn cute.

Repositioning Toby more positively is difficult. His out-of-the-ordinary behaviors are intensifying. For instance, he would not eat at all for a very long time, and when he started again, he'd eat only eggs (well-scrambled and cooled; no salt). We went through a lot of eggs. But he tired of eggs and now eats only if his glass plate (my mother's china) contains Newman's Own organic turkey and brown rice blend, cut into very small chunks and laid around the plate in a circular fashion with at least one inch separating each piece. And lately he'll eat only if the plate is held up close to his face at a 45-degree angle so he can lick uphill. He has a very small mouth, you see.

But out of that small mouth come the sharpest, most irritating barks. Lately, the slightest outside noise, or a sense that a visitor is within 20 feet of the house, makes him go into near-convulsive barking. Now you see why my husband is upset.

If you're a hearing-aid wearer, you know that high-pitched sounds (or crinkling paper) are almost painful. I know that because I wear my hearing aids. My husband does not wear his hearing aids very often — well, to be truthful, my husband does not wear them at all. And when he sees me cringe at Toby's barking, he probably never will. Not good.

When I've written about Toby before, I've received ideas about managing specific behaviors. I welcome more.

Yes, we have a citronella bark collar. We've explored "dog shrinks." Yes, I've used massage (on both my spouse and the dog). We're consistent, for the most part, in how we relate to this dog. OK, my husband is. I'm fairly random.

Just let your creative juices flow on this problem if you have the time — any ideas? Think of it as a holiday gift to the woman who writes columns about her dog all the time. Think of it as marital counseling.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus.

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