Doggie downers and puppy uppers

Dogs get depressed, too, and they’re a lot like we are when it happens.

Last night, Candy seemed kind of sad. Not quite herself. Mopey. I don’t think it’s because our parents left Sunday morning, because she had seemed fine all day Sunday and most of Monday. But when it was time to take her out for one last pee, give her a bedtime snack, and tuck her in, she seemed detached. Usually she’s cuddly, licks my face a lot (which seems to have cured my rosacea, by the way), and butts her forehead up against me just like cats do when they’re being cuddly. Last night she just sort of lay there and looked at me. I cuddled, scritched, and kissed, and she just waited for it to be over.

It was weird, and it got to me. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. I felt randomly guilty about something, but I didn’t know what. Victoria swore up and down that I hadn’t done anything to upset her or our impromptu dinner guests. The cats seemed normal. I felt like I’d accomplished a lot during my long workday, so it certainly wasn’t work guilt. I tossed and turned for a while, harrassed V and the cats for a while, turned the light back on and read for a while, tossed and turned some more, and finally got to sleep a while later when Candy came upstairs and flopped down on her bedroom pillow.

This morning she still seemed listless, so I took an extra morning break from work (I work from home most of the time) to play with her. Even though I was trying to engage her with her favorite toys, she stood with her tail between her legs and looked like she was afraid I was going to clean and medicate her ears again (a weekly ritual that we all hate, related to her grass allergies; even her weekly allergy shots are easier for her).

So my theories at this point are:

  • The Prednisone she’s been taking for a week to treat a swollen ear flap (probably due to allergies) is a doggie downer.
  • She’s missing Mom and Dad and her kid sister, Flicka.
  • She’s missing her work.

Although it sounds the weirdest, I decided the last one was most likely.

Victoria and I have both taken Prednisone at one time or another, and neither of us remembered getting bummed out by it. Our cat Gjetost has taken it for months at a stretch (to treat a weird seasonal lumpy tongue thing that we guess is being caused by allergies) and it hasn’t ever bummed her out; in fact, it makes her friskier and burlier. So we decided it probably wasn’t the drugs.

What about her family? Well, you’d think their departure might bother her a bit, but after a week of having a puppy romp all over her and steal her toys, I think she was ready for a break, and sure enough, she seemed better rested and happier on Sunday than she had for several days. She probably agrees with our Grampa Vang, who repeated the maxim, “Guests and fish start to smell after three days.”

So that left her work, and here’s my theory. She needed to stop taking her daily arthritis medication (Rimadyl) while she’s taking the Prednisone, so I haven’t been throwing her retrieving dummies for her, because I don’t want her to mess up her knee when she can’t take her usual pain pills (she has two ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments, which is quite similar to my own ruptured posterior cruciate ligament, only one of which has been repaired). (Are you getting the feeling yet that this dog runs up some expensive veterinary bills? She does. She’s like me that way. Unlike me, she’s worth every penny.) Also, during my folks visit, we kept getting busy during the daytime and taking her for her walks after dark, when we pretty much have to wear reflective clothing and keep her on a leash, which means she gets less exercise. (Also like me, Candy wears a lot of black, which we musicians sometimes call “our safety colors,” especially when we’re leaving concert halls late at night and have to dodge one patron’s car after another in a desperate attempt to get to our own cars before being run over by tired, elderly people with failing vision.)

Temple Grandin writes in her fascinating book Animals In Translation that dogs of working breeds have their jobs to do, and they want to do them. If they don’t get to do their normal jobs, they’ll either invent new jobs of their own (like when sheepdogs start herding their people and cars around) or they’ll get neurotic. Makes sense.

Candy’s job is to retrieve, and boy does she love that job. Labrador retrievers were bred to dive into the icy waters off Newfoundland after fish and to flush and retrieve game birds from fields, lakes, and so on. Candy spent her working years (before the knee injuries) hunting and fishing with Dad, and to hear him talk, nothing made her happier. I’ll take his word for it. Since retiring from hunting, she has kept up an active career retrieving training dummies, tennis balls, socks, sticks, pine cones, and anything else she can find and talk me into throwing. When we step out the front door for any reason, she stares excitedly up at the training dummy in the eaves, where we store her toys between play sessions. She jumps at them, barks at them and us, and generally does everything she can to persuade us to get down a toy and play with her. Then she scrambles down the stairs faster than any other time, and she literally can’t wait for me to throw the darned thing for her. Once I finally do, she tears after it faster than I can believe and catches it, often before it’s bounced a second time.

Sometimes she has braking problems or the dummy takes a funny bounce and she has to do a sudden swerve, and this is both amazing to watch and hazardous for her messed up knee. Hence my caution in not taking her retrieving since she’s started the Prednisone and in turn the Rimadyl-ban.

Today her depression had me so depressed that I finally decided we would both be better off with a little knee pain than staying depressed, so we went out, I took down a dummy, and she was instantly back to her old self. She jumped around with such great excitement that she was a foot off the ground. She bounced down the stairs so fast I thought she might ski part of the way. She retrieved like a champ, and although I tried to keep my throws mellow enough to reduce the odds of injury, she still did her astounding braking and swerving maneuvers, and tomorrow she’s probably going to be a bit sore. But she also perked right up, was back to herself all afternoon, and when we went out for our late afternoon walk, she once again would not hear of my going down those stairs without one of her toys in my hand.

She’s persuasive. I grabbed a toy, and we did our entire walk (the backwards short loop, for those of you who know) as a retrieving and freedogging session. It was 4:30 when we left, so there was just enough traffic to make it a bit stressful for me, but Candy was delighted. She’s been hanging out with me ever since, helping with dinner (catching bits of dropped ham and cleaning out my egg-mixing bowl) and dishes (cleaning up a bacon grease mess I made on the floor) and now blogging (she’s lying in her office chair and giving moral support). Norton and Gjetost have also been helping me write.

So there you have it. Doggie downers: not working. Puppy uppers: working. Just like us.