It’s unclear who was happier when we returned from vacation – Emmie at having us back or us at seeing our beloved pup again after a month-long separation. It didn’t take her long to accept that we were back for good and return to her normal ways, and for us to get reacquainted with her neuroses. Emmie has fared far better than most orphaned puppies would in Kenya, getting fostered and bottle-fed by an American vet before we adopted her. Nevertheless, watching her mom die under the wheels of a car when she was a week old clearly left a deep emotional scar. How else to explain her cute but somewhat neurotic behaviour?
When we adopted her at 4 months, Emmie had a submissive urination problem. She would get spooked whenever someone came over to the house, or when any guy approached her, or if any Kenyan came too close. Even when D came home from work, his suit was intimidating enough to make her piddle. By and large, we’ve gotten past this issue, though accidents still happen from time to time. The problem has instead taken a new guise.
Our best guess at psychoanalyzing our puppy is that she has an acute fear of abandonment. We noticed several months ago that she was much more likely to pee indoors on days when our housekeeper or cook came over than on days when she stayed in her crate all day. If she was in the house when we came home she would greet us with a hangdog expression, her eyes betraying a profound sadness as she emptied her bladder. If Phoebe or Emily were with her when we returned home, she would actually hide behind them, wagging her tail excitedly but at the same time being too melancholy to come greet us, only approaching after taking a squat. One day, D came home the same time Phoebe was returning from taking Emmie for a walk. He went upstairs to change while Phoebe let Emmie into the house and then went home. When he came back downstairs, the happy puppy D had seen only moments before had been transformed into a sad, whimpering creature. Left alone downstairs for a few minutes, Emmie cowered in a corner and no amount of sweet talk would coax her out until she piddled.
When she was small, we would feed Emmie out of a kibble ball to make sure she didn’t scarf her food down. Now that we’ve switched to the bigger adult kibbles, we have the opposite problem. Emmie is the first dog either of us has ever come across that has to be cajoled into eating. Given how distraught she gets when left alone at home, we put her away in her crate, which she loves. Even though we put food and water out for her, she rarely touches either until we get home. And then, she won’t eat unless we are both in the kitchen with her, prefering to forego food in favor of playtime or even the opportunity to curl up at our feet. When she does finally decide to eat, she will take several kibbles and carry them off to the living room. Only after doing so a couple of times will she eat from her bowl.
Having identified Emmie’s idiosynchrasies, we’re not quite sure what to do about them. The only strategy we can think of is to continue showering her with love and hope that she becomes less neurotic with time.