Fighting Fear

Confronting phobias and other fears

My Dog Suspects the Neighbor of Harboring Squirrels

Her name is Iris, because of her parti eye.

I have a dog, a very nice dog, who has a parti eye. Parti has nothing to do with party, although I think she might be considered a party dog too, unless a stranger is in the house.  A parti eye is an iris that is missing color along one quadrant. It does not affect her vision, but it does give her a kind of cross-eyed look. There was a time, after we rescued her, when she would not look me in the eye. I think it was a sign of respect. She did not want to rile me up by staring. I sometimes think the autistic child has a similar inclination. Such a child seems to be in pain if you get right in from of him/her and make him/her look at you. The treatment, of course, is to get the child to repeat this experience over and over again, until it comes more naturally. In the case of my dog, named Iris, of course, she came to look directly at me as she came to know me better, even look down on me, I think, from time to time.

Iris stares at me, in particular, when I have something interesting to say, such as “You want to go for a walk? Or out in back?” Or “cheese?” But I have noticed that I have to say everything twice. The first time means only that she should pay attention. I wonder if this behavior also has some relevance to bringing up autistic children, or children, in general, for that matter. That’s why I always recommend that a parent ask the child to do something twice before he beats him/her over the head with a stick. When Iris wants something (It is almost always the same thing--to go out in back) she pokes me with her head. Putting it that way, however, does not do justice to the seriousness of her intent. Whatever I am holding goes flying across the room.

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Iris has a friend named Max who is a Labradoodle, which is a cross between—well, you can figure that out. Max belongs to my son. When my son and Max, and the rest of his family, come over for dinner, Max and Iris enter into a sprint around the living room which is too fast to catch on film. I would think they were flying except that they change direction so quickly I know they must be touching the ground at those times. No one can drink wine when Max and Iris are zooming by because the draft causes the glasses to tumble. Another family dog, Coco, who belongs to my daughter and is also some kind of Doodle, although very small, gets very excited and barks continually watching Max and Iris careening around and over the furniture. I think she may disapprove. On the other hand, she may just be counting laps. With dogs you never know for sure.

Iris wags her tail all the time. I mean, all the time. I have had other dogs and when I say Iris is in a class by herself as far as tail-wagging goes, I know what I am talking about. I read recently that if a dog wags its tail to the right, it is a friendly gesture. If it wags its tail to the left, it means something else. This is an example of the idiotic stuff that gets published in magazines. Obviously, a dog wagging its tail is wagging in both directions. Sometimes Iris looks as if she is unconscious. Her eyes are closed. But her tail keeps up a slow wag.

It is often rumored that dogs have extra-sensory perception. They can tell when their master is about to come home. I can’t speak to that point, never being home when I am in the process of coming home; but she has a remarkable facility of keeping track of the postman, even when he is out of sight around the corner. Iris really hates the postman for reasons that are not clear since the rest of the family is always glad to see him.

She also does not like the neighbors. She suspects one of the neighbors of harboring squirrels since they cavort behind the wire fence in his back yard. Out of reach. Squirrels strike Iris as unnatural and repugnant. The world would be a better place without squirrels. These particular squirrels have grown arrogant; and they chitter at Iris from the safety of our neighbor’s backyard. They are a blot on the otherwise idyllic existence of living in our home. I have frequently explained to her the necessity of our all getting along; but she has begun to stare at me with a condescension bordering on contempt. I would think she was racist, but she is the same color as the squirrels. (c) Fredric Neuman. Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog or ask advice at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice column

Fredric Neuman, M.D. is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital.

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