The noise was driving me crazy! I tried to concentrate on my essay but the dog just wouldn’t stop barking! Every single one of his yelps just seemed to pierce right through my aching head. I couldn’t imagine what had set him off. I had filled the food bowl just a few minutes earlier. I didn’t hear anyone come to the door. Maybe the dog just wanted to go outside and chase around the stray kitties and squirrels that roamed into the yard from time to time. After a few more minutes of listening to the endless barking that dissolved into loud screeching howls that seared into my brain and shattered my equilibrium, I finally pushed myself away from my desk and stomped through the living room into the dining room.
“What is going on?” I shouted out in general to our three small, hyper dogs. Cowboy, our brown-and-white, spotted dachshund, was standing underneath the large, wooden dining room table. He was staring into the kitchen as he continued to bark and howl.
“Cowboy,” I shouted to him, “stop it. What’s wrong with you?” I glanced into the kitchen and then started to laugh. “Ah, Dog,” I sighed, “it’s okay.” But I don’t think he was listening to me as he glared at Starburst and Friskie and continued to growl.
Yes, as usual, around 6 pm, I had filled the dogs’ double-sided, plastic bowl with their usual hard, dry, crunchy dog food. Typically, Cowboy, the lone male dog, always had one side of the bowl to himself. Our two female dogs, Friskie and Starburst, either shared the other side or took turns eating. This night, however, the females decided to stage a mini, non-violent rebellion. Friskie and Starburst each took a side of the bowl and refused to let Cowboy in between them. I’m sure Cowboy was thinking “the little bitches” as he grew more upset and continued to howl and whimper. “Cowboy, it’s okay,” I tried to soothe him. “You can eat in just a minute. Let the girls finish.”
But Cowboy wasn’t used to waiting. He was hungry now and wanted the females out of his way. But no matter how fierce Cowboy barked, the females refused to be intimidated. They just continued to scoop the morsels into their mouths and chew happily, totally ignoring the demands of the only male currently in the house. In an effort to defuse the situation, I walked over to the large, plastic, red bag in the corner of the kitchen and scooped out a handful of dog food. I sat down on the floor and called Cowboy over to me as I held the food out to him. Cowboy suddenly choked back a hearty bark and raced over to me. He leaped up into my lap and started nibbling the food that I held in the palm of my right hand. As he chewed, I gently scolded him, “Now, don’t you feel silly causing such a fuss? I’m not going to let you starve.” Cowboy continued to eat from my hand until the females had finished their meal. Then he ran over to the bowl and feasted on the scraps that the female dogs had left for him. He bobbed his head back and forth between both sides of the bowl as he quickly gobbled up the rest of the food as if he was afraid someone would suddenly take it away from him.
I sat on the floor and sighed as I watched Cowboy begin to lick at the bottom of the bowl. I never knew before that dogs could get low blood sugar. Cowboy has a big problem with hypoglycemia. He gets “HANGRY”! If the dog isn’t fed by 7 pm, he has a complete meltdown. Cowboy will bark and cry. He will run around the living room in circles. He will jump at me and claw at my legs as I innocently walk by him. His obnoxious behavior doesn’t stop until he finally gets food into his belly. Once he has been fed, Cowboy will finally calm down, relax, and return to his normally affectionate self as he lovingly cuddles up on the couch with me or protectively sits under my chair in my room as I work on the computer. Though Cowboy is the most outrageous, he is not the only one of our dogs that gets “hangry!”
Starburst also gets agitated if she isn’t fed by a certain time. She doesn’t whine or cry, however. She has a completely different approach. Most evenings, I’ll suddenly hear a soft scratch-scratch-scratch on the closed door of my room. It will stop for a temporary moment and then it will begin again. Scratch-scratch-scratch. When I finally have had enough, I will get up from my computer and open the door. Starburst will be out in the hallway, jumping up and then spinning dizzily around in tiny circles on the hardwood floor. She will suddenly come to a stop and woozily wobble for a moment before heaving a deep sigh and then running down the hallway. She knows that this display gets my attention every time and I will follow her as she runs through the living room into the dining room and finally into the kitchen. When I finally catch up to her, she will pick up the empty plastic food bowl in her mouth and fling it at me striking me on the lower legs. Seriously…this tiny, fluffy dog will continue to throw her bowl at my feet and legs until I finally take it away from her, fill it with dog food, and place it back down on the floor for her.
Thankfully, Friskie is much more patient. She doesn’t get upset or irritated as she waits to be fed. However, she is not completely drama free when it comes to food. I made a horribly mistake with the dogs one night. Just because I was feeling a little lonely, I decided to keep the dogs company while they were having dinner. I watched all three dogs huddled around the food bowl and when Friskie was suddenly pushed out of the way by the two hangry dogs, I did the same thing for her that I did for Cowboy previously. I scooped up a handful of food out of the bag and began to feed Friskie directly out of my hand. It made me laugh to feel her small, sharp teeth nipping at my hand as she pulled the small tidbits of food from my palm. Suddenly, I realized that the other two dogs had stopped eating. They had raised their heads up out of the bowl and noticed that Friskie was getting special treatment. Now, Cowboy and Starburst ran over and jumped onto my lap as I sat in the middle of the floor. The bowl had been temporarily forgotten and all three dogs were now feeding out of my hand. I was completely caught up in the moment. It was funny and sweet and I couldn’t stop laughing as the dogs climbed all over me to get to the food. It was a fun, bonding moment for all four of us.
Only there was just one small problem. Friskie, especially, really enjoyed cuddling up to me and eating out of my hand. When I put the food out for the dogs the following evening, Friskie refused to eat. She stood a few feet away from the bowl and cried as she watched Starburst and Cowboy feast.
“Friskie, it’s okay,” I told her. “Go on, eat.” I reached over and nudged Starburst and Cowboy off to one side as I made room for Friskie at the bowl. But the dog still refused to eat. “Friskie, what’s wrong?” I whispered to her. “Aren’t you hungry?” I reached out my hand to stroke back her long brown-and-white fur. To my surprise, she suddenly turned her head and gave the palm of my hand a long, sticky lick. I suddenly realized that Friskie refused to eat out of her bowl because she wanted to be handfed again! I was a little surprised that the other dogs didn’t nip at my hand as I reached right into their bowl as they continued to feed. I grabbed a handful of kibbles for Friskie and held it out to her. Now, the dog danced around the kitchen on her four tiny paws in excitement before eating the food right out of my hand. Like any nervous, first-time mother, I was relieved that she was at least eating. I tried several times to discuss the situation with Friskie. I told her that she was a big doggie now and needed to eat out of the big doggie bowl. But she continued to refuse any food unless it was first resting in the palm of my hand. I know that I was giving in to the dog’s demands but I wasn’t sure now how to break her of this dependency. Okay, and yes, I’ll admit it, maybe I was a little co-dependent. Now, I had to find a way of breaking us both of this addictive behavior.
Then one night, as Starburst and Cowboy were having dinner and Friskie was once more cuddled up to me, I reached over to the large food bag and pulled out some kibbles for her. As the dog began to nibble from my hand, I began to think that the food was a little different this time. The pieces felt smaller and of lighter weight. I looked down at the morsels in my hand and found that the pieces were all shaped like little, brown fish…and that’s when I suddenly realized that I had accidently reached into the kitty food bag!
I stared at the small dog in my arms for a moment before I started to laugh. “Friskie,” I screeched to her, “you just ate kitty food. Oh my gosh, you ate kitty food!” Friskie looked up at me for a moment with a horrified expression on her little face before she raised her furry paws up and started to rub her mouth and nose. I stared at her for a moment as she now jumped away from me and began to roll around on the floor. I leaned forward and began to rub her down as I said, “Oh, Friskie, you ate kitty food! You are going to have kitty cooties. You got kitty cooties!” Friskie actually howled as she rolled around on her back for a little while longer.
Finally, Friskie sat up in front of me with her little tail wagging and her tongue hanging off to the side as she panted. She looked closely at me as if she was asking “Why?” and then she ran to the round plastic water bowl and buried her face in the cool fluid. She quickly lapped up the water until the bowl was empty. Even though she eventually forgave me for “kittygate,” Friskie never begged to eat out of my hand again. She now, once more, fights for her place at the food bowl with the other two dogs.
The dogs don’t have perfect manners. One day, I came home from work and was a little hangry myself. I decided to snack on a bag of Marshmallow Mateys. I love eating dry cereal right out of the bag. I settled down onto the couch in the living room, turned on the TV to watch Judge Judy, and ripped open my bag of cereal. But as I put the first sugary piece into my mouth, I suddenly felt as if I was being watched. I looked down and noticed that all three dogs were lined up directly in front of me. All three dogs stared menacingly up at me as if I was cheating them at a card game. What was going on? Why would all three dogs be staring suspiciously at me? I followed their sight line and realized that the dogs were staring at the red plastic bag that was sitting on my lap. Oh, my gosh, it looked just like their dog food bag! Did the dogs honestly think I was stealing their dog food?
“No, no, it’s okay,” I tried to tell them. “This is not yours. This is people food.”
But I know that they weren’t listening to me as all three of the dogs started to whine and beg. This was really unusual. Our dogs usually let the family eat in peace. My sister-in-law, Mary, who actually owns the dogs, had trained them not to beg at the table. But it didn’t help when the dogs assumed I was holding their dog food bag. Did the dogs honestly think I was helping myself to their food?
“No, dogs,” I tried to tell them, “people food. It may be in a package that looks like dog food, but it really is people food. It’s for me, okay?”
But the dogs didn’t trusting me. They now began to sit up and then jumped up and down. “No,” I told them as I shook my head at their annoying behavior. “I’m not going to feed you. I can’t feed you cereal.”
Now, the dogs started barking loudly as they demanded to be fed, but I didn’t want to share. I decided just to ignore them and that worked for a little while…
…Until I unexpectedly dropped a golden, round, chunky piece of cereal on the carpet. I quickly leaned down to pick it up but before I could reach it, Cowboy suddenly sprung forward and grabbed the piece up into his mouth. He quickly chewed it up and swallowed it down.
Dang! But there was nothing I could do about it now. But then the situation became worse. I suddenly noticed that Friskie and Starburst had grown very quiet as they turned to look at each other. Then, as they turned to stare back up at me, I knew then exactly what they were thinking. “Well,” the thought seemed to pass between all of us, “you feed him.”
“It was an accident,” I tried to tell Friskie and Starburst. “I didn’t mean to feed Cowboy. I just dropped a piece.”
But that didn’t seem to matter. It just didn’t seem fair to Friskie and Starburst. Cowboy got a piece and they didn’t. I groaned as I listened to them whimper and noticed that they stared at Cowboy with hostility. Now, to help calm the situation, I took a deep breath and reached into the cereal bag. “Alright,” I sighed as I held a sugary morsel out to each of them, “just don’t tell your momma.” Momma, of course, referred to my sister-in-law, who would probably be very unhappy with our self-indulgent behavior this afternoon. Friskie and Starburst jumped excitedly forward and gobbled up the cereal. Then they began to swirl excitedly around the room. They don’t usually get sugar and now it seemed to make them extremely happy. I started to laugh and all of us were so happy, I couldn’t resist. I snuck another piece of cereal to each of the dogs. The dogs went a little crazy as they danced around the living room in excitement. Oh, great, I thought. I just sent all of three dogs on a sugar high! “Okay, okay, dogs,” I sighed now. “Calm down. It’s okay.” They were “sugar giddy” for a few minutes before they finally crashed down on the brown and gold carpeting and drifted off to sleep.
Ever since that moment, I have vowed to never again interfere with the dogs’ eating habits. Life has returned to normal. Cowboy still is grouchy when he is hangry; Starburst continued to throw her bowl at my legs; Friskie still wants to be “puppied” but is learning to eat like a grown up dog.
I will admit, though, from time to time, I will still walk into the kitchen while they are eating. I will grab small pieces of food from their bowl. They don’t nip at me, I think, because they know what I have planned. I hold the food out to them, and the dogs nip the morsels out of my fingertips. The dogs chew the food, swallow it down, and smile (yes, I swear, they smile) up at me and wag their tails. It makes me feel needed. It makes me feel loved.
Gosh, I needed to stop being so co-dependent….