Friday, July 8, 2011

Taming the Nemesis

When Lois was a youngster, it became clear that boxes bothered her.  Every time we'd get something in the mail that came in a box,  Lois would refuse to go near it.  Oh sure, sometimes she was leery of other things.  For instance, out on a walk on a windy trash day- if a garbage can rolled onto the sidewalk,  Lois would refuse to walk around it.  But this sort of thing was occasional and easy to avoid (we simply crossed the street).
  The box, however, was a fact of life in our home; a villain to be conquered.  We had to find a way to help Lois adjust to, coexist with, her nemesis, the box. But how?  

Here's How.

First.  Act casual.  Don't make a big deal out of it.  Forgo the, "it's OK Lois!  Look at the nice box!"  These words had no effect on her.  She stared at the box, frozen.  So, we acted like the box wasn't there.  We pretended that Lois wasn't standing immobile in a hypnotic trance.  Eventually, Lois broke free of the trance and walked away.   

Second. Try treats.  But accept that sometimes treats don't work.  For Lois, the presence of a terrible box was an appetite killer.  Not even the most desirable treat in the world would distract her from her trepidation.  Even a treat so rare and wonderful as Venison Liver Jerky made no dent in Lois' fear.  You don't keep trying the same thing and expect a different result (hey, isn't there an aphorism about that?).  

Third.  Position a reward beyond the box.  The idea was to get Lois to stroll with blissful indifference past the wicked box.  First we had to get her simply to move past the dang box  (even a panicked run past the box was progress).  We placed the box on the route to the back door.  Thus, Lois had to muster some courage in order to reach the coveted backyard.

Fourth.  Decrease the size of the scare by decreasing the size of the box.  It became clear that box size mattered.  Indeed, the bigger the box, the more Lois feared it.  So we down-sized.  A shoebox?  No sweat.  It was practically invisible to Lois.  A box the size of a vacuum cleaner?  Not invisible.  So we employed the positioning and the acting casual and pretty soon we graduated to an even bigger box.

Fifth.  Utilize the pack.  Call it group think or peer pressure or let the dogs train each other.  If you have a bunch of dogs, you have to be nuts not to let them help out.  So, we use our ever available canine coaches.  Fearless Rose may be half the size of Lois, but she is quite capable of shaming her into action with, "I dare you to walk by this box".

Lois is a grown-up now.  She has made peace with her nemesis, and most of the time, is able to saunter, her dread in check, by almost any box.  Then, yesterday, we got a new couch.

Hooray!  Our new couch arrived!  Bizarrely, it was in a box.  Needless to say, a box big enough to contain a couch is a big box. Without question, it was the biggest box we have ever asked Lois to approach.  (It must be noted in all fairness to Lois, none of the other dogs, except the always intrepid Rose, chose to go near this remarkably big box).

After we extracted the couch from the box and set the couch where it belongs, we carried the very big box outside.  It was almost time for the baseball game, so we flung the box onto the driveway, just inside the gate.  (The Tigers beat the Royals!).

This morning, Lois and I set out for our usual walk.  The monster couch box was blocking our path. There was about four feet of room between the box and the house.  Lois wouldn't budge.  I walked casually past the box and through the gate, the leash dangling enticingly in my hand.  Yes!  Lois followed. 

We had a lovely walk.  When we returned Lois barely glanced at the box.


  1. It's something outside her regular routine, of course, and the dog just doesn't like that happening.

    Gorgeous dogs!

  2. Poor Lois! Sir Poops-A-Lot used to freak over the crockpot and the bread machine.

  3. Nuka has a similar issue with reusable shopping bags. I hope she doesn't hate recycling, but it's hard to say.

  4. Lois is adorable and yes, we all have things we need to overcome. Cute post!

  5. Sensi still can become very cautious of changes to his environment, except he tends to get loud about it while I stand there, scratching my head thinking, "What in the world has got him all upset?"

    Then I'll realize he's looking at a new plant, table, vase, etc. I encourage a sniff and he bounces back quite well.