Anticipation … Is Making Me Worry

Cali worries.

Many people worry. They dream up scenarios that could never happen. Then they worry that those unlikely events can and will happen. And they worry about what would follow … I don’t know if Cali does that, but she does worry about things that she knows are about to happen.

She worries about brushing her teeth. This is odd, because, when she was a puppy, she actually asked to have her teeth brushed, perhaps anticipating the treat to follow. She walked over to where the dog toothbrushes and toothpaste were kept and touched them with her nose. Looked at me. If I failed to notice, she nudged my hand, then walked over and touched the brush again.

Now, when it’s getting close to bedtime, she’ll go out for “last call,” then come in and immediately disappear when I say, “Time to brush your teeth,” or even move toward the bathroom. Disappearing a 60-lb dog is not an easy feat in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, yet Cali is gone. Jana comes right over to the sink, tail wagging, ready for the nightly tooth-brushing routine. I call Cali. She hides behind the bathroom door. Or I find her in the dog bed on the other side of my bed, pretending to be asleep. I’m willing to provide delivery service for the actual tooth-brushing but not for the cookie that follows. That’s only for dogs who line up to get their teeth brushed (she usually shows up for that part). Tooth-brushing doesn’t hurt. She’s never had a toothache or broken tooth or even an abscess. She likes the taste of the (chicken-flavored) toothpaste. But, somehow, when she knows that it is coming, she worries. The anticipation is much worse than the experience.

This is also the case for some other grooming tasks: Ear cleaning is admittedly as bad as she expects it to be, but getting the fur on her feet trimmed doesn’t hurt at all. It might tickle a bit, but then she’s amply rewarded with really special cookies. Nail trimming is even worse to anticipate: Both the Dremel that files her nails and that horrid clipper thingy are clearly medieval torture implements, in her view. In her entire 2 ½ years, no one has ever over-trimmed and cut the quick. Even so, no one can convince Cali that nail trimming is not worth every ounce of dread she can summon.

Cali worries about other things too. When I am working at my home computer, she catches sight of her ball and then looks worriedly at it, as if wondering whether anyone will ever throw it for her again. When we’re at the park and I do throw it, she catches it and then holds it between her paws, lying on the grass and looking worriedly around her at the other dogs who might come by and nab it. When she decides other dogs are too close, she picks up her ball and moves to a different part of the field. When no possible dog threats are near her in the park, she stretches her back legs out, ball loosely held between her teeth, and wags her tail at the activity happening at a safe distance. But she is reluctant to let the ball go for me to throw it — and start up the whole worry sequence again.

Her other big source of worry is the vacuum cleaner. It looks innocent, tucked into its little corner of the kitchen, but it sometimes roars to life. She avoids it, though she had no such fear as a puppy. When it comes out of its corner, Cali is nowhere to be found. What is her concern? She’s been around vacuums her whole life without ever suffering the smallest chance of being sucked up.

Cali’s worried anticipation, much like her eager expectation when we are driving toward a beloved location, dispels the myth that dogs are unable to think about future events. Dogs do appear to extrapolate from past experiences what the future might bring, good or bad. The best I can do when she’s nervous is acknowledge her concerns and insist that she face her fears and move on. While I hope that her anxiety is just a phase, I do wish that I were fluent enough in Dog to figure out why some future events seem so frightening to Cali.

7 thoughts on “Anticipation … Is Making Me Worry

  1. When the power goes out, our dog is terrified of the beeping noise our computer makes to warn us it’s going to shut down.Before the beeping, however, the UPS makes a clicking sound. As soon as she hears the click, she runs and hides. Sometimes, if the power is blinking on and off, the UPS keeps making the clicking sound, but the computers never have a chance to beep. That clicking drives our dog crazy! She runs all over the house trying to get away from it because she knows the beeping comes next. But that’s not quite the same thing you were talking about


    • It IS anticipation, though. She’s learned that the clicking (usually) signifies the horrible beeping. A sort of back-chaining? Smart dog.
      It actually might be similar to the dogs who sense the changes in the weather that (usually) mean that a thunderstorm is coming and get anxious long before the thunder starts.


      • She gets anxious before a storm too! 🙂 She’s a definite worry-er. But lots of exercise helps.


  2. Maybe she is just like me: I really hate to brush my teeth at night. When I start to get sleepy, I want to go to bed without the “its so good for me – I have to brush my teeth” interruption!


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