A month or two ago, our wonderful dog walker, Mary, told me that Angus had grown fearful of the back porch. After the walk she couldn’t get him to climb the steps to the back door and she finally had to resort to carrying him up.
Given that Mary likely weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, this must have been quite an endeavor. She is strong and wiry, but Angus weighs 62 pounds and he is not easy to lift. So I had to investigate.
I put Angus in the yard, and then I called him back. It was true; he refused to come up the stairs but instead ran around to the far side of the screen porch and barked pathetically. It took a while to figure out why, but eventually I did: He was afraid of a broom, which was at the top of the stairs instead of in its usual place, in the corner.
I removed the broom and Angus ran up the stairs and came into the house.
You would not believe the number of weird things that Angus is afraid of.
Today he barked at a motorcycle. Not one that was vrooming down the street, belching exhaust. A completely still and silent motorcycle, parked in a lot along with a couple of cars.
I’m not sure what about the motorcycle terrified him, but as we approached he let out a volley of barks and tried to hide behind me. I brought him closer, let him sniff it, put a small treat on the motorcycle foot rest. He leapt forward, grabbed the treat, leapt back. We moved on.
He behaved this way a few weeks ago, too, when we saw a bunch of balloons bobbing on the grass in the park, likely escaped from a party. He hid behind me and barked, we approached, I set a treat on a balloon, he grabbed it and jumped back.
Angus is often startled by my husband when Doug lingers in a doorway or walks out of a room. Angus barks, Doug says, “It’s me, you dummy,” and Angus lies down, embarrassed. With Angus it’s always bark first, figure it out later.
Here are some other things that Angus has been afraid of:
A paper sack blowing down the street.
A child’s car seat sitting by the side of the road.
A plush toy bird.
A baby gate. (Like the broom, it depends on where it is.)
A small mechanical monkey toy that makes chattering noises.
A small neighbor child carrying a huge sheet of cardboard on his head.
His food dish. (He won’t go into his kennel if the dish is on the floor near his crate.)
His own reflection in a mirror.
I can’t tell you what turned Angus into such a ’fraidy cat — I mean, ’fraidy dog. Literally nothing bad has ever happened to him in his entire life. We adopted him when he was 7 weeks old and his life, frankly, has been one big indulgence.
He is fed, petted, walked, played with. When he flips on his back, we rub his belly. When he leans into us, we scratch his ears.
He’s never been attacked by another dog, he’s never been hurt by a human, he’s never gone without a meal. For the love of Pete, he doesn’t even go more than an hour or two without some kind of snack.
And yet he lives a life that is shaped by fear, and that kills me. I wish I had some way of taking the edge off, some way of softening the world for him. (Kick back, Angus; have a margarita!)
Last night he did his old “I’m too afraid to come up the back stairs” trick, running around to the far side of the screen porch and barking.
It took me a while to figure out that the problem, this time, was the pole that Doug uses to take down the bird feeders. It was propped in a corner at the top of the stairs instead of in its usual spot (by the broom). I removed the pole, Angus came into the house.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. She has been writing about Angus since he was about 3 months old at startribune.com/puppy.