A few days ago, my springer, Freedom, had minor surgery. Nothing serious. He basically had a wart removed from his left front leg. And all was going just fine, that is, until the veterinarian uttered the words dreaded by both man and dog: "We've fitted your dog with a cone, which he'll need to wear for the next two weeks."
Animal behaviorists tell us that only humans are capable of feeling embarrassment. But anyone who's watched a dog endure "the cone of shame" would question that finding. Nothing sucks the joyful zest for life right out of a dog than putting a cone around his neck. Gundogs are particularly confident canines, and rightfully so: They are genetically predisposed to it, and much of their early training focuses on boosting confidence as much as teaching new skills.
However, Freedom was but a shell of his normal self as the vet led him out to me. His tail was tucked and his head hung low. He could barely look me in the eyes, ashamed as he was. Worst of all, it seemed he had no control whatsoever over his headgear. He loudly scraped it along the wall as we made our way to the exit, and when I stopped to open the door, he slammed the cone into the back of my leg so hard that my knee buckled.
I lifted Freedom into the truck, careful not to bump his tender incision. Have you ever driven home with a dog cone wedged between you and the steering wheel? It's a unique challenge.
The first things Freedom did when we arrived home was smash his cone into the screen door, knock over a lamp and fall asleep on his bed. He awoke an hour later, and I took him outside for a short walk. The cone loudly drug along the ground in pathetic fashion as he tried to sniff for just the right place to relieve himself. I was already feeling sorry for him, but the worst was yet to come. A poodle that Freedom is quite familiar with—in fact he may have even considered a friend—was being walked down the sidewalk toward us. For the first time since his surgery, Freedom perked up. His tail wagged, and he was genuinely excited to greet Sally. But it was as if she didn't even recognize him.
She barked wildly, even growled a little and tugged on her leash as if to say, "What are you wearing you stupid idiot!? You look like a darn fool!"
Freedom angrily barked back. "Hey shut up! You think I want to be wearing this?"
Bedtime was no smoother. I lay awake for hours listening to the pitter-patter of nervous dog nails pacing the hardwood floors. I'd finally fallen asleep when Freedom launched himself directly onto my chest as if fired from a cannon. I was still unsure what had happened until I felt his warm breath, perfectly funneled by the cone into my face.
So, Freedom and I moved to the living room in hopes it would soothe him, because according to my wife "that's his favorite room." I lay down on the couch and tried to sleep. Freedom paced incessantly and crashed into a variety of furniture throughout the evening, affording me 10 minutes of sleep here, 15 there. Around 4 a.m. I got up to use the bathroom. In the midst of groggily doing so, a dog cone smashed into the back of my calves—a rather startling experience.
Not long thereafter a bizarre sound echoed down the hall. Freedom was trying to drink from his bowl, and with some effort he managed to wedge his cone around it.
He seemed to accept his plight on day 2 and proved more agile with his cone, although I don't know that a dog ever grows accustomed to it.