Groundhog Watching: OCD Or OMG

It really shouldn’t come as a great surprise that a dog that lives with two individuals who have moments of obsessive/compulsive behavior should have developed a few of his own. With the onset of summer, our dachshund Clyde is deep into his obsession: our screened porch at the back of the house and the groundhog that lives under the nearby garden shed.

Ever since that moment when the groundhog lumbered out from the bushes and set Clyde’s tail and nose to quivering, the dog has spent every waking moment waiting for its return. We hear occasional whines and woofs to indicate a sighting, but so far, it has eluded our camera when we rush out to get a picture of hunter and ostensible prey. Clyde’s movements around the porch indicate that the animal often travels from its den to the river and back again, each trip noted with tail-wagging interest, and an occasional bark, encouraging the object of his fascination to a speedy dive into cover.

Seeing critters in our backyard is not a new phenomenon to Clyde, who has watched deer, rabbits, and birds enter his territory and make a hasty retreat when he loudly objects to their trespass. Somehow, however, this little groundhog has stirred an entirely different reaction than previous intruders; he is obsessed almost to the point of eschewing food and water.

Like any other recent convert to a new religion, Clyde is anxious to share with us his newfound reason to live, venturing into the rooms where we are and doing his best to herd us to his bliss. He has always been a devoted communicator, although we are often unable to reliably translate his bright-eyed, tail-wagging dances to what he’s actually trying to convey. “I need to go outside” appears identical to “I want to sit on your lap” or “it’s past feeding time”; one can imagine the frustration for both parties when the interpretation is wrong.

The “come to the porch” has become unmistakable—every time the dog comes into the room, he catches our eyes, tail wagging madly, jumping toward the back of the house, the canine version of a “c’mon” shoulder roll. I am reminded of a child calling “watch me, Mommy” at a playground. The little guy is proud of us when we follow his advice, trotting ahead to the porch, tail high and waving, tiny feet dancing across the rug and making an elegant leap as he crosses the threshold. Once he has one or both of us out where we can watch with him, he takes up his post under the hanging planter, and glances to see if we are admiring his guarding/hunting pose.

The one time I happened to witness the creature’s appearance, I studied Clyde more closely than the groundhog, because the dog had transformed from household pet/member of the family to ultra-alert hunting machine, every muscle taut, nose twitching, ears and tail quivering. I started to understand why this has become an obsession for him, why he is compelled to wait on the porch for the creature to appear again. Adrenaline. Our dog is addicted to that churning rush of excitement at spotting the critter. Like any other addict, he continues to chase that high; waiting for the rush . . . and he’ll wait all day, if he has to.

That analogy leaves me torn as to what to do, if anything, about his fixation. We think of the porch as “the dog’s tv”, where the channel is always tuned to a live nature show, and he is safe behind the screen to watch an eagle fly over the river, squirrels cavort in the trees, and a snapping turtle take a nap just a few feet away. After studying his rapt attention to a spot in the yard where a creature may or may not appear at any moment, noting that he will forget that it’s suppertime, or will lag a moment when we call him in, I have to wonder if too much “tv” is good for him.