Playing the game — Normalcy is for the dogs

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Careful — don’t upset the sensitive setters.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Careful — don’t upset the sensitive setters.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Normally, the weirdest thing Parker does is lick the walls. She’s an English setter so she’s very sensitive. If you tell her not to lick the walls she goes into a severe depression and doesn’t want to eat anymore.

I had gotten used to her eccentric, wall-licking complex. But a dog should only have one behavior that is odd or else the whole animal is odd. Parker crossed over the threshold recently and, since I can’t beat her, I joined her.

It started with her pacing the house and panting one night. Veterinary professionals had already determined that she was not pregnant, but she was producing milk and had gained a lot of weight. This might have been my fault because I had thought she was “eating for seven.” It was 2 a.m. and she kept crawling on my bed and sitting on my head. I said, “No sitting on Mom’s head,” but she wouldn’t listen. It turns out she was going into fake labor because she was fake pregnant.

Maybe we were too cooped up in the house due to weather. Maybe we weren’t getting exercised enough. Maybe we were predicting that a storm was coming. It was too late for me to really try to diagnose her latest weirdness, let alone my own, so I got online and, after a pot of coffee, became friends with a group of dog breeders who convinced me that not only was my dog faking a pregnancy, but that the best thing I could do was play along. When I went back to bed, Parker was curled up with all of her stuffed toys trying to nurse them. That’s normal, I thought.

My new friends had explained to me that all female dogs that are capable of getting pregnant also are capable of getting fake pregnant. They said this is not rare. I didn’t mention that my dog also licked walls because it was so great to hear that she was close to normal. It turns out that there are biological reasons for fake dog pregnancies that go back to the wild dog days when one dog might have to stand in for another.

“Parker is emotionally and hormonally pregnant,” I was told. I restrained myself from commenting that the wall in the hallway might be the father.

Following the advice of my new friends, I picked up one of Parker’s stuffed animals and said, “This is a beautiful puppy, Parker.” She looked like a proud mother. It’s not like we had anything else to do since the weather was bad, so we sat around talking about the futures of her fake offspring.

Over the next few days she became very protective of her stuffed animal brood. She growled at the other dogs. She moved the entire “litter” with her whenever she had to leave the confines of my bed. She stacked them up next to her food dish, ate and then packed them all back to bed.

The weather improved a bit and I was able to go ice fishing. That was good because I was starting to wonder about my sanity. That morning, Parker ran to the door to meet my partner with three stuffed toys in her mouth. He reached down and pulled one of them away from her and threw it across the room. “Fetch!” he said. Both Parker and I froze in horror.

“You just threw one of her puppies,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” he said.

“Never mind,” I said. “I need to get out of the house.” Too much time indoors and online isn’t good for a person’s mental health. I put on my coat and picked up the stuffed animal, which was a zebra, and looked for Parker. Surely she would want to see to the needs of one of her pups. But she was busy licking the wall.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.


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