How sorry I felt for my Border Collie mix, Pelle, when I learned he needed to have invasive surgery to remove several bladder stones and would be stuck in a head cone for two weeks. My vets regularly call the stiff, plastic neck device — designed to keep dogs from licking at their incisions after surgery — Elizabethan or E-collars, referring to the starched and dignified ruffs worn by the fashionable set of 16th-century Europe.
But even the Wikipedia entry for Elizabethan collar offers the alternative “cone of shame,” a term popularized by the sweet, dumb pup Dug in Disney’s Up, whose bullying pack forces Dug to wear a head cone as a punishment. I expected Pelle to wander the house dejectedly, wondering what he’d done to deserve his new and terrible hat.
As usual, I underestimated the indefatigable, irrepressible Border Collie in Pelle. Not only did Pelle refuse to let his head cone shame him, but he adapted to it and began to use it against us and others rather quickly.
Below is a sample of the ways in which Pelle’s cone terrorized the neighborhood for several days:
This was the first, most obvious, and most effective of Pelle’s adaptations. Stabbing my boyfriend and I with the edges of the cone, he would herd us into the kitchen for earlier and more frequent mealtimes. We had crescent-shaped bruises on our legs for days. For a usually retiring and non-aggressive animal, this was exceptional, and it should have warned us of things to come.
We live on a yet-to-be-gentrified block in Brooklyn, which means that our streets are garbage-strewn and full of edible loot for Pelle to plunder; he can find chicken legs, pizza crusts, and cartons of lo mein more easily than we can call for take-out. We’re usually able to steer Pelle free of most foodstuffs, but the head cone changed the game for him. Within a day, he’d learned that he was able to reach farther than before by placing his head cone flat along the ground and dragging the desired food item to him from areas that would normally be beyond the bounds of his waiting mouth.
Annoyingly, Pelle was able to block us from grabbing his street food finds from his jaws by keeping the edges of the head cone against the ground until he’d fully swallowed them. Efforts to draw his head back and away from the ground were met with herculean resistance.
Pelle doesn’t care for other dogs as much as I’d like. When an adorable dog approaches him on the street, he seems to mostly feel annoyance that his food search has been interrupted. The head cone solved this: I watched the cutest, littlest black Pit Bull puppy come up to him from behind and cautiously sniff him, waiting for Pelle to turn around so they could greet each other.
When Pelle turned — a grotesque approximation of a dog with a gaping, projective vortex for a face — the puppy whimpered, jumped about three feet back, and allowed Pelle to continue with his self-serving quest. Pelle likely found this to be a helpful cone feature.
We had our first snow storm of the season during this period. In order to get up the steps to the backyard and forge a path across the patio, Pelle only needed to lower his cone a bit push several inches of snow out of the way so that he could chase the cat who lives in the yard. Unfortunately, he scooped up a bunch of snow as he went and deposited in our house, but at least he didn’t have to wait for us to clear the steps for him as he usually does and could pursue the poor cat on his own schedule.
The crescent-shaped bruises have faded, but I’ll always remember the terrifying two weeks in which I learned that a Border Collie with a head cone is still a Border Collie — one with a tool, at that.
Has your dog had to spend any time with an E-collar, and did it change his or her behavior for better or for worse? Let us know in the comments!
Check out some cuteness with Dogster:
About the author: Lauren Zimmer lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her boyfriend and dog. She is a children’s and young adult book reviewer and licensed social worker. Her dream is to become an animal-assisted therapist for children, and she hopes to someday own a farm where she can house many more adopted pets.