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Archive for July, 2009

Obedience

For a long time, i used to say that Buddy was “well-behaved, if not obedient”.  I imagine that he has a little Airedale in him and i read in a book that they can be very strong-willed.  They said that if you want to train an Airedale, you had better catch them young – and Buddy came to me at age eight.

But i have been realizing that Buddy is actually very obedient in almost all respects.  If we are walking down the road and i see him headed for the road or towards roadkill or towards anything else i don’t want him to get into, it takes nothing more than a not-very-loud “Uh-uh-uh!” to immediately redirect him.  If Lucy is running with us and similarly heads for the road or other trouble, me calling her immediately brings Buddy towards me – even when he was doing nothing wrong and even when Lucy completely ignores me.  And in so many other ways, Buddy is tremendously and immediately responsive to my commands or even wishes.

He just won’t “come” if he really doesn’t want to or sees no point in it.

One day we were hiking near a deep river gorge.  Buddy is, in general, pretty careful about such hazards, but i couldn’t see him and started to get nervous – and when he didn’t reply to my progressively more insistent calls, i got significantly nervous.  At times i almost thought i heard him back in the 20 feet or so of bushes between me and the gorge, but when he didn’t come i figured i was imagining this.  I finally spotted him: about 15 feet from me, chilling back in the high weeds right next to the path, watching me and wondering what i was getting worked up over: “Hey, i can see you, i know where you are, so what’s the problem?”

This obstinacy around coming mostly manifests when i want him to come in the house.  He comes quickly in if he has some reason to: thunder (or other loud noises), heavy rain, cold, hunger – even sometimes, i think, loneliness…like he just wants to be with me more than he wants to be outside.  But, absent any of these factors, he is liable to just look at me like I’m cracked.IMG_2095

A lot of the time, i end up deciding that he knows better than i.  I may think that it’s just too damp or cold for him to spend the night outside, but there’s just no way that i can calculate just how much instinctive recharge he gets from spending the night outside – i think that probably i do err sometimes on the side of being overprotective.

Other times, i do trust my instincts (thoughts, really) more than his.  He doesn’t have a concept of “arthritic hip that needs some protection from damp nights outside”, nor access to radio forecasts of thunderstorms during the night.  But, short of grabbing him by the collar and dragging 45 pounds of inert dog out of the doghouse, what works is simply attaching the leash to his collar.  He knows at this point that he has no options and no longer resists.

(When he as new to me and had figured out that the sight of this collar meant that our walk in the woods was over, he would absolutely run away from me – i had to apply it earlier and earlier before we got near the car.  These days he would never defy me that way, anywhere but in our back yard.  And even this just doesn’t seem like defiance so much as simple non-agreement.)

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buddy blanket 002IMG_1931“Thanks for the offer dad… but the thunder just isn’t scaring me that much yet.”

When Buddy first came to me, he was absolutely traumatized by any sound of thunder – he only wanted to hide back in my bedroom (where he otherwise never went).  He would hyperventilate and stare vacantly into space, completely unresponsive to my presence if i tried to comfort him.  These days he almost never gets that freaked by thunder.  (I do sometimes lay a little “security blanket” over him – a trick i got out of some dog magazine and fantasize to be helpful.  It’s one of those times that we sure wish our dogs or very young children had words, so we could know what actually helps and what doesn’t.)

But a really interesting thing these days about Buddy and thunder is how much thunder it takes to scare him.  Used to be that any amount was too much.  But these days Buddy is both braver and more confident in general – and he really loves his new doghouse that i got for him a few months ago.  When thunder starts, i will go to the back door and call, “You wanna come in?”  Sometimes he immediately presents himself and other times there is no response.  I may even go around to the door of his doghouse and ask, “Do you wanna come in now?”  He may look at me, completely unperturbed.  That little outside home of his is all the security he needs these days from relatively distant thunder or even for relatively heavy rain.

So i say, “OK” and trot back to the front porch, where i have my laptop and am happily writing – and from which vantage point i personally enjoy a good thunderstorm.  Then there is a sharp, close crack of thunder and i say, “That’ll do it” – and find him right at the back door, more than ready to come in.

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I read a piece about dogs and thunder (I think maybe in the daily paper) where some “expert” advised that you not do anything special, or it would “make the dog think that something is going wrong”.  How about that one, huh?  Sounds like the old business about letting babies cry.  (Maybe that’s how that “expert” was raised.)  Basically, the advice is to abandon him to his terror – so then he gets to be terrified and alone.  It’s bogus advice.  It’s bad psychology, human or animal.

Today i was working on the front porch when the rain started, with thunder out in the distance.  Buddy was sleeping the afternoon away in his doghouse out back.  When the thunder got a little louder I went the back door and called him to see if he wanted to come in.  No response: he apparently was still fine in the cozy safety of his doghous.  He truly is less terrified of this stuff then he used to be.

Back at my desk on the front porch, a few minutes later there came a really loud crack.  “Oh, boy, he’s gonna want in now!”  Sure enough, by the time i reached the back door, he was there waiting.  But still braver than in the past: instead of hiding under the kitchen table (or back in my bedroom, where he goes when he’s really scared), he plopped down on his bed – pretty much in the middle of the room.

Then another really loud bang came.  I did what i do in this circumstance – and what really seems to work for Buddy.  i squeezed right up close to him, wrapped my arms around him, put my face right against his and – yes, in a light, playful, melodious tone – said, “Oh, man, that was a terrible sound.”  And so it went for a few more nasty cracks.

It is so obvious that this attention from me does not alarm him more, but comforts him.  When i first put my face against his, he even made the little lip-smacking he makes whenever he really likes being petted.  This loving attention doesn’t send any wrong signal – it helps him to keep breathing (if maybe fast and shallow), it keeps him from getting frozen up.  If he can ride it through without going too deeply into freeze mode, he comes out of it a lot easier and better.

There is one way that i make somewhat less of a deal of thunderstorms these days then when i first encountered Buddy’s thunder fears: I don’t expect of myself that i stay with him through the whole storm – or even, sometimes, for the whole loud part.  Today i had a couple of things i really had to get done before leaving for a meeting, so – after my initial comforting – i did allow myself to go off and do some other stuff.

Then i looked in on him a few minutes later.  He was still breathing, not frozen, not acutely terrified – moping, his head on the floor, having a lousy time, but still on his bed in the middle of the room, not hiding.  I gave him some more cuddles and some more sweet-talk.  He gave me some real good eye contact – not the vacant staring-off-into-space he does when he has gotten frozen – hyper-ventilated for about a minute, then let out a sigh and rolled over on his side, visibly more relaxed.

I got up to go back to my work and a minute later saw that he had curled up in a tight little ball again – so i gave him another dose of love.  This time he opened his eyes really wide – not in terror, just really looking at me.  Then he sighed again and relaxed.

And i again got up and went back to my work.  Part of me wanted to just stay with him, but the fact was that i really did have a deadline to meet on a project.  If i coulda cloned myself, one of me would have stayed there, but there was only one of me.  And that one knew that he was in a lot better shape because i did give him so much love – that he would unfreeze faster and be more ok afterwards than he would have been otherwise.

And he would know that he was not alone.

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Tonight, after having treats – nice stuff I feed him to get him to take his meds (for hip dyplasia – Omega-3, glucosamine, and an inti-inflammatory drug that i hope eventually to get him off of) – Buddy, as usual when treats are done, wanted to go back outside.  He went to the back door like usual when he wants to go out, but when i slid the screen door open, he just stood there.  Usually he does that if it’s raining or cold and he’s not really sure if he actually wants to go out after all.

But there was no reason like that for him to just be standing there.  I was tired and wanted to get through the dishes and stuff to get my butt to bed, so i guess my patience wasn’t all that great.  So i did something i have never done with Buddy – I gave him just the lightest tap on the butt with my shoe.  Oh boy, he tucked his butt under and almost jumped through the door – then turned around and looked at me, i think shocked and a little scared.  Well you can guess how totally crappy i felt.  I immediately ran out the door and gave him lots of reassurance, incuding rubbing his butt – and he said, “Apology accepted”.

Buddy’s last person got him from the pound at about six months, and feels sure that he had been physically mistreated before that – and probably by a man, based on how scared of them he was (and still was eight years later, when i got him).  And this extraordinary, totally unexpected reaction caused me to believe that he must have been kicked in the rear end.

How is it that this trauma, if my hypothesis is correct, is still lingering after nine years now in which i feel sure that he not been physically mistreated (slightly neglected by his last person, i think, but never harmed), still lingering?  They say that people who have been physically abused at early ages never completely heal.  I guess it is the same for dogs.  Lots of love and safety over the last 15 months have tremendously built up Buddy’s confidence and reduced his skittishness, though that scared startle reaction still shows up in a variety of ways, like his running away if i drop anything on the hard kitchen floor – and, if it’s something loud, really running away.

I’m prepared for him to always display some fearfulness at times, and to still need lots of reassurance when this happens.

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A friend was telling me the other day that she learns how to live from her dog.  I, as much as anybody, view my dog as a fabulous teacher – but i think that’s only half the story.

I said, “You know, dogs learn a lot about life from us, too.”  She looked puzzled.  “Yeah, dogs are a domesticated animal – that means that a lot of their potential can only be tapped through their relationship with a human.  Your dog learns richer, more satisfying ways to be a dog from her close relationship with you.”

“Wow, I never thought about it that way.”

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Love moans

After i first got Buddy, a little over a year ago, when i would sit with him and give him love he seemed to have trouble relaxing into it.  I think he didn’t quite trust it.  Over the months, he has seemed to surrender to it more and more.  These days, when he especially likes me lovin’ on him, he lets out little moans of pleasure.

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Running the dog #2

(See “Running the dog #1” under the Not so fast... tab.)

This week, morning and evening, i have been looking in on and walking Joey.

Joey is an American Eskimo Dog.  His little legs are about as long as my shoe – not really cross-country runner legs.  The first few days that we walked, Joey was happy doing a quick walk (the AKC says “trot”) – which is about as fast as my regular walk.

Maybe today he was feeling the gorgeous summer morning – bright, still a little cool in the shade but warm in the sun – two different climate zones that we would go in and out of.  Whatever it was, I think i was feeling it too.

Joey wanted to go a little faster.  I haven’t been a runner in a lot of years, since my longer legs decided that they didn’t really like running anymore (long before the rest of me – especially my mind and feelings – had decided it was time to hang up the running shoes).  My idea of a good workout these days is walking uphill (easy to find in these Appalachian Mountains – actually, hard to find anything else) at three different speeds – moderate, slow and stopped.

But this morning, picking up the pace a little felt great to me, too.  Now i was doing a fast walk (not a trot, which is harder for me).  Joey looked at me and said, “I can go even faster than this” – and picked up the pace a little more.  At this point, he was flat-out running and i was running too, at something a little this side of flat-out.

At this point, a very cool thing happened: Joey looked at me and i looked at him – and he winked at me.  Oh, OK, not exactly a wink, but i could hear him saying, “Hey, man, look at us – this is cool!”  OK, maybe not exactly “heard” – but kinda did.  You know.  You dog lovers who also hallucinate words emanating from your dogs know exactly what i mean.

When my son Terry was about eight, he and i learned to roller skate together.  My competency on skates progressed just slightly faster than did his, but he still wanted to hold my hand as we skated – thus opening a new window into the concept of false sense of security.  Sweet, i really did like it, but i couldn’t resist the thought, “Sorry kid, but if i go down I’m taking you down with me.”

But one Saturday afternoon at the roller rink, right at the end of the session, Terry started to feel more confident.  They always played a ballad at the end of the session – not exactly a waltz, but sweet and kind of dreamy late 70’s/early 80’s pop.  Maybe it was the relatively lyrical nature of the music, but Terry found his groove and voluntarily dropped my hand.  And he kinda started to fly.

He would focus intently on his skating, even as he was starting to let it flow – then he would look over at me.  Then back to the skating and then back at me.  And he winked at me.  OK, not literally winked – i don’t know that this is a behavior he has ever picked up.  But energetically, something in him winked.  And I could hear that part of him say, “Look at us – isn’t this cool?!”

And it was – very cool.

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