Archive for August, 2009

I’ve identified several different tail wags on Buddy.

  • When Buddy is happy that I’ve come home, his tail strays straight out behind him and wags back and forth real fast.
  • When he’s happy to be going for a walk and is loping down the road or through a field, he tail goes almost straight up and makes big circles that i call “helicopter tail.”
  • When he’s lying on his side on the our wooden or tile floors and thinks i may be coming over to give him attention, his tail goes up to his side, kind of halfway between up and straight back and makes a drumbeat on the floor.
  • when i’m straddling him, standing back by his butt, his tail bangs back and forth against the inside of my legs – this always cracks me up.

Is it true of all dog owners that these signs of our dog being happy make us also happy?  I think so, for all of us who are paying attention.

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Last night was only about the 5th time that i have gone to bed without “tucking Buddy in” (see post forJuly 21, https://mybuddysblog.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/tucking-buddy-in/).

I hate missing that little ritual, but it was the best I could do at the time.  I  had been immersed in work at my desk until late – then i literally fell asleep as i was working.  (The little cup of cereal i was holding as i pondered what to type next in an email i was writing slipped right out of my hands – and fortunately only pinned itself between my belly and the desk.  I knew there was a reason for not losing those extra pounds.)

So I basically staggered over to Buddy’s bed.  (I had made him come in for the night because it had rained hard all day and the ground was just too damp for his little arthritic hip.  He would have preferred to stay out, but i asserted my parental authority.)  He had recently been sleeping on his bed so hard that he was snoring loudly, but had a little bit ago woke up – and was laying there actually looking pretty contented, not moping and waiting/hoping for some attention.

I kissed him on his little snout (he loves that – sometimes he will repeatedly stick his nose up towards me so i can kiss it again), said “Nighty-night, sweetheart” – then literally staggered off to my own bed, just barely making it there before i went completely unconscious.  Even in my half-conscious state, as i walked towards my bedroom i could feel his little eyes following me, asking, “What, that’s it?”

But i didn’t feel really bad about it: he’s had lots of good love from me the last couple of days, has been playing very happily with Lucy and has seemed, overall, to be a very happy, content little dog.  His little emotional bank account is pretty full.  I love our little bedtime ritual and shall continue to make it happen almost every night, but sometimes it just ain’t happenin’.

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What is he releasing?

Tonight, as I was giving buddy a little bedtime cuddle, he shifted into what i believe to be a deep stress release, of a kind that i have seen in him only a couple of other times.

The night had been a little strange already.  When i went out to give Buddy a last walk for the evening, around 10 p.m., he refused to come out of his doghouse.  He usually comes bounding out of his doghouse to head down the driveway and then up the other side (though i seldom have the energy to go very far up the hill on the other side this late and in the dark).

The only other time i have seen him refuse to come out of his doghouse like this at night (he often will not leave it in the heat of the day) was the last time our mama bear came calling, about 8 days ago.  She never seems to come out of the woods until after midnight – and it was only when she appeared again on our front porch about 1 a.m. that i finally put 2 and 2 together.  He somehow knew that she was out there in the woods, even though his keen-scented hound dog friend had never sounded her alarm bark.  (Maybe the breeze was blowing the other way.)  So i was concerned, tonight, that mama bear might be back,  and I brought Buddy in for the night.

So maybe it was a bear in the woods that had him scared (if, in fact, it was fear that had him hunkered down in his doghouse) – or maybe the Fedex truck (which terrifies him about as much as that bear) had come up the the driveway to our neighbor Tom’s house (though it was kind of late for a Fedex delivery).

But, as i sat next to Buddy caressing his head (he adores having his ears rubbed), he started to hyperventilate – and wouldn’t stop.  Though i was tired and had to get up early the next morning, i decided that i would not leave him until he had gotten through whatever this was and started to relax.  It took about an hour.  His heavy breathing would relent for a few seconds and i would hope that he was starting to relax, but then he would go right back into it.  After about 30 minutes, he started to have more violent physical release – his legs tremored and then his whole body started to shake.  About another 30 minutes and he finally did relax.

It was pretty clear that he was again ok when i went over to the kitchen counter for a little bedtime snack and he happily came over and presented himself for a dog biscuit.  (I only get ones that are all natural and seeem, from the ingredients, to be almost as healthy as his dog cereal, so i never refuse him.)

Then i decided that i needed one last cigarette and went out onto the front porch.  I set up my cushions on the floor and against the chair behind me and he eagerly followed me out, then snuggled between my straddled legs.  (Outside and getting love – his favorite thing.)

But just as we settled in, i started hearing a sound from the direction of the woods that i didn’t like.  Maybe it was just somebody’s stereo rumbling its woofer down the road, but i’ve never heard music from down there.  There’s a guy down there that likes to get his buzz saw going at all hours of the night, but this didn’t sound like that.  I became convinced (though i’m still not sure i was right) that our bear was down there in the woods, grumbling.

What was it that caused this deep release from Buddy?  Was it some very immediate trauma or something further back.  The first time the bear came calling, a couple of weeks ago, i was already asleep and slept through the whole thing.  She knocked over Tom’s garbage can, about 40 yards out from our back door: that woke Tom up and he got a couple of photos out his bedroom window, but i did not know that we had had an ursine visitor until the next morning, when Tom brought down his photos.  But poor Buddy spent the entire night out there, probably similarly hiding out in his doghouse, with that bear probably in his direct line of sight, about 40 yards away.  I’m sure he must have been one terrified little dog.  So maybe that was what he was releasing tonight, perhaps having been triggered by believing -correctly or not – that the bear was out in those woods again.

Or maybe he was releasing something from much earlier – maybe even the abuse that he almost certainly went through in his first few months of life, before his last person rescued him from the pound.  I do believe that those early traumas can stick with us for a long, long time – especially since Buddy’s person for the eight years before me did not believe in giving him too much attention, the kind of attention that might have helped him release much of that trauma before he came to me.

Holly Near, way back in the 60’s, used to sing a song that went, “Come sit with me through the night while i cry”.  I’ve never forgotten those lyrics.  Buddy doesn’t cry – he just hyperventilates and shakes.  And i by god am not going to miss a chance to sit with him through the night while he does it.

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The hunter is back!

Buddy did something on our walk just now which completely reassured me that he is fine – even if he has, in general, been so lethargic lately.

First good sign was that he did deign to come with me on my walk back on the property, even in the heat of the afternoon.  (At first he refused, but then when i went out of sight around the curve in the road, decided that he did actually want to come.  At first i could only see his little wagging tail over the berm next to the horse pasture, which was very cute – then he trotted enough to catch up with me.)

On our way back down the hill from our little woods, he was doggin’ it, not showing a lot of pep.  Then he suddenly stopped absolutely still and went into full, hyper-alert hunter pose.  He stared at the grass a few feet in front of him, at something that i could not see.  He even did that classic doggie gesture that he almost never does, where he cocked his head to one side as he stared in front of him – so cute!  He stealthily took a few hunter steps – and then he pounced!  He started feverishly digging through the grass to the earth below, periodically shoving his nose down into the dirt in a way that gets his little face and beard so dirty, even as it reveals the little ratter that he is.  Then he would go back to his excited digging.

He periodically pulled his head out and looked vigilantly all around – as he always does when he is digging for prey like this – then back to the digging and the shoving his head down the little hole he was creating.  Finally – as usually is the case – he lost the scent and quit.  But, as he now happily trotted down the road, you could tell that the mighty hunter – whom i had not recently seen in action – was back.

For the next few days, at least, no amount of lethargy in him – on these dog days of summer – will concern me.  He’s still one mighty little dog!

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Buddy’s energy has been low for a few days now.

I’ve gotten used to him, on these hot/warm summer days, sleeping the afternoon away in his doghouse – and even demurring from walks.  But he has also seemed “not himself” sometimes in the mornings and evenings – and he did behave so oddly last night.

This morning we were taking our usual walk back up the hill behind our house. For the last few days, he has mostly been just walking – no happy trotting across Hal’s huge front yard.  This morning, as he was sniffing at some of Hal’s little pine trees, his little white friend from further up the hill came running up to him.  She went through her usual ritual of inviting him to chase: standing rigid, kind of nose-to-nose with him, then making a quick start back to the right or left.  Buddy usually loves playing these chase games with her and will immediately take off in hot pursuit.  (She’s faster than him, but she either slows down so he can keep up or doubles back to start the game again.)  Today Buddy just stood there.  He seemed happy to see her, but just not up to chasing.  After she tried a few times (with me standing and watching, so he knew that i was not leaving), he just walked away from her, towards me, and continued walking up the hill.  Very unusual.

When my son was growing up, i sometimes went through certain kinds of anxieties that i know are common among parents.  Although Terry was, all things considered (divorced parents and, after age 6, a dad who lived 300 miles away), a very well adjusted kid with great social skills, sometimes i would observe him have an awkward exchange with another kid or choose to play on his own when there were other great kids around to play with – and i would start to worry.  “Is he developing OK?  Are his social skills really what they need to be?  Are my limitations as a parent screwing him up?”  Sometimes i knew that these anxieties were pure neurosis on my part, and other times i tended to give them more stock.

Terry is 33 now, a very well adjusted young man with a terrific personality, wonderful friends and a fabulous wife.  There is more than enough evidence that my anxieties about his development were nothing more than standard parenting insecurities.  So why do i still get anxious almost every time my dog behaves strangely?

Trust comes hard for us humans – i know that.  We are chronically going in and out of various states that are all variations of “something is going wrong” – or “something has gone wrong”, “something is about to go wrong”…or past/present/future tense of  “I’m doing something wrong”.  As flawed, insecure humans, we go back and forth between love and fear.  We alternate between the “something wrong” states and then genuinely blessed states of, sometimes just a little and other times more strongly, trusting that all is well.

I’m trying to remember that when i think something is going wrong with Buddy, that usually is just a projection based on me being at that moment out of sorts with myself and with my place in the cosmos.  It’s not really him and his life that i’m worrying about, it’s me – and he then is a mirror, reflecting what’s up in me.  After all, he has frequently over the last days seemed absolutely fine: playing with Lucy (his best friend), cuddling happily with me, perching himself in various spots in the back yard and looking very content – at times almost regal.  He’s still doing his watchdog barking thing – one of his absolute favorite games – with great enthusiasm.

It really seems pretty useful that Buddy is so often a mirror for me of my inner states, somewhere on the continuum from fear to love.  Knowing my starting point at that particular moment is very useful.  I then get a chance to love that.

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Lucy, my neighbor Tom’s hound, just spent a week here with Buddy and I while Tom was away.  Buddy loves Lucy, and i thought this would work out fine – but it didn’t.  Buddy got all neurotic from having to share his space, even with a dog he likes as much as Lucy.  (A dog’s home is his castle, i guess.)  And i, who find Lucy intrusive and pesty at the best of times, got all stressed out from trying to give her some love and attention while continually needing to reassure Buddy that he was still my #1 dog.  I was in some ways not all that nice to Lucy.

Tom has been home for a few days now and Lucy is obviously thrilled to have him home.  With him, Lucy really is his #1 dog (though he is also crazy about Buddy).  So why is Lucy still so hungry to get time with me?  She whimpers at the back door, even when her playmate Buddy is already out in the backyard with him.  She paws at the screendoor (which always annoys me – Buddy always waits there patiently, even when that is not always such a great strategy, because I sometimes don’t notice him there).  She tries, even more insistently than before, to insert herself between me and Buddy.

Whereas she has always seemed to want attention from me, now – after a week of me often ignoring her or just plain pushing her away (and then sometimes, when Buddy wasn’t looking, also giving her some love and attention – partly because i felt guilty about not being nice to her, partly because i really believe in treating dogs lovingly, and partly because she is in many ways a sweet, lovable dog), she seems to have a real crush on me.

Is it because, like some behavioral psychologists claim to have proven in their research, intermittent reinforcement (giving the animal a pellet for a particular behavior some of the time but not all the time) is even more powerful in shaping behavior than consistent reinforcement?  Is it because, in the area of love, dogs sometimes behave like us stupid people and compulsively pursue a love object that apparently has no interest in us?  Or is it – even when i have not always been nice to Lucy – because dogs just love people so much that Lucy craves me, her closest human neighbor, just because i’m human – and even more so now that she knows me better?

Hey, if you figure it out, let me know.

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Today i have a very different theory (different from my post from last night) as to why last night out in our back yard, after seeming to completely relish my bedtime attention, Buddy then abruptly broke it off and went into his doghouse.

He actually broke it off twice.  After the first few minutes of seeming totally happy to have me there, he stood up and moved a few feet away, to one of the other nice little holes he has dug for himself in the backyard.  Typically, if I follow him to his new spot, he seems to be really happy that i did.  I speculate sometimes that he is in some way testing to see how much i really am there for him, but i obviously am making all this stuff up.  But on most occasions, following him seems to work.

Last night, after i followed him, he seemed at first to be very happy that i had – he went back to leaning up against me, rolling around in pleasure, etc.  But – whereas usually with these goodnight visits he seems to not want them to end and, no matter how long i hang in, always looks mournfully at me when i finally quit and go back to the house to put me to bed – this time, after just a few minutes, he broke the cuddling off and went into his doghouse.

Last night i speculated that it was just too much intense pleasure for him to tolerate (cuz i behave this way sometimes).  This morning i have an alternate theory, which may a little bit connect with the first one but is really very different.

When i came out of the house into the backyard to sit with Buddy and say goodnight, he looked not just content sitting in one of his fav spots (“power points”, some folks might say), 15 yards up the hill by the huge oak tree – he looked majestic.  He radiated a kind of calm strength.

So, to have his human – whom he obviously loves completely – also sitting with him should be just one more plus, right?  Most times that would be true – but this time i think my presence just messed with him.  He didn’t need me there: he was completely happy communing with the earth, the gorgeous energy of that fabulous tree spilling all around him, intoxicated by the smell and sounds of a perfect summer night.  He not only didn’t need me, but focusing then on our relationship – much as he relishes it – broke the spell.  Paying attention to me took him out of his magical connection with the night and the natural world around him.

I kinda like this insight, even if I’m making it up.  I know that, when my son was growing up, what he somnetimes needed from me (and, obviously, more as he grew older) was to leave him the hell alone.  Let him have his play – with his friends or even just in his contented solitariness.

Sometimes it might even be great for me to let go for a while of being a compulsive giver – and explore my own relationship with the delicious night.

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