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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Just now, when i went out to sit with Buddy and say goodnight to him, he got really excited to have me there, as he so often does.  He put his paw over my leg, which he does when he really wants to claim me.  He rolled over and moaned with pleasure.  He, for almost a full minute, looked deeply into my eyes.  Then he got up and walked away into his doghouse.

I at first was mystified by this unusual breaking-off of our connection, when he had moments before seemed ecstatic about it.  But i have a theory: it was just more than he could stand.  He was feeling more than he could deal with, so he broke off the contact and went off by himself.  At least i know that i have done that sometimes…

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Lucy has gone home and Buddy and i finally have our house back – and it is clearer than ever how disruptive it was for him to not have our house be his safe little refuge, even from his friend Lucy.  He chose to stay inside last night and seemed thrilled to have his little bed back.  (I had picked it up to prevent problems after Lucy started claiming it for herself.)

This experience prompted me to write a long piece (too long to be a simple post here) about Buddy’s journey towards feeling really at home in our house, called “Mi casa es su casa”.  I have added it under the “Not so fast” tab.  It’s recommended reading (by me), when you have about seven minutes.

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Your Lucy and My Dog  (Something Rises, 2009)

Lucy, our neighbor dog

Mine for this week you are away

Barks at the door when she wants in

Buddy stands outside and waits and hopes

That I will see him there

Which sometimes I do not

He stands alone in trust and hope

And sometimes in despair

As I go on my mindless way

When I’d wish to see him there

Buddy comes to me so soft and warm

And patient and so easy to let in

Lucy pushes through

Past my own dog’s water ways

Heedless, she knows her needs alone

Knows not how to share,

How to wait her turn

Pushy as a waterfall

She can wear away a stone

My water ways

Can melt your heart

Sometimes I’m, too, alone

When I push sometimes you let me in

Grateful to know I’m there

Sometimes you push me back from you

Like I’m some hungry bear

I wish sometimes that I knew more

My wants and needs – my hunger, too

How can I know which dog to be

Which one will speak to you

Teach me, please, my cherished love

When you want me to push

And when my sweetness you would hold

I promise I will learn from you

Except when I do not

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Buddy and Lucy and i are walking up the hill behind our house.  The little white dog (looks kinda like an American Eskimo Dog I know) who lives just a little further up the hill has come down to greet them.  IMG_2007Buddy likes this little dog and loves to play chase games with her.  But today Lucy is there, too.

Either of these dogs somehow – wonerfully, instinctively – knows, when they play chase with Buddy, to slow down a little so that his old legs can keep up with them.  Otherwise there is no game.  But this morning wen the game begins, those two faster dogs take off and Buddy, unable to match their speed, quits and just watches them run.

I project that he is sad.

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dorie 003Lucy is staying with us for the week.  Spending more time with her – and with her so pitiably lonesome and needy, with Tom gone and all her usualness interrupted – i am finding more ways that i like her.  This feels nice.  And she still can be very annoying – and even more so when she is so high maintenance and so underfoot.  It’s kinda touching that she is following me around, wanting to be near me.  And bloody irritating: she wants in and out, in and out – and she is always there.

And Buddy, even while he in some ways is enjoying having her around, has also once again – as happens whenever another dog is staying with us – has himself gotten hopelessly neurotic and needy.  He expresses his sense of loss in such a sweet, non-intrusive way – and i love him so much – that his neediness continually touches my heart, and it is relatively easy for me to give him the extra love he needs, even as it is not enough.

But i keep closing my heart to Lucy.  Partly because giving her the attention she is begging for, when Buddy is there to see it, just leaves him even more sunk.  And partly because I find her so annoying.

This closing of my heart to Lucy – even being a little mean to her – is nothing new.  I do it every time i come home and she persistently tries to insert herself between me and Buddy, as i give him my sweet coming home greeting.  Ditto when i’m sitting on the ground lovin’ on Buddy and she just keeps trying to get in between us.  I push her away.  I tell her to “go on” (Tom’s command for “leave me alone”).  All while she is watching me lavish love on Buddy.

I feel sorry for her.  I feel badly that she doesn’t get as much affection and attention as Buddy does.  I feel guilty that i am pushing her away.  I feel tense about the fact that she is so clumsy about asking for love – that she is, let me just say it – not as lovable as Buddy.

i just don’t know any other way to do it.  I am mean to her, even though i love dogs – and loving dogs is an important and cherished part of who i am.  I close my heart to her at the same moment that i am opening it to Buddy.  I know that this confuses my poor heart no end.  Sometimes i reach over Buddy, who i am petting, and pet her a little with my other hand – but this just encourages her and she again tries to push in.

Eventually, hopefully, Life will teach me a better way to handle this.  I hate closing my heart – to Lucy and just period.  Right now, however, i don’t know anything else to do.

Maybe opening my heart to me – having compassion for this difficult, confusing situation i am in – is the real lesson.  i was born to love – and sometimes i just don’t know how to.

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Lucy is ours for the week, while tom takes his daughter off to college for her freshman year at college.  (Probably more exciting that scary for her – and 50-50 for him.)  Tom usually takes her to the kennel, but jumped at the chance to leave her at home, just 40 yards out our back door.  When Tom gone for the day or part of it, I let her in and out all day anyway (out when i come home, back in if i leave or at night – when it’s late enough that her baying could disturb even the neighbors 200 yards down the road and through a row of trees).

The notion was that i would again let her in Tom’s and her house at night and that she would be fine sleeping there.  Right.  There are several problems with this idea:

  • I think she’s too lonely.
  • probably because she’s lonely, she cries and howls unceasingly.  (Or at least i can’t bring myself – or sacrifice the sleep – to see if she ever ceases.)
  • We have had several bear visitations lately – a couple on my front porch, but mostly on Tom’s patio or out in his back yard.  For her to be home alone if a bear is right outside would, i think, just be too disturbing
  • It’s actually a little fun – or funny, at least – to have her stay at our house.

At first Buddy was not so sure it was fun – and i don’t think he ever actually finds things humorous, though i’m convinced that he enjoys making me laugh.  The couple of times i have tried boarding dogs at our house that Buddy does not know, he has become hopelessly neurotic: clingy, watching sadly if i give the other dog any attention, giving them the total cold shoulder like the intruder that for him they are.

I usually never allow Lucy in our house – and if she slips in when i’ve got the door open to bring in groceries, etc., Buddy’s food (which sits there all day because he only eats at night and lightly even then) is gone in about 30 seconds. Despite how much Buddy likes Lucy and how much fun they otherwise have, as soon as he realized – on Sunday evening – that she was staying in our house for the night, his neuroses set in.

Now Lucy is pushy at the best of times.  If she’s around when i am petting Buddy – or when he comes up to the car to greet me – she always tries to insert herself between us.  (If I were Buddy, this would get me very upset, but he pretty much rolls with it – partly because i, maybe a little unkindly, push Lucy away to give Buddy his rightful spot.  I would also reach out to pet her behind Buddy, but this only encourages her and she pushes in again.)

So, with Lucy in the house:

  • Buddy wants to be in the house, too – something he almost never wants in the warm weather.
  • He sticks to me like glue.  When he does come in the house, his usual fav spot is on the nice cushy area rug under the kitchen table.  With Dorie there, he wants to be right by me.  If i’m working at my desk, he wants to be right under the desk.  He almost never sleeps in my room, unless he has been scared by thunder, but now he only wants to sleep at the foot of my bed.

(Someone trained him never to get on furniture and he will not.  When if first got him and thought it might be nice for him to sleep on the bed with me, he got really uncomfortable and in a minute or so hoppped down.  When i tried to get him to sit on the sofa while i watched a video, he didn’t like that either.  Both were probably lousy ideas anyway, with a dog that spends so much time outside and tracks in mud and wet.)

But that same first night Lucy was here, i brought them both out on the darkened front porch to sit on the floor with me.  When i pushed Lucy away so that Buddy could have his usual spot between my legs, she flopped on the floor a few feet away.  But i think that Buddy was less threatened by Lucy being on our front porch than by her being in our house, because – after charging his love batteries for a few minutes on the floor close to me – when Lucy walked by, he started to playfully bite at her leg, like when he wants her to play.

Out on the porch, they did not get up for their outdoor wrestle and chase games, but just laid on the floor and rolled around, chewing on each other’s ears, necks and legs.  It was really very cute.  After that, Buddy seemed more relaxed about her being in our house.  i fantasize that some of the sweet side of having a sibling started to kick in.

Last night when i was working at my desk, Lucy immediately flopped down underneath me, under the desk.  I tried at first to get her to move, but she was obviously thinking “Down and heavy”, because she was almost immovable.  But then Buddy came over, managed to wedge himself beside her under the desk – and seemed completely content.

I think this might turn out to be good for Buddy.  And also good for me and Lucy: outside i mostly don’t give her any encouragement to push between me and Buddy.  With Tom gone, Lucy has imprinted herself on me like our last two missing-their-parents overnight guests.  She is wanting to come in and out during the day, which Buddy has no interest in doing.  Today, when at one point she was inside and Buddy outside, i actually felt free to give her some love.  She sucked it up hungrily – and naturally needed it, with Tom gone and her regular rhytms so thrown off.

And i liked it too.  Spending more time with her – and seeing her as genuinely needy, not just pushy and greedy – i’m starting to like her more, and even find her kinda sweet.

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“Tied in”

There oughtta be a law.

Dog “tie-outs” are very popular in this part of the country: you just drive a big metal stake into the ground, chain your dog to it and you’re good to go.  The dog gets to enjoy the open air, you get to sit on the sofa and watch the TV – no problems, right?

Not much point here in belaboring the whole issue of chaining dogs up (I do support a local group seeking to end this practice), but i have a neighbor dog who is tied in.

The mother of a household whose home i walk by several times a day, on our way back up the hill behind our house, is disabled, in a wheel chair.  Over about 11 months, i have seen her about that many times – a few times on the front porch and the others being helped in or out of their van.

I have seen Nellie, their two year old Pit Bull, about that often.  I like Pit Bulls – Buddy’s two best doggie friends at our old house were two unfixed male Pit Bulls – so i was predisposed to liking Nellie, but i never got the chance: Nellie is one very aggressive dog.

And why not?  She is an extremely robust breed that wants and needs lots of exercise.  I have never seen Nellie out of their (unfenced) yard, only once off-leash (she attacked my dog), never seen her really getting a walk, much less a run.

The daughter tells me that Nellie is her mom’s “baby”, her cherished companion.  Bless her heart, she probably really needs a companion – how can i possibly begrudge this bit of comfort in her life?  But i will let myself take the judgmental stance that, if you want to own a dog, you need to find some way to meet their needs for exercise.  Get the right breed.  This poor woman needs a little lap dog, not a Pit Bull.

Tieing dogs in is almost as bad as tieing them out.

There oughtta be a law.

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Several of us pet sitters were in a seminar with a local vet who practices acupuncture with dogs (Erin Husted at the Charlotte St. Animal Hospital).

I had mentioned a story on the radio where they described reserach showing that people respond better to acupuncture when they expect it to help.  They called this a “placebo effect”, but not to say that the positive response was all in the person’s mind – just that a positive physical reaction was more likely when you expected it.

One of the other sitters said, “Well at least dogs can’t be cynical about whether something will help.  I said (thinking about my Buddy), “No, but there is such a thing as a ‘discouraged’ dog.”  The others looked puzzled and I said, “When a dog has consistently not had their needs met – maybe for attention and affection – they can kind of give up on getting these needs met.  They get discouraged.”

The very experienced sitter who had just made the comment about “not cynical” ruefully nodded her head up and down: “I guess you do see this.”

I’ve seen it – plenty.  When Buddy first came to me, he was a discouraged dog.  He didn’t look for attention or affection, because he didn’t expect to get it.  Within the first couple of months of starting to share space with me, this started to shift – he began, tentatively, to believe that he might actually get love and attention in greater measure.

I would say that Buddy is no longer a discouraged dog – discouragement is no longer the baseline from which he comes.  But I also would say that he still is “easily discouraged”.  He still spends some significant time moping – seeming, as I see it, kind of sad from being left alone.  Lucy, our neighbor dog, even though she gets much less attention than Buddy – and even when she also seems a little mopey – still seems (as I imagine what is going on inside that little doggie brain of hers) more positively expectant that something good may at any moment happen.

I would call her more resilient – less likely to move into discouragement.

When I come out the back door to take the dogs for a walk, I often bring out  my walking shoes and flop them down on the back step, a sure cue that I am getting ready for a walk. (I’ve even taken to changing my shoes around the corner in the living room, out of sight, when I am getting ready to leave, not take them for a walk – so as to not to give them false hopes.)  Or, when I am taking them for a walk, I may even use the magic phrase, “Let’s go for a walk.”

But I’m often kind of scattered and untogether – and at these times I’m prone to forgetting things.  So I may go back into the house to get somethingIi have forgotten – my little spiral writing pad, which i carry with me everywhere, or my cell phone if i am expecting a call.  Lucy stays expectant – she doesn’t start to give up hope about the cherished walk.  Buddy easily gives up.  I’ve learned to keep calling to him, things like, “I’m coming…stay there, I’m coming.”  This may help him hang in, but usually not for more than a minute.  Then he is likely to go to one of his favorite moping places, like back behind the bushes next to the house, flop down and kind of give up.

So Buddy is no longer a discouraged dog, but still is kind of easily discouraged.  I see this still gradually shifting – and hope sometimes that his tendency towards discouragement will eventually go away, but I think it may not.  That wounding from his early years of not getting what he needed from the people in his life just runs too deep.

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OK, it’s the morning after.  The bear actually came back to my porch another time last night (see yesterday’s post), but i had already – after she left the first time – gotten brave enough to go out on the porch to bring inside the bird feeders that mama bear had not mangled on her first visit, so this second time she didn’t stay but a few moments.  She may come back tonight to make one last check, but i don’t expect her to linger then, either.

And, this morning, with the smoke (or the bear odor – i think i even smelled it and I’m sure that Buddy did) cleared, I’m realizing that i missed a real opportunity.

It was all so exciting.  And Tom had cool photos from mama bear’s visits to his patio early in the week (with cubs – they weren’t with her on my porch).  And i wanted to document this exciting event – and to be able to show the images to my friends, some of whom are familiar with this front porch.  So i understand why i spent the few minutes of mama bear’s visit to my porch madly snapping photos – i almost could not have done differently.  But i do have a lingering “what if?”

I take a lot of photos of Buddy.  He endures it.  He doesn’t pose well – he pretty specifically turns away when he sees the camera in my hand.  But it is, overall, a very small slice of our time together that i’m playing photographer.  I certainly realize that these photo shoots are not quality time between us.  So why didn’t i give myself some quality time with my bear visitor?

This was only the third time i have seen a bear outside of a zoo – and the other two sightings were relatively long distance: way off down a forest trail, many years ago, and crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway about a year ago (this sighting lasted just a few moments).  But this bear was about ten feet away from me (yes, on the other side of my windows) and she was taking her own sweet time, exploring all my different bird feeders.

And i realized this morning that i never let myself experience it.

I am very clear that connection with another species is a tremendous antidote to our human feelings of isolation.  This awareness largely drives my passion over my relationship with Buddy – and the joy i take from walking dogs, both at the local animal shelter and in my dog walking service.  Here i was in such close proximity to a magnificent being of a species i do not know – and i just stayed busy the whole time.  Not just busy, but also intrusive.  The flash from my camera finally pissed her off and she actually lunged at the camera, poking through the top of the window.  So my final moment of that bear visitation was spent with her angry at me – and me running like hell further into the house!

If i do ever again get a bear up so close, i think i will just pay attention: pay attention to her, pay attention to what gets evoked in me from being in her presence – including fear, which was certainly all mixed in with the excitement i felt last night.  I would like to just be with her.  To maybe think:

“Here we are: two very different species, but both sentient beings inhabiting the same planet.  Ms. Bear, i greet you – i honor your presence and am grateful that you have visited me.  I will treat you with respect – and hope that, when our visit has ended, i will carry within me some of  your great bear energy.”

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Buddy never goes back in my bedroom unless he’s really terrified of a thunderstorm.  But tonight, with a bear on our front porch, he decided that my room was the right place to be.

Later: before going to bed – an hour after the bear had left, with my excited, agitated energy just beginning to settle down – i spent some time just being with Buddy, still hiding back in my bedroom.  Pretty quickly he lay on his side and started to relax.  Then his legs and head, even his torso, began to shake.  And i realized, “Oh my god, this poor little doggie isn’t just scared – he’s terrified.”  In all my preoccupation with the bear’s visit, I had not really paid attention to just how scary all this was for my little doggie.

Many dogs would have been barking like crazy at the bear on the front porch.  Buddy just got very quiet – contracted, i now realize – hiding first under the kitchen table, then under my desk as i wrote, then back in my bedroom.  Usually our house is a sanctuary for him, but there she was so close – and with her odor, i’m sure, permeating the inside of our house.  Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.

So Buddy shook, then relaxed, then raised himself up with his nose working hard.  “Is she still there?  I still smell her.”  Then he would relax – and then shake some more.  Then relax.  Then his eyes popped wide open.  “Do you hear her, Buddy?  It’s ok, you’re safe.”  He may actually have been hearing her somewhere, as she did pay one last brief visit to our porch later that night – but i had brought in the remaining bird feeders and she didn’t stay.

In all my preoccupation with my various reactions to the bear, my doggie’s terror went way into background.  i knew that he was scared, but never even considered stopping everything to give him some reassurance.  I’ll learn.

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Sometimes, when Buddy is out in the yard (or even inside), he clearly is resting.  He looks content.  Other times he looks mopey.  I project on this look that he is a little sad, discouraged.  Maybe sad that he is alone, not getting attention from me.  I think that he has gone back into discouragement.

I see this also sometimes in Lucy, our neighbor dog, especially now that she comes down the hill from her yard all the time looking for me to take them for a walk.  She may see me moving around in the kitchen, or somehow know (as does Buddy sometimes) that i have roused myself from the bed and am up and about.  She gets all hopeful, but then – when i make no movement to come out the back door – gives up and mopes.

When Buddy first came to me, about 17 months ago, he moped all the time – almost literally all the time.  He does this a lot less these days – spends more time looking content, simply resting.  But he still goes there kind of a lot – and way less than Lucy.

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Tonight, as I walked down our little lane, there were two distinct shadows moving side by side: one with two legs and one with four.  This sight gave me an exceptionally sweet, warm feeling – and i felt exquisitely not alone.

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I knew it – I’ve known it since i first started getting to know Lucy.  But there is a part of me that doesn’t really like  it that i’m more like our speedy, intrusive, often slightly out of control neighbor hound dog than i am like my own sweet, laid back, mellow dog – so I’ve never paid attention to it.

Just about a half-hour ago, Buddy and i were walking back down the hill from Hal’s yard towards our house, and i was thinking about our bear encounters over the last couple of days.  (See my 8/11 post.)  Specifically i was thinking about how, two nights before, i had followed my usual late-night routine of sitting with Buddy out in our backyard (the last few nights in the beautiful moonlight) – even though bears had been in relatively close proximity to that very spot twice in the last 24 hours, the last time being just three hours earlier.

“Wasn’t that kind of reckless on my part?”, I asked myself.  That’s what caused the click.  i had, in that same post, described Lucy as “reckless-tending”.  “Oh shit, i thought – I’m Lucy, not Buddy.”  I’ve said many times over the last 17 months that Buddy is the perfect dog for me because his laid-back, mellow energy balances out my own more intense energy (different from my previous dog Bobbie, whose Border Collie intensity was just too much like my own intensity).

No wonder Lucy so often irritates me: she mirrors a part of me with which i have a love-hate relationship.  I guess i was more ready to recognize this fact at that particular moment because i had just been rehearsing/memorizing a poem which is about how my own headlong poor judgment has sometimes gotten me in trouble – a poem which itself, intentionally, has that same kind of risky, barely-under-control momentum.

(I very often, especially when i am preparing for a poetry performance, spend my walks with Buddy similarly rehearsing a poem – often out loud, when i think there are no neighbors in earshot.  Hey, so I suck at Zen – so sue me.)

I have often, over many years, described myself as counterphobic.  i see that i have reallybeen that way since childhood.  When something is scary to me, i am almost compelled to move towards it.  When, a few weeks ago, i thought i heard a bear in the woods, i just could not stop myself from (slowly, yes) moving in that direction.  I identify a lot with the movie character Poppie (in the wonderful recent movie Happy Go Lucky) who, in her commitment to helping people be happy, sometimes moves towards an unhappy person even when she knows that she placing herself at risk.  Moving towards the thing i fear somehow makes that fear more manageable.

So Lucy, i salute you.  You ain’t so much “goofy”, as i so often describe you, as you are intense and sometimes mindless of your own safety (and, ok, sometimes just kind of mindless – even, doggie that you are, more often so than me).  It’s not a bad way to be, nor even necessarily a good way to be – it’s just what we are.

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When i moved into my little country cabin, out on Avery Creek Rd. in Arden, I was told that there had been a number of bear sightings on this property over the years – the most recent about two weeks before i moved in.  But there have been no sightings in the 11 months i have lived here.  I have eagerly awaited my first.  The last two nights i almost got it.

But i slept through both bear visitations!  Tom, my neighbor – 40 yards out my back door – has seen them both nights.  But the bears were on his deck, knocking over the garbage can in which he keeps his bird seed.  Each night they woke him up right around 1:30 in the morning.  Each night i had gone to bed about 1 a.m. and slept through all the excitement.

Before you lay some judgments on Tom for keeping his bird seed out on the deck, you’ve got to realize that Tom loves having bears come to visit.  Even after many such visits over about ten years, he still finds it thrilling to see these magnificent creatures so close up – and kind of magical to live in a location where they do come to visit.

So yesterday morning Tom hustled down to my place, all tingly excitement, to say that i had better keep Buddy – who almost always, on these warm nights, wants to sleep outside – inside tonight.  And then he showed me his two pictures of the bear that had come to visit the previous evening.  The photos were dark, but the shape of the bear was unmistakable.  I agreed that keeping my dog inside that night was a good idea.

When i have told people that our little property has had bear visits over the years, they have often asked if i didn’t worry for Buddy’s safety.  My standard answer has been that i feel pretty sure that Buddy would give a bear a wide berth.  That got confirmed last night.

About 8:30 p.m., when there was just a little bit of waning light, Buddy and Tom’s hound dog Lucy charged off from my backyard where i had been visiting with them towards the little strip of woods behind Tom’s house, barking their heads off.  I heard the sudden low, resonant grumble – and they heard it more close-up.  They each – my timid-tending Buddy and Tom’s reckless-tending Lucy – ran like hell back to their respective houses, only wanting to get inside.

Well, it was quite the bear watch last night – me periodically stepping out onto my back stoop to train my powerful mag flashight towards those woods and Tom aiming his newly-recharged super-lantern out his kitchen window, with his son Corey’s sophisticated digital camera at the ready.

About 9:30, Tom called me to say that he saw the bear, just up out of the woods and down a little slope behind his house – down where i had no angle to see him.  If i had walked a little further back in the yard, I could have had the right angle.  I considered this for about a microsecond.

On one of my checks outside, my flashlight – peering through the bushes on the side of my doorway – threw big shadows out in the yard.  I jumped about a foot.  Tom called later to say that, although it was garbage night, he had no plans to roll his big garbage can down to my house, where i weekly load in my garbage and then roll the big plastic container down to the road.

By about 11:45, i decided that the bear was gone for the night.  Buddy was wanting to go back out, which i took as confirmation that there were no bears around.  So i took Buddy for our usual walk down the driveway (away from Tom’s house) and then up the other fork in the drive toward Hal’s house way up the hill.

After our 15-minute walk, i decided to give Buddy a little more time outside before bringing him in for the night.  So we sat out in the backyard in the bright moonlight, having our usual late-night cuddle fest.  We came in the house about 12:30.  Then, about 1:30 a.m., the bear came back – back up on Tom’s deck, about thirty yards from where Buddy and i had an hour ago been sitting.   This morning Tom had a couple of pretty good-quality photos of the mama bear – and two cubs!

Bears (aug 11,09) 012Bears (aug 11,09) 011

Bears (aug 11,09) 010

Tom said that the cubs were so cute and their coat such a rich black that he wished he could just reach out and pet them, which he did not consider.

Once again, i had gone to bed about one o’clock and slept through the whole thing.  Tom told me earlier today that, if he has another sighting tonight, he’ll call me.  I’ll keep my phone close to the bed, but I’m so excited at just about midnight that i probably will still be up.  If there’s no action by about 2 a.m., I’ll probably give up and go to bed.

Bears!  Even if all i get was to hear her, it was a pretty amazing sound – and pretty wonder-full to live somewhere that bears come to visit.  We’re not in Chicago anymore.

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When i first got Buddy, it took a month for him to look me in the eye.  I was, at first, a complete stranger to him – he came to live with me about two hours after we first met.  He had been with his previous person for eight years – and she had a philosophy that Buddy did better if you didn’t give him too much attention.

Over the last 17 months, Buddy has progressively sought out my eyes more often and for longer duration.  I believe that he is trying to create a more intimate relationship with me: to know that i am really there for him, that i love him, that i am not going to go away.

And it only occurred to me today – goofball that I am – that at these times i need to take my glasses off, to let him better see my eyes.  When i did so today, Buddy went on a little binge of eye contact.  In between these bursts of looking deeply in my eyes, he didn’t just lean against me – he pushed himself against me.  He laid his head on my chest.  He gave my hand and leg little love bites.  He sighed deeply.  Sometimes it takes me forever to figure something out that is really kind of self-evident: if you’re gonna make eye contact, make your eyes available!  Goof.

A guy told me once that, as he was driving his 13 year old dog – riddled with cancer – to the animal hospital to be put to sleep, his beloved doggie friend sought out his eyes the entire drive.  He felt sure that it was his long-time companion’s way of saying goodbye.

For Buddy with me, it’s his way of saying hello.

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“Be that way!”

This morning i spent an hour and a half on the phone with my good friend and pet sitting mentor Lauren, talking about the biz.  Lauren is so bright and creative and generous with her thoughts and ideas that by the time i got off the phone my head was swimming – awash with wonderful, interesting thoughts.  And my body was completely jangly and overstimulated.  I needed a walk.

When i am home for the day or for most of the day, Buddy and i walk up the pretty hill behind our house several times a day.  We both love it.  But sometimes lately, in the middle of a bright, sunny, warm summer day, my Buddy – nine year old dog that he is – prefers to just lay in the shade.  And today i just could not coax him out of one of his fav shady places, behind the bushes on the back side of the house.

i tried all manner of sweet talk, coaxing and upbeat cheerleading.  Nothing.

i was on the verge of punting on the walk and just going back onto my frnt porch to organize the dozens of notes i had scratched out while talking to Lauren.  But then i realized, “I need a walk.  i need, for a few minutes at least, to get out of my head and exercise my body – to help it chill back a little bit.  i need to ground all that energy by feeling my feet on the ground.”

And so i took myself for a walk.

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Can dogs teach us how to live?

Uh-uh.  But they still can be great teachers.

For more on this conundrum, read the extended piece by this same name under the “Not so fast there” tab.

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If i love and admire my dog so much – as I do – then why, when he’s barking at something, do i (lightly, affectionately) yell, “Be quiet, you goofy dog!”  Why, when his antics strike me as funny, do i say, “You’re a goof”, (or “goofball”), “You’re so silly”, “You’re crazy”, etc.

I think all of these ways i talk to my dog simply express the fact that i in no way understand what is actually going on inside of that goofy, other-species brain.   And that he is, well, funny.  My dog, i am positive, likes to make me laugh and goes out of his way to do so.  But, even when they are not trying to be funny, they still are (to us humans, who don’t understand them).

It’s a lot like this with humans: people’s oddities are a big part of what makes them funny.  The writers for Seinfeld and most sitcoms understand this.  And i frequently say “You goof” to some of my closest friends.  (This is trickier with new friends or with acquaintances or business colleagues.)

In the world of humans, i would almost always choose a friend or lover with a good sense of humor – someone who can crack me up.  Why not the same with dogs?  My dog can make me laugh on days when almost nothing or nobody else could.

Isn’t this part of why we like them around?

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Over the moon…

Tonight (uh, this morning – it’s after 1 a.m.) Buddy did something i’ve never seen him do.

We were out in the back yard grokking the full moon.  I was so stimulated by it that i was in no hurry to go to bed.  Buddy does not howl at the full moon like our neighbor hound Dorie seems to almost need to do, but it is obviously very stimulating also to him.

We were cuddling together (“tucking him in for the night”, before i go to bed).  After a few minutes of just settling in – sitting between my legs, then shifting his weight to lean against me, then leaning more, with his head against my chest – he got all ecstatic, throwing his head repeatedly back in my direction, rolling around on his back, moaning, giving my leg and my hand little love bites.  Nothing new here – he does this almost every night.

He would alternate these little outbursts of ecstatic love with then sitting up, all senses alert, sniffing the night, perking up his ears to hear something i could not hear.  Then he voluntarily relinquished his cozy spot up against me to hop up and trotted off into the darkness to check out something he had heard or smelled.  (OK, two things he never does.)

But the real show-stopper was that when he got back, he went right up to the back door, obviously wanting to go in.  Go inside, which he so seldom wants to do on these warm summer nights, unless there is a thunder storm. Go inside, with me still outside.  I was truly amazed.  I was also really needing to go in, to give up the ravishing moon so that i could finally get to bed, before the sun came up.

And i do think that Buddy needed to go in.  I think the reason he needed to go in was not that there was anything outside that he didn’t like, but that he liked it too much.  Like me, he needed to get away from that overstimulating moon in order to get some real rest.

The fabulousness of that full moon was finally just too much.  He needed a breather.  Enough intoxication is enough.

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“He’s a leaner!”

IMG_1987Shortly after Buddy came to live with me, a dog-savvy friend who was hanging out on our front porch with us exclaimed, “He’s a leaner!”  She was really happy for me – and for good reason.

Ya see, there’s this thing Buddy does (and has since very shortly after i got him) where he sits next to where i’m sitting – on the floor, top stair, ground, etc. – then shifts his weight in order to lean into me.

Not all dogs do this, but those of us with dogs who do it are lucky folk.

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Born to hunt…

Lucy – our neighbor dog and Buddy’s best doggie friend – was born to hunt.  She’s a hunting machine.

Nobody knows any details of Lucy’s breeding – they just call her a hound.  Her long legs make her fast like a bullet – not always well aimed (she’s likely to crash full speed into me or Buddy), but fast.  Her sense of smell is extraordinary: Buddy can pretty well follow a scent on the ground, but Lucy can follow a scent in the air like a clothesline.  And she wants to hunt.

Oh, Lord, does that dog want to hunt.

I told Tom a few weeks ago that i thought Lucy (who loves to walk up the hill behind the house with Buddy and I) might have gotten injured back in the woods, based on the yelps she suddenly let out back in there.  I couldn’t find any particular wounds on her – nor could Tom later.  I imagined that i saw her favoring one hind leg – but then i am a hypochondriac with myself and with dogs, and i’m sure now that i was making this up.  I’ve realized since that Lucy yelps like that when she’s hot on a scent.  It sounds like pain – and maybe it is, along with excitement, if not being able to find the source of that fresh scent is maybe somehow painful for her.

Tom is not a hunter – and I’m not a big fan of hunting – but i almost wish for Lucy’s sake that he was.  It would just be so thrilling for her.

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Buddy loves to bark at potential intruders.  He thinks it’s part of his job.

And I’m totally fine with it – not because I am particularly concerned about potential intruders, but because it makes him so happy.

When I lived way out in the mountains, my neighbors out there genuinely were worried about intruders – about bad people coming around to hurt them.  It was always amazing to me that folks way out in the country – where this was extremely unlikely to happen (not many burglaries out there) – were so much more paranoid about this supposed danger than the average city person.  I’ve got some theories – and have heard some others – but none of them completely satisfy me, and aren’t the point of this posting.  But this was my neighbors’ rationale for letting their dogs bark or howl all night, which was tremendously annoying to me and often disruptive of my sleep.  (“Doesn’t this also wake them up at night?” I would wonder – and sometimes spitefully wish.  But I think they were just used to it.)

The hound who lives next door to me now would gladly howl all night, most nights – at barking dogs way down the road or at all manner of things that I think she mostly imagines.  Fortunately her owner brings her in at night, eventually – or any time I call him to say, “Hey Tom, I’m going to bed now.”  And Buddy, who stays out most nights –  free, in our little spot, as he always is – almost never barks at night.  And, when he does, I usually don’t even have to leave the comfort of my bed to yell (kind of sweetly, actually) “Hey, you be quiet now” – and he does.

And barking dogs can certainly be the bane of many city neighborhoods.  When Buddy, before me, lived in a city neighborhood, they tell me that he would bark at anybody who walked down the sidewalk next to his fenced-in yard – and, in the city, that was a lot of people.  That strikes me as bad news.  But out here in the country, very few people walk by.

But Buddy will happily bark at those few people – and at any of the cars that infrequently drive up our driveway (usually to Tom’s place, right behind me).  Not the FedEx trucks, though, that frequently visit Tom’s house (he runs his own business from home).  No, from the FedEx trucks – and he recognizes their sound from way down the road – he cowers in his doghouse.  I don’t know what the deal is with those big brown trucks (UPS, too): do they look like some big, terrifying animal?  Some friends have speculated that he must have had some bad experience with one, but I have other friends who say that there dog reacts the same way to those trucks.

But I’m glad to let Buddy bark at our infrequent “potential intruders” because it makes him happy.  His barks are usually in no way scary to people who do walk by, because he usually only takes a few steps towards them – way down on the road – and because anybody who knows almost anything about dogs can tell that this is not a genuinely menacing bark, but just a dog sounding the alert.

I think it makes him happy because this behavior is so instinctive – it charges up his instincts.  And in a dog like Buddy, who tends towards the timid side, charging up his instincts is, I think, mostly a good thing.  It makes him feel brave and confident.  When I do call him in when he’s barking, usually because it’s kind of late and i don’t want his barking to bother Tom, he comes in all excited, charged up – happy.

You go, Buddy, repel those intruders – keep me all nice and safe.  Knock yourself out.  Have a good time.

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