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Posts Tagged ‘bonding with dogs’

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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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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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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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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I’m sitting this week for a sweet little dog named Joey.  Only he was not at first very sweet in my direction.

Little Joey the American Eskimo didn’t think he liked me when i first came to visit his house.  His mom said, “He wants to reject you as an intruder, but – look – his tail is wagging, even as he is barking at you.”  Part of him thought i might be an enemy, while another part of him really did want to trust and like me – wanted me to be a good part of his world, rather than a threat.  But – as his mom was giving me the tour of the house and instructions for the care of Joey, three cats and some outdoor plants – Joey kept going back and forth between warming up to me and then going back into alarm-barking mode.

The second time i came, the morning after his person had left town for a week, he barked as i came in and for maybe a minute after i got there, then settled down and enjoyed my presence.  When i came back that evening, he barked as i was working the key in the lock, then quickly adopted me.  Since then he gets happy from the sound of my voice as i come up the walk, calling to him.  He follows me around the house like a puppy: if i use the bathroom, he patiently waits just outside the door – or follows me in, rude little thing.  Outside, it takes the merest call to him as i walk him on his leash – more a suggestion than a command – for him to come back in my direction.

What, for a dog, is the process of deciding that a new person is friend rather than foe?  Part of him wanted to like  me from the start, even as another part felt threatened.  How do they let go of their exclusion of the other, their instinctive need to sound the alert against an intruder – to then include me, to decide that they want me to belong.  How did he decide that he liked me?  Sure, i was giving him some good things, but it feels like its gotta be something more than that.  His little doggie brain decided that i was good, not bad.  How?

How do we make that shift with regards to other people?  Why is it sometimes so hard?

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Every night, before i go to bed, i tuck Buddy in: i sit next to him and give him a big dose of love, usually for about 10-15 minutes, sometimes longer (especially if he is tense, traumatized by thunder – or, on a couple of horrible occasions, by having been attacked and terrorized by an aggressive dog – or otherwise seems to need it more than usual).

I started this practice shortly after he came to me, about 15 months ago.  He was, back then, so scared and depressed that i wanted him to feel especially safe and loved before he slept all night.  These days, he doesn’t “need” it as much as he did back in those early, traumatized days – but he still gets so ecstatically happy, and then so wonderfully peaceful, that i continue the practice.  I do it no matter how late i come in or how early i have to get up.  In 15 months, i have only missed a few nights.

Frequently, as Buddy gets very peaceful and relaxed, he will let out a big, loud, deep sigh – a sure sign that he has really let go.  Sometimes he will fall peacefully asleep – and i usually continue to stroke him for a few more minutes, believing that when he is sleeping the love and reassurance goes straight into his unconscious, creating a deep foundation of security and contentment.  Sometimes i sing to him.

Many months ago, i got it that this little ritual is as good for me as it is for Buddy.  i get peaceful, i feel wrapped in love.  You can’t give love without it moving through you first.  Sometimes i picture that Life is stroking, reassuring, loving me the same way that i am giving these things to Buddy.

I think I’ll keep it up.

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A couple of months after i got into the practice of “tucking Buddy in” before i went to bed, i experimented with a new wrinkle.  I thought, why do i always sit up above Buddy?  What might happen if i lay right down with him?  So i tried lying behind him, facing the same way he is lying, and spooning: I cuddle in real tight, like i imagine puppies doing – or dogs that are very tight – and throw my arm over him.

The first couple of weeks i tried this, Buddy just couldn’t believe how wonderful this felt: I imagined his little doggie brain thinking, “It can’t be possible – after all those years of getting just stingy little bits of love – that this is really happening to me.”  One night, he rolled over in my direction, looked deep into my eyes, and then gently placed both of his paws on my chest.  (Now who was melting?)  Another time, he placed one paw on my chest and the other up over my shoulder, like he was giving me a big doggie hug.

These days Buddy doesn’t respond so dramatically to spooning.  I think that it no longer feels to him so unbelievably wonderful. I think that for him, now, it just feels normal.

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Buddy hasn’t always liked Lucy – fact is, she can be irritating as hell.

Lucy is a three year old hound, full of boundless energy – fast as the wind and light on her feet like a ballerina.  But that’s where the similarity to a ballerina ends.  More aware of her own enthusiasm than she is of her environment, she doesn’t know her own speed and athletic power.  She crashes into Buddy and me, sits on us and frequently plays too rough for Buddy, precipitating yelps from him and profanity from me.

Buddy has learned, over the last 15 months, to enjoy rough play with other dogs – but he is essentially more delicate.  He will never step on your toes, much less crash into you.  For the first few months we lived here, he clearly found Lucy a pain in the ass and woud not give her the time of day.

But Buddy loves the company of other dogs and these days (not in earlier days) loves to play doggie wrestling and chasing games.  And, since moving to our new area, for doggie play Lucy is the only game in town.  So, a few months ago he began to soften to her – and now he flat-out loves her.

But Lucy is gone with her family for several days of vacation – and Buddy is like bereft: there’s no zest, no spring in his step, when we go for walks he hardly does more than mope along with me.  When Lucy goes back up the hill with us, the two sniff everything.  They go crashing back into the woods at full throttle: even though Buddy’s nine year old full throttle is nothing like Lucy’s three year old, long-legged, game-chasing hunting dog’s full throttle, he chases gamely after her.

Even on his own, Buddy will happily chase a squirrel any day of the week – even when he is having a bad day, even in the dog days of summer, even when the Lucy thrill is gone, he’ll always chase a squirrel when he sees one.  But Lucy sees them a lot further away than Buddy does, so that’s a lot more squirrels to chase – and from a lot longer distance.

So the last couple of days my old Buddy is acting a lot less like his pup self and more like his old man self.  I, for my part, have been intentionally activating my pup self: cuddling him a lot more enthusiastically and wrestling with him a lot more robustly.

That’s really good for me: after a long day at work, it brings me back alive – I feel some zest, get the spring back in my step.

And I see the light come back in Buddy’s eyes.

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Cleo did not like men.

A three year old Golden Retriever, Cleo lived with Jo and her 7 year old daughter Phoebe – each of them awesome people.  But smart people sometimes make stupid choices, and Phoebe’s dad had not been a nice man.  He at least terrorized all three of them – and i think also sometimes hit them – for years, until about a year before Jo had finally split with him and this time made it stick.  But all three of them carried scars from those bad years.

At this point, Cleo actually hated men: partly, I’m sure, because of what this guy had done to her – but also, I believe, because of what he had done to Jo and Phoebe.  And I’m a man.  My wife Sandy had a very strong friendship with Jo and i would occasionally try also coming over to Jo and Phoebe’s apartment.  Cleo always reacted the same way to my entrance into the apartment, the same way she responded to any man’s presence: she barked ferociously at me and would not stop until i left.  So i finally stopped going.

But at some point Jo and Phoebe needed to move in with friends – and Cleo was just too much for that family and home to accommodate.  Cleo had to go.  Jo and Phoebe were extraordinarily conflicted: the move was something that they really needed to make, but they both loved Cleo tremendously.  They would let other families take Cleo for trial visits, but again and again it either did not work out for that family or Jo came up with some reason why she thought it wouldn’t work.  She needed to let Cleo go, but couldn’t.

All this instability was causing a lot of stress for Cleo.  She became skittish and withdrawn and developed a bad case of mange.  Sandy also loved Cleo – and Cleo loved her.  So Sandy convinced me that we should give Cleo a try, to see if it could possibly work for her to live with us.  We were moving to the country, our dog Darby seemed lonely – it seemed like a great idea, except that Cleo hated men and seemed to hate me.  But we decided to take her for the weekend and give it a try anyway.

Friday came: Jo and Phoebe were leaving town and Sandy was at work (I had a flexible grad student schedule), so i needed to be the one to pick Cleo up.  This seemed not very strategic, but we couldn’t come up with another plan.  Sandy and i figured that it might be a good, direct test: if this didn’t work, then Cleo probably would not work for our little family.

When i arrived at their door, I felt some real trepidation: what might make this encounter any different from every previous encounter i had had with Cleo?  Why ever would she be willing to leave with me?  And if this trial visit did not work, like all the previous ones had not worked – and moving day was drawing close – then what was going to happen to her?

I knocked on the door of their apartment and after a few moments Jo opened it.  And Cleo – who was following right after Jo – came out the door, swiveled to face the same way i was facing, and sat down, right next to me.  No barking, no trying to scare me away.  She planted herself and quietly sat right there – and did not move.  She barely left my side all weekend – and thus began a long, wonderful friendship.

I will never quite understand how Cleo knew that i was her best shot and finding a good home.  But she did.

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Why do dogs age so much faster than us?

If, as they so easily and completely do, they wangle and waggle and wiggle into our lives, minds (I think about Buddy a lot and – look! – write about him a lot) and hearts, seems like they ought to stick around, should be life companions.

But they don’t.  Unless we are very old or die prematurely, our dogs live a lot shorter than we do and eventually ditch us for the great doggie beyond.  It doesn’t seem fair.

When i adopted Buddy, about 15 months ago, he was – in dog years – roughly the same age as my 61 years.  (One dog-age chart i saw at the vet’s showed different dog years as correlating with from 6-8 of our years – different by the different years.  What’s that about?  Do the dog experts really know this?  I don’t get it.)  I didn’t know, when i got him, that Buddy was this old.  The woman who gave him to me actually thought he was 4 1/2, even though – when i pushed her to get his old vet records – she discovered that he had actually been with her for eight years.  How she could have lost track of four years i really don’t get.

When i finally, a few weeks after getting him, was informed of Buddy’s true – relatively advanced – age, my first response was panic about him leaving me relatively soon (unless, of course, the grim reaper comes for me before the doggie reaper comes for him – there’s no way of knowing about these things).  But right after that reaction, the poignancy of his aging process came home to me.  He was then, like i already said, roughly my age in doggie years (actually a couple years younger), but was going to age a lot faster than me.  Already has: in a little over a year of my human aging, he has picked up seven (or six or eight) years.  Really doesn’t seem fair – i really don’t get it.

So, if i’m now 62 (which i guess i am), he’s now 66.  And it’s just gonna keep going that way.

What to do about all this?  Not much i can do, I guess.  Except be aware of it all, witness it all.  He will be, for me, a study in aging – a kind of role model.  At this point, he – like me – acts sometimes like a pup and sometimes like an old man.  But it will progressively be less that way: he will spend more days acting like an old man and fewer acting like a pup.  Just like i will do, only slower.  But still doing it – progressively, inexorably.  Even if i start going to the gym a lot, give up smoking, eat right, think good thoughts, etc., the fountain of youth will still evade me.

There are things i can do – even beyond exercise and diet regimens – to help myself myself age more gracefully. Some of them i am doing (like more and more making peace with being older, even practicing using the term older to describe myself.  (“No”, some of my younger friends say, “you’re not old – you’re really young.”  I say, “You don’t know buster” – or hon -“Youthful, sure, but not young.  No matter how young at heart i may stay, this old body keeps aging.”  Or I’ll introduce a sentence by saying, “These old bones…”.  Claiming it, not avoiding it.

I can stop cringing and start enjoying it when i get my senior discount at the movies or the health food store – even when the young cashier gives it to me without asking.  I can get over the sense of loss that i am no longer even on the screen sexually for young women.  I can enjoy being a father-figure for young women – and a mentor, a wise old man for young men.  I can feel happy when a beautiful young woman acquaintance says she likes that we are getting to know each other because she doesn’t have any older men in her life.  I can appreciate the joys of being less testosterone-driven around attractive women and less wanting to compete with younger men. I can relish that i am finding a much wider of women beautiful – of all ages, figures and facial constellations.

I can embrace the phenomenon that i actually am becoming kind of wise, even when the core of that wisdom is to get it how little i actually know – and becoming more comfortable with being confused.

Some of these graceful-age-inducing developments just happen to me.  I was chatting on-line one evening with a young woman with whom i share a lot of mutual chemistry – stuff that had often confused me. (“What, am i supposed to date her or something?  That’s for Woody Allen or somebody.”)  Even this chat medium was from her age cadre, not mine.  She initiated it – she was in a city far from Asheville, our mutual home, with her sick kid who needs a top-notch cancer center – and was spending several weeks in her child’s hospital room, agonizing some of the time and flat-out bored a lot of the time.  So she rang my chat bell on Facebook (not just for young folks anymore) and we chatted.  I love her a lot and was delighted to spend the time with her, even in a medium that still feels strange to me.

About a half-hour into our digital conversation, i got it: “She feels like a daughter to me!”  My daughter in law, with whom i am very close, has taken – since she married my son just a few months ago – to calling me FIL, which is wonderfully silly and fun.  She – an attractive young woman who just a few years ago came into my life, no kin to me – absolutely feels to me like a daughter.  The daughter i always wanted but never had.  Even though i have not had the life experience and have no idea how to relate to one, Alma definitely feels like a daughter.

Alma opened up the space for me to relate to  – and feel towards – a young woman, even a very attractive one, as a daughter.  And here the same thing was happening with this previously-distractingly-attractive non-familial young woman.  Being able to shift from awkward, odd chemistry with an attractive young woman to a very peaceful connection – this is, for me, a form of graceful aging.  i didn’t create it – wouldn’t have known how to.  I didn’t visualize it, didn’t magnetize it into my life.  Life gave it to me, like a juicy fresh peach.  Peachy-keen.

I can also help Buddy age gracefully: i can give him lots of exercise, good nutritious chemical-free food, move next-door to a three year old hound who loves to play with him and gets him charging after squirrels and stuff – and, of course, give him lots of love.

I can help him and me to age gracefully, but i can’t stop either of us from aging – and he’s gonna age faster than me and probably die well before me.  Doesn’t seem fair – it just is.

And i will suck the juice out of every year we have together.

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Sometimes my needs and Buddy’s are very much in sync.

When i woke this morning, i had a piece of writing formulating itself in my head.  If i don’t catch this stuff when it’s fresh, it can get all kinds of fuzzy before i get back to it.  And the muse can get cranky if i don’t honor what she is giving me: she can get stingy about sending me more.

But i also realized, having just gotten up this morning, that my head was pretty much still full of cotton.  So, instead of going straight to my laptop on my front porch, i took Buddy – and me – for a walk.  i knew that my writing would go better if i first got my energy moving around and my head more clear.  So i bargained with the muse that i would take my little spiral notebook with me and jot notes as Buddy and i walked – not the best arrangement with the writer in me, but good enough.  And fortunately our little walk up the hill does not require me to put my physical body at risk by crossing streets with my nose down in my notebook.

But, when Buddy and i come back from a walk, i also like to plop on the ground in the backyard and give him some love – especially when he’s been outside and me inside all night.  And he loves and wants it.  And it’s good for me to take this time out, this cuddle time (especially as a break, when i have been working).  And Buddy’s doggie neighbor-friend Dorie is out of town and Buddy’s lonely.  And i knew i would have to face (or at least feel in the back of my head) those big mournful brown eyes as he watched me disappear back into the house.

But at this point my needs trumped Buddy’s.  This piece of writing was now getting clearer and more insistent.  So i went and gave Buddy a kiss on the nose (he loves those) and said, “Back atcha later, Bud”.  And trusted that he would be just fine not getting this extra love that he wanted (and, i could make a case, needed) – and that our relationship would be just as solid when i did get back to him, maybe even in some ways stronger from his heightened longing for me.

Hey, the reality is that much of the time (seems to be all the time for me), we don’t have time for everything we want to do.  Our most important intimate relationships cope with that reality all the time.  My best human friend Lynn had left a voice mail yesterday afternoon that said, “Nothing big, I’m just looking forward to catching up” – and i have been so immersed in this same writing project that i have not yet called her back.  I have, consciously, bargained with that relationship.  Did i not bargain with the muse this morning when i told her that i would get back to her later?

It’s good for me to not only be willing to bargain with buddy – even though he doesn’t know jack about bargaining, and only knows what he wants/needs in the moment.  But at least as important is to keep my perspective – to remember that this is actually no big deal.  Not, “Hey, he’s just a dog” (it’s amazing to me how deeply that societal maxim is still implanted even in my brain – i had heard it rolling around on this very walk), but simply “I’m choosing for me this time – and it’s no big deal, it’s just how reality, how all relationships work sometimes.”

Sometimes my needs trump Buddy’s.

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When i am spending quiet “quality” time with my dog – sitting with him in the back yard or on the floor in the house, “lovin’ on him” as they like to say in these Appalachian mountains or “making out with him” as my friend Lynn likes to say – i believe that i am doing more than simply giving him love and attention.

I really believe that i am helping him to “recharge his batteries” or even to “make a deposit in his emotional/energetic bank account”.  In my way of seeing it, it goes beyond even making him a happier dog – which i have no question that this cuddle time definitely does.  It sure looks to me (I see the evidence in how he then behaves) that this doggie/daddy time leaves him more confident, more resourceful and more resilient.  Rather than becoming a whoosy little lap dog from all this love, i see him sometimes immediately becoming stronger, more inquisitive and exploratory, more enthusiastic in his play with the neighbor dog – just bolder all around.

This process of “charging his batteries” – or even more if you think of it as “deposits in his emotional/energetic bank account” – may be more significant or clearly impactful with a traumatized, shy, skittish, insecure dog like my Buddy.  It may be particularly less important with a dog that is more strongly instinct-driven and less relationally oriented (less focused on close bonding with humans – which is clearly a very big driver for Buddy.)  He may just need it more than some other dogs.

But i think it is a useful way to think about our connecting with all of our dogs: giving them love is more than giving them love – it is, in a real and direct way, making them more healthy, more functional, maybe even more intelligent.

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My dog Buddy – almost certainly abused during his first months of life, before being adopted out of the pound around age 6 months, and then subtly neglected for another 8 years – has tremendous needs for love and attention, needs for which he only recently has gotten confident enough to directly ask.  And it has been completely clear that there is huge payoff from giving him this love and attention, some of this payoff totally self-serving for me: a happier, more lively, more contented dog is a helluva lot better companion than the mopey, depressed dog i adopted over a year ago.

But how much love and attention is enough?  Buddy is not actually a bottomless pit in this area.  Even as he has, over the last 15 months, learned to drink this love in deeper and deeper – to revel in it, to sink into it – he also has developed more capacity to be filled up: to decide that he has enough and now wants to just go lie in the sun or explore the yard or go back to one of his other favorite spots.

But sometimes he’s still not done with cuddle time when I am.  So how do i decide when to stop?  Unless there is some unusual circumstance (he has been traumatized by thunder or an aggressive dog or a trip to the vet or groomer), I usually choose for me.  I first notice a shift in me from being totally present to him – immersed in the sweetness of our connection, the beautiful afternoon in our backyard, etc. – to being more distracted or restless.  I know at this point that my time on the meter has almost expired.  I usually will hang in some moments longer – and on those special occasions when i realize he has even more need for reassurance, maybe significantly longer.

But finally something shifts in me and i know that i am done.  Frequently the key indicator is that my attention has shifted elsewhere: to a call i need to make or a task that is sitting on my desk or a need to feed myself.  I virtually never try to push myself beyond this point: it’s not good for me and it’s not good for my relationship with Buddy.  It won’t serve either of us if i lay guilty expectations on myself to take care of him when i need to be taking care of me.  It definitely won’t serve either of us if i start to resent his demands on me.

On rare occasions, he will make such a melodramatic attempt to keep me – throwing a paw up over me or even crying a little, stuff that this unassertive dog almost never does – that i will stay a few extra moments.  But finally i know that this just isn’t working for me any more: he has needs, but i do, too.  I may give him a few extra kisses as i leave, but leave i do.

And often i will actually say out loud, “I got other stuff to do, man.”

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