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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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