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Posts Tagged ‘dog psychology’

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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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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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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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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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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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 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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