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Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

“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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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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Running the dog #2

(See “Running the dog #1” under the Not so fast... tab.)

This week, morning and evening, i have been looking in on and walking Joey.

Joey is an American Eskimo Dog.  His little legs are about as long as my shoe – not really cross-country runner legs.  The first few days that we walked, Joey was happy doing a quick walk (the AKC says “trot”) – which is about as fast as my regular walk.

Maybe today he was feeling the gorgeous summer morning – bright, still a little cool in the shade but warm in the sun – two different climate zones that we would go in and out of.  Whatever it was, I think i was feeling it too.

Joey wanted to go a little faster.  I haven’t been a runner in a lot of years, since my longer legs decided that they didn’t really like running anymore (long before the rest of me – especially my mind and feelings – had decided it was time to hang up the running shoes).  My idea of a good workout these days is walking uphill (easy to find in these Appalachian Mountains – actually, hard to find anything else) at three different speeds – moderate, slow and stopped.

But this morning, picking up the pace a little felt great to me, too.  Now i was doing a fast walk (not a trot, which is harder for me).  Joey looked at me and said, “I can go even faster than this” – and picked up the pace a little more.  At this point, he was flat-out running and i was running too, at something a little this side of flat-out.

At this point, a very cool thing happened: Joey looked at me and i looked at him – and he winked at me.  Oh, OK, not exactly a wink, but i could hear him saying, “Hey, man, look at us – this is cool!”  OK, maybe not exactly “heard” – but kinda did.  You know.  You dog lovers who also hallucinate words emanating from your dogs know exactly what i mean.

When my son Terry was about eight, he and i learned to roller skate together.  My competency on skates progressed just slightly faster than did his, but he still wanted to hold my hand as we skated – thus opening a new window into the concept of false sense of security.  Sweet, i really did like it, but i couldn’t resist the thought, “Sorry kid, but if i go down I’m taking you down with me.”

But one Saturday afternoon at the roller rink, right at the end of the session, Terry started to feel more confident.  They always played a ballad at the end of the session – not exactly a waltz, but sweet and kind of dreamy late 70’s/early 80’s pop.  Maybe it was the relatively lyrical nature of the music, but Terry found his groove and voluntarily dropped my hand.  And he kinda started to fly.

He would focus intently on his skating, even as he was starting to let it flow – then he would look over at me.  Then back to the skating and then back at me.  And he winked at me.  OK, not literally winked – i don’t know that this is a behavior he has ever picked up.  But energetically, something in him winked.  And I could hear that part of him say, “Look at us – isn’t this cool?!”

And it was – very cool.

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My dog loves a summer night.

His flat, black-button nose twitches overtime.  His head swivels from side to side, peering into the darkness.  He smells things that i don’t smell, hears things that i cant hear, sees things that i don’t see.  He is so alive!

I remember a period in my late teens and very early 20’s, when i was so flush with new freedom from the limits of my family and full of my new capacities that a summer nights could be for me a wonderland – spreading in all directions with space and possiblity.

These days i often feel very turned-on to be alive, but summer nights seldom affect me the same way – there is not often the kind of magic that seems to be available to Buddy almost every night.

Once again Buddy points, for me, the way.

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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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My counselor likes to say that much of the process of healing involves “unfreezing”.  The organism’s response to overwhelming trauma – when there is no possibility of fight or flight – is to freeze.  The deer in the headlights, the rabbit frozen in the field.  Some animal behaviorists speculate that there is a kind of grim adaptive value in the ability of animal that has been caught by the predator to go semi-unconscious, to kind of black out.

When my little Buddy came to live with me about 15 months ago, he was in many ways a fairly frozen ( 8 1/2 year old) pup.  The course of our time together has in many ways been a process of him gradually melting.

There had never seemed to be much question that he had been abused in his first six months of life, before his previous person adopted him from a shelter.  And that person for some reason had a belief that he did better if you didn’t give him too much attention.  So, after probably experiencing the overwhelming trauma of abuse as a pup, he then dealt for many years with the insidious trauma of marginal neglect.  No chance to really heal there.  Thinking of his development this way helped make sense of the fact that – with no actual abuse since he was first adopted – he was still absolutely terrified of men.

If the melting of early trauma is thought of a process of awakening from a bad dream, there are still going to be times when we go back into the dream.  If the path Buddy has followed over these last many months has been one of learning to accept and even, finally, ask for love, it seems that sometimes the old dream of love scarcity takes over.

Buddy more and more luxuriates in my loving attention – sometimes even seeming, in the moment, to get kind of filled up…enough that he seems happy and content to then move off to explore, lie in the sun or just do whatever.  But other times it seems that the bad dream has more taken over, that he momentarily is just not able to let love in.

Tonight was a classic example.  He asked to come in the house – something he rarely does in this nice summer weather, when he wants to be outside almost 24/7.  This usually is a signal that he is wanting to be with me even more than he wants to be out in the back yard.  But when i plopped on the floor next to his bed in order to give him some attention, he came over to let me pet him for only a minute or so before moving a few feet away, plopping on the floor in his classic moping pose – looking away from me.

I knew right away that this was not his contented form of separation.  He was clearly mopy (dare i say sad, or even depressed?  he was definitely depressed when he first came to me.)  It sure seemed to me that some frozenness had taken him over.  So i pursued him: i slid across the floor to sit right up next to him and resume petting him.  For maybe three minutes he completely ignored me.  Then he let out one of those deep sighs that indicate that he is relaxing.  In just another minute or two he was completely engaged with me – repeatedly throwing his head up towards me as he does when he is excited about connecting with me, and giving me huge eye contact.  He then deeply received my petting attention, occasionally letting out little moans of pleasure.  When, ten minutes later, i started to disengage, he kept throwing a paw on me in the classic doggie gesture of “No, don’t stop yet!”

It’s hard to watch Buddy go back and forth, heal and then regress, come out into the light and then go back in the deep weeds.  But then it’s hard to watch myself go through this process, too.

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In the early months of being with me, Buddy was so protective of his reunion time with me (I had just gotten home and we were cuddling on the porch or in the yard) that he would chase his doggie friends right out of the yard.  !0 minutes before they were playing together happily, they come over to play again and surprise!  “Get out of my yard – I want my dad all to myself.”

So much has changed.  These days – same situation, we’re sitting in the grass with Buddy lying between my legs, lapping up the love – if his hound dog neighbor friend Dorie comes over to sniff him, he gives her little kisses.  I think he’s just way more secure these days.

And there’s a new wrinkle.  When Dorie is nuzzling him, he tries to initiate the “Lets chew on each other’s faces, ears and necks” game – without leaving the comfort of my lap!  He focuses on the chewing, but makes no attempt to get up and play the game the way it’s meant to be played (either both up or the two of them alternately flopping over on their back – but not stationary) – then throws his head back towards me: “Don’t go away, now – I want you, too.” And so it goes – back and forth – until he either decides to get up and really play the game or Dorie breaks the game off because he’s not playing it right.

It’s all pretty funny.

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When i first got Buddy, 16 months ago, he was not ready to trust – or to fully let pleasure in.  These days, he sinks deeper and deeper into the joy of being loved.  One way i can tell that he is really, really happy from being petted – as he lies there very quiet, just taking it in – is that he licks his chops!  He especially likes to have his floppy ears rubbed – and this almost always elicits this chop licking.  Such a supposedly classic doggie behavior, but i’ve never seen him respond this way to food or treats.

I’ve mentioned this behavior to vets and other dog owners, and they don’t recognize it.  Hey, us humans each find our own pathways into pleasure, into peace, into contentment – I guess this is true of dogs, too.

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Diogi was Anita’s dog.

I’m embarassed to admit that, 10 years later, I remember absolutely nothing about Diogi – but then Anita’s beauty upstaged Diogi’s whateverness in a walk.  Anita was second generation Chinese-American.  I for a long time never got around to asking Anita just what “Diogi” meant in Chinese, though i assumed it had to be something interesting.  But, like I said, with Anita around I was never all that interested in this dog, about whom I do actually remember that he was medium-sized.  (But all the dogs in our little posse were medium-sized to large – little dogs just did not make it in this group of “big dogs”.)  When i finally did get around to asking where the name came from, Anita played real cagey: “Think about it.” “Huh?” “No, really, think about it.” “Think about what?  I don’t know any Chinese.”  “No, think about ‘d'”.  I was still completely clueless.  “Think about ‘d’ and ‘o'”.  I don’t remember if she had to get to, “Think about ‘d’ and ‘o’ and ‘g'”, but she might as well have, for how completely, hilariously, put on i realized i had been.

Even the writer and word-lover in me had not seen the furry for the Chinese.

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This little Zen maxim is one of my favorite sentences – it proves true time and time again.

We live in the country: Buddy gets to run free pretty much as much as he wants.  It’s in many ways an ideal life for a dog – and for a dog’s person.

In the winter, Buddy seems quite content to come in most nights.  But in the summer it’s a different story: he wants to be outside basically 24/7.  On occasion, he does want to come in at night, even in good weather.  Sometimes i think he wants to be close to me more than he wants to be outside.

But other times the protective dad in me thinks he ought to be inside: “It’s been raining today, it’s damp outside – and he does have that arthritic hip…”  But who am i, really, to make this call for him?  What do i know about the real trade-offs for him, about the price he pays from sleeping inside?

One summer, my wife and i spent 7 weeks camping and backpacking out west.  Our first night home, sleeping inside a building felt very weird.  When i lived up in the mountains, there were very few mosquitoes and i left my front and back doors open wide all day and sometimes into the warm summer night.  I loved the sense of a very porous boundary between outdoors and indoors.  When it started getting colder and i needed to start closing my doors, i felt a loss.  And then i moved down lower in the country, where there are mosquitoes, and i need to keep my screen doors closed.  They let in good air, but it’s still more of a boundary.  I feel a loss.  On these summer days, i often spend really the whole day outside – some of it sitting at my laptop on my lovely front porch, facing only woods and sky.  When, in the evening, i bring my laptop inside for better light, i feel a loss.  It actually feels strange being inside, after being outside all day.

What do i know of Buddy’s genuine need to be out in the night air, smelling the night smells and listening to the night sounds, sleeping on the earth?  How powerfully does all this charge his batteries?  Is all this more healthy for him than coming in out of the damp?  He may be “domesticated”, but he still lives in the world of animal instincts to an extent that i can not estimate or understand.

I know that sometimes it is the responsible thing to make choices for your pet that they do not know how to make for themselves.  Sometimes our rational big picture does actually trump their instincts.  But when?  And how do we know?

I know that outdoors forgives indoors – but i think that Buddy knows this better than i ever will.

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My dog Buddy is a medium-sized dog – 45 pounds at his fighting weight – but in relationship to tiny dogs he is definitely a big dog.  And he basically has no use for little dogs.  He grew up with big, much older dogs – and I think that little dogs are just not on the screen for him.

When a neighbor pup would jump all over him, frantically trying to get Buddy to play, but really in the most annoying fashion, Buddy would just keep walking as if he was not there.  When my friends Lynn and Fred stayed with us for five days, their little dog Attie tried in every way he knew to seduce Buddy into playing with him, but Buddy absolutely would not give him the time of day.

But Lucy, the three year old hound who lives next door, maybe a few pounds heavier and much stronger – now she’s another “big dog”.  Over the last few months she and Buddy have gotten very tight.  They wrestle together, play chase games all around our big yard together.  And they both adore it when the three of us go for walks back up the hill together.  They smell the same things and pee in the same places.  If one of them goes charging back into the woods, the other is right behind.

Buddy and Lucy playing.

Buddy and Lucy playing.

And they love to run next to each other – fast, haunch to haunch – as dogs who love each other sometimes do.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Lucy’s long, strong hound dog’s legs are way faster than Buddy’s: I think she must intentionally slow her pace a bit so that they can stay in unison.

When Max, my friends Bob and Annie’s little Bichon, came to stay with us for a few days – well, he was a little dog.  Buddy completely ignored him.  Max immediately loved Buddy: Buddy’s sweet, laid-back energy never threatened him, and he never felt a need to play tough.   When we went for walks, Max – like a little brother – tried to follow him everywhere, even if he couldn’t always keep up.  Buddy ignored him.

And my neurotic  Buddy took it very hard that another dog was in his space.  He didn’t just ignore – he moped.  He became clingy and needy and – when I couldn’t give him my 100% of my attention or couldn’t hide from him that I was also giving love to Max – went off to a corner and sulked.  Never any aggression – just woundedness.

Tough little Max did not like Lucy.  Her wild energy was just too in-your-face for Max.  (Laid-back Buddy had for many months also ignored Lucy: I don’t think her randiness threatened Buddy, just annoyed him.)  Max would bark at Lucy if he even saw her about 100 yards across our two yards.  Non-aggressive Lucy kept trying to sniff Max or even to get him to play, but Max would have none of it.  But the three dogs would often walk up the hill with me and sometimes Max was so involved in exploring the terrain or following Buddy that he forgot to be mean to Lucy.

One night Lucy was inside her house and it was just me and Buddy and Max walking up the hill in the darkness.

There’s another “big dog” from down the road that sometimes comes to visit, and he and Buddy like each other a lot.  They chase each other around and have a good old time.  When this down-the-road dog (I don’t know is name – let’s call him Midnight, because he is solid black) appeared suddenly in front of us – hard at first to make out in the matching darkness – he and Buddy greeted each other happily, all wagging tails.  But Max the Magnificent was not pleased: he tried to attack this new dog.  With me holding Max’s leash, he never got closer than about ten feet from Midnight – who, not an aggressive animal, just jumped back.

Then Buddy did an extraordinary thing: he charged Midnight, growling ferociously – and basically chased him right off the property.  He then came running back and ran right up to Max in a completely unprecedented friendly way.  The only way I could make sense out of this whole scenario was that Buddy had gotten protective of this little visiting runt who was trying to mix it up with a much larger dog.  When – after chasing Midnight for a couple hundred yards, until he was well off our property – Buddy came running directly back up to Max, I read his behavior as saying, “You OK?”

Why the switch?  Why did Buddy, after a couple of days of completely ignoring – and obviously resenting – Max, apparently come to his defense?

I think that – annoying and disruptive and threatening and generally useless as Buddy regarded Max to be – Max had still become part of the pack.  And, when there was any possibility that Midnight might mix it up with little Max, Buddy – who liked Midnight much more than he liked Max – showed  very clear loyalty to the pack: Midnight had to go.

Once that amazing little scenario had finished playing out, Buddy went completely back to ignoring Max.  “I’ll protect you if I have to: even if you are a totally annoying, uselessly small-dog part of the pack, you still have become part of the pack – one of us.  Now go away, kid, you bother me.”

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