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Posts Tagged ‘healing for dogs’

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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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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Tonight, after having treats – nice stuff I feed him to get him to take his meds (for hip dyplasia – Omega-3, glucosamine, and an inti-inflammatory drug that i hope eventually to get him off of) – Buddy, as usual when treats are done, wanted to go back outside.  He went to the back door like usual when he wants to go out, but when i slid the screen door open, he just stood there.  Usually he does that if it’s raining or cold and he’s not really sure if he actually wants to go out after all.

But there was no reason like that for him to just be standing there.  I was tired and wanted to get through the dishes and stuff to get my butt to bed, so i guess my patience wasn’t all that great.  So i did something i have never done with Buddy – I gave him just the lightest tap on the butt with my shoe.  Oh boy, he tucked his butt under and almost jumped through the door – then turned around and looked at me, i think shocked and a little scared.  Well you can guess how totally crappy i felt.  I immediately ran out the door and gave him lots of reassurance, incuding rubbing his butt – and he said, “Apology accepted”.

Buddy’s last person got him from the pound at about six months, and feels sure that he had been physically mistreated before that – and probably by a man, based on how scared of them he was (and still was eight years later, when i got him).  And this extraordinary, totally unexpected reaction caused me to believe that he must have been kicked in the rear end.

How is it that this trauma, if my hypothesis is correct, is still lingering after nine years now in which i feel sure that he not been physically mistreated (slightly neglected by his last person, i think, but never harmed), still lingering?  They say that people who have been physically abused at early ages never completely heal.  I guess it is the same for dogs.  Lots of love and safety over the last 15 months have tremendously built up Buddy’s confidence and reduced his skittishness, though that scared startle reaction still shows up in a variety of ways, like his running away if i drop anything on the hard kitchen floor – and, if it’s something loud, really running away.

I’m prepared for him to always display some fearfulness at times, and to still need lots of reassurance when this happens.

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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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