I’ve talked with two different people recently who have talked about cuddling with their dogs. One woman said she wanted a dog to cuddle with her and while hers did as a puppy, once it was about 6 months, it didn’t want anything to do with cuddling anymore. The second person just put her dog down and was saying he was always her cuddle buddy and that her other dog does not like to cuddle.
I think that’s what a lot of people want in a pet. Something to cuddle with. Curling up on the couch together, sitting on your lap with your arms wrapped around it, resting its head on you when you’re sad. But all of that is not necessarily what the pet wants.
Pets show their love in different ways than humans. And they should be allowed to show it in their own time and space. Some Rottweilers are “leaners.” When they sit next to you, they tend to lean into your legs. I love this! My neighbors’ Rottweiler is a leaner. Also, if I sit on the ground pretzel-style, he will sit in my lap. When we had to put our Zelda down, they stopped over and the dog sat on my lap while I sobbed into his back. To add to that, when the neighbor had to put his first Rottweiler down, he came over to tell me and Zelda curled up in his lap. I was surprised because Zelda was not a cuddler! In both instances the dogs showed their affection and maybe even their grief in their own way; and for Zelda, in a way she would have never done otherwise.
When we got Liezel, I so hoped that she would sit in my lap and lean into us, that she’d lay next to me on the couch or sit next to me on the deck, hoped that she would be that pesky dog who never got enough rubs, always nudging your hand with eyes saying, “more!” But that was not what Liezel wanted.
Having a dog that didn’t really want to be touched made me very anxious. I had a lot of “what did I do” thoughts. I played scenarios over and over in my head wondering, “Was that the moment that caused her fear/anxiety?” Was it when she fell out of the kayak? When that Boxer at the campground went after her? Not socializing her enough? Was it when I locked her in the bathroom after she chased the cats (probably really bad advice given on how to stop your dog from chasing your cats)? Was it when I completely lost it the day she scratched the shit out of my dashboard because of a parked tractor in the driveway? It all starts to weigh on me. I should have been better – more protective, more patient, more lenient; I should have taken her to puppy classes before her third set of shots; I shouldn’t have let her approach that Boxer; I should have let her out of the car to sniff the tractor. These are the same kind of thoughts I had after we put Zelda down, I should have known it was her kidneys, I should have gone to Michigan State from the very beginning, I shouldn’t have let her spend her last nights in the hospital, on and on and on until I’m sitting here typing through tears.
You see, I want to be a really good pet owner. I want her to be healthy and happy. I’ll do anything in my power to give her a happy life. So when she cowers at my loving hand coming at her, my anxiety rises.
In the midst of this I learned about dog massage. It was a very slow process of giving treats while massaging – not petting, but actually applying enough pressure to move her skin. Week after week after month after month, the mat came out, she got on it and laid down. I gave her treats and massaged for increasing amounts of time. Some days she was not into it – she either would not get on the mat or not lay down or seem otherwise uncomfortable. She told me when she was willing and when she wasn’t. When she wasn’t willing we didn’t even try. With time her body language changed. She started out stiff and positioned to jump up if necessary but after a while she would lay down with her back legs kicked out to the side. Then she would get on the mat and roll onto her side once I started and after some amount of time she would roll over and I’d rub her belly. She slowly came to enjoy the massage time and treats weren’t even necessary.
As months passed we would use massage as a form of petting. Reaching down and rubbing her ribs or her back legs was being permitted. If she came to sit next to me on the floor, I would get in a rub or two, but never overdid it because honestly having her little warm body next to me was very rewarding.
One morning I came in from a run and sat on the kitchen floor, pretzel-style. Liezel plopped her butt right in my lap and just sat there. I began rubbing her back and then her chest. She started melting into my lap and ended up laying on her back in my lap – I was holding her like a baby and rubbing her. My husband walked in on this and with a look of amazement said, “Hmm, what’s going on in here.” [Giant smile!]
Liezel is two and a half now. About six months ago she started leaning against my husbands’ legs when he sits on the couch. She will also sit on his feet with her back to him and he rubs her back and neck. One day when he was done rubbing her, she nudged his hand to continue. We looked at each other like, “Success!!”
She sits on my lap pretty regularly if I’m on the floor. She sometimes paws my leg and I get up to let her out but she doesn’t go to the door. After many many times doing this exercise I closed the door and sat on the ground next to her. She backed up to me and got a massage. Now she knows, if I paw at their leg they’ll rub me.
She does not want to be touched by strangers and I have no problem saying “No, you may not pet her,” because I have earned her trust and I will not lose it. I have shed many tears for and over Liezel. I’m sure I’ll shed many more. But so long as she is in my life I will love her, learn from her, and work for her happiness.