Big Poppa, our bulldog and the most stubborn creature I've ever known in all my life, is like a totally new dog. You remember his "issues"?
My friend Jess, who I've referred to as a dog whisperer, because she is magically brilliant in understanding dogs' communication, is actually a doctor unlike any veterinarian I've ever met. (If she ever sees patients, I'm taking my animals to her and so should you - but anyway)
She came to consult with me about Pops, whose peeing and barking had put him squarely on my "naughty list." It turns out he has some dominance issues, which surprised me for some reason. He's kind of passive-aggressive (this is my non-professional assessment), so he is bossy but with a kind, innocent look on his face all the while. I had thought 100% that Mabel, my tiny little Maltese-mix was the boss around here.
Pops likes his butt scratched. This is the whole reason we bought Mabel. Not to scratch his butt, but because my little dog Fifi died and I had doggie-snuggle withdrawal and all I could ever achieve for affection from Pops was the arse-end of him offered for a scratch.
Come to find out, this is dominance.
Jess showed me how to lean over his back when he offers me his "poppa" (this is Russian for "bum" - something we learned in Ukraine, when our friend asked what the dog's name meant, because in Russian Big Poppa means "big butt," which also is very appropriate for him). So now, I pat his face, then when he turns back-to, I lean over him. He dislikes this and licks his nose, and sometimes he'll just wiggle out and then turn his butt back to me again, so I do the all-fours walk to lean over him again.
But even the first day of our new "homework" routine, Pops changed.
The goal is for him to let me pat his face, to know that I will have conversations face to face. And he's starting to get it. The first evening, the very first one, he began to stay facing me for pats!!!
This, friends, is near miraculous. For six years, I have only ever had the invitation to scratch his butt. Do you even know how happy his foolish face makes me!? I had tears in my eyes. Truly I did.... This dog has aggravated me to no end with his peeing and barking and his big bulldog butt, and now he's showing me that he can change. And that he's not hopeless and that we can work our relationship out in a new way.
It reminds me of something my dad used to say sometimes about relationships between people: That people are always "responding to" us. And we have this amazing ability to change dynamics in our relationships by changing what we do, which can create a new response.
It's really powerful stuff to consider that we can affect change in our relationships. There is something very hopeful about dogs. They live in the now, they want to please, they are so forgiving. I think that loving a dog moves a part of our hearts that spills over a gentleness and a hopefulness into the rest of our lives.
Pops still may be wanting to pee on the sofa. I don't know this for sure. As much hopefulness as spills over from his behind not continually backing into me, I still am not ready to let him near the couch. I probably need to be the "pack leader" with my leaning-over-his-back exercise a bit longer before we go there. I'm sentimental about Poppa, but it has limits. We'll get a good week or so of face-to-face chats before we try opening up the den again.