My favorite way to spend a Sunday night is snuggling up with my dogs and reading articles in bed. Whether they are peer-reviewed publications of social psychology research or Cosmo’s latest opinion on “Why guys do that,” I am fascinated with the human psyche. Last night, I came across this article one of my friends had posted on Facebook.
While reading it, my fabulous foster Grace Kelley laid with me, her whole body pressed up against me. It struck me how applicable the suggestions in this article were to the world of dog fostering. The author, Sa ra Rodriguez, discusses a type of girl we all know well—the disconnected, independent wonder-woman who runs around ten miles a minute so that she doesn’t have to attach to anyone, anywhere, or anything for too long.
Maybe it’s because one boy broke her heart so terribly she couldn’t recover; maybe it’s because of trauma experienced in early childhood; or maybe she just developed poor attachment styles. For whatever reason, her brain is hardwired in such a way that she just doesn’t know how to receive love. I see this in so many of our rescued dawgs as well. Neglected, starved, beaten, and betrayed by the humans who were supposed to care for them, they don’t know how to let a human love them.
Don’t worry though! Both dogs and humans can easily overcome this blockage and learn to be loved properly. It’s just not easy. Rodriguez went on to give anyone with the misfortune of finding themselves in love with one of these women a few pointers on how to do just that. I’ve borrowed them to help us understand how we can better love our foster dawgs to rehabilitate them successfully.
“…let things unfold at a pace that feels natural, which might be slower than what’s considered ‘normal.’ Remember, she’s not used to this, and too much at once will surely send her over the edge. Showing sensitivity to her pace will let her know that she doesn’t have to fear being out of control, causing a miscommunication or feeling the pressure of time.”
This is spot on for rescues. Some dogs will be eager to embrace a new home and some just won’t. Some will need months to trust humans again and that’s just fine too. Giving each dawg whatever time it needs will give it a better chance at a new life and successfully transitioning to a forever home.
“Be sure to engage in her contemplations just as much as you listen; she wants to hear your thoughts more than you realize.”
I talk to my dawgs in the same way I talk to humans. I refrain from raising my voice or yelling down to them because I believe that we are truly on the same level. Making them think otherwise (talking to them like they are a dawg) only closes the line of communication between you. Dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures and if you just explain what you would like for them, they will oblige or respond. They seek guidance, not dictatorship. Use your words and tell your dog she is loved, that she has a home with you for as long as she needs, and that you are here to help her. (Which brings us to step 3…)
“If you really love this girl and she really loves you, then she’ll welcome the encouragement. She’ll want to support you, too. Let her; with a heart as passionate as hers, you’ll want her on your team.”
Enjoy the mutual connection derived from this energy sharing. Praise positive behavior whenever you see it. Appreciate when you can tell your furfoster is trying and don’t expect perfection right off the bat. Baby steps are progress and progress is good! Pets, treats, love, nods of approval—anything to let them know how proud and excited you are to see growth and positive change.
Don’t be her other half, be two wholes making an even better whole.
This one is SO important and refers back to last week’s post about boundaries. It is important that you do not let this dog roll all over you, lick your face to pieces, etc. It may feel good and you might think to yourself: “Man, he looooves me!!,” but this isn’t healthy behavior. It is a display of neediness and insecurity. It is important that you hold the space between the two of you with your energy and that the dawg is respectful of this in order to encourage him to develop self-soothing behaviors and independence.
“But when you are together, be together. Completely. Let her know she is loved until shebegins to understand what that feels like, and then keep doing it. If it’s right, she’ll come around. And because she’s loyal by nature, she’ll stay around, too (so don’t give her any reason to think that you won’t).”
I loved this so much because it’s exactly right. Once your dawg acclimates and a strong relationship has formed, love her as hard as you can and let her know that you will continue to love her whether she is with you or with her new family—furever and ever.
“Truly, this girl has a lot of love to give, even if she’s a bit awkward in showing it at first. She just needs time—time to figure things out for herself, to better understand how this works. Let her figure out that deep down, she just wants to love and be loved—just like everyone else.
If she happens to let you close enough to love her, take it seriously. It means she’s trying. It means she wants to love you. And remember that helping her learn how to be loved in return is the surest way to win her heart.”