While many of us this week have been  hugging  and  holding our children and grand children tighter as a result of the horrible shootings in Newtown CT., many of us have also sought to hold and love our pets.  Our desire to keep all those we love feeling safer has increased dramatically in light of the recent tragedy among the young and innocent.

 
stiff response to touch

Yet, when I reach to comfort my new 6 year old foster dog he growls and moves away from me. My desire to befriend and offer safety to this frightened dog is way more than he can handle at this point.  The more I try, the more he withdraws.

 
A new approach is clearly needed to earn the trust of with this little guy, so based on the many insights shared by Karen Pryer, I will play a series of “show me” games.  This is a game many new horse owners play when they buy or ride a new horse, if I do this what will you do?  Applying pressure with your hand or leg on different parts of a horse should be met with a behavior from the animal, hence, the relationship begins.
 
Knowing that petting this dog’s back, would earn a “growl” verbal response as well as a stiffening of his body, I tried the back of my hand on his side for about 4 seconds then stopped.  What I got this time was a look in my direction and a bit of a lean into my hand.  So I continued to rub his side with the back of my hand and stop, allowing him to walk away or ask for more. This went on for 10 minutes at which point I needed to move myself as my back was ailing me.  I should also mention that in this time, I noticed his eyes soften, his ears seemed floppy, his breathing slowed, and he licked his lips multiple times and at one point laid his head on my leg.  I was thrilled!  I slowly got up and moved away, happily knowing he was wanting more of this friendship to continue. 

With so much uncertainty in our world, it is reassuring to give comfort and safety to an uncertain or defensive person or pet, even if for just a brief time.  Knowing when to reach out and when to just be present is a fine line, one that is always changing but certainly always rewarding.