How long has it been now since my lightbulb moment...my burst of insight concerning Lizzie and Charlie. A week or two? Not much more, to be sure.
There's been a shift. For the very first time in our ten months of dog ownership, there's been a small shift in the relationship between Lizzie and Charlie. Not an observably huge one, undoubtedly, if one were to peer in the window of our lives on a day-to-day basis, but one that feels ground shifting from the inside of those windows.
Nothing over the past week or two, as I have pondered my revelations about Lizzie, has changed my course of thinking - in fact, everything seems to confirm it. I do need to think a little about a comment that was made in response to my post - that perhaps Lizzie is suffering a fear of abandonment, rather than rejection. Not sure...will be looking into that further.
I think I posted last that Lizzie had collapsed into tears when I gently voiced my thought that, counter to what she'd said, she actually cared so much about her relationhip witsh the dog that she was very sad that it might never materialize the way she wanted it to.
Since that time, I have absolutely maintained tight control over her relationship with the pup...not much has changed there. Many times throughout the day, I ask Lizzie to please not touch or pick up the dog, and I regularly provide the puppy with 1+ hours of consecutive Lizzie-free time, just to give her a break. I am undaunted in setting limitations.
...I have changed my outlook and manner about things considerably. Now, when the dog growls at Lizzie, which inevitably happens a few times/day, I immediately try to get to Lizzie and, rather than say anything that she might hear as a rebuke, I might say something like one of the following:
" (sigh) Oh dear, Lizzie, I know you want so much for Charlie not to growl at you - it's must be so dang hard when you hear that noise...I know it would just about do me in if she were to growl at me..."
" (sigh) Oh shoot, Lizzie, I know how much you want for Charlie to love you and to welcome your touch...I feel so sad for you when I hear her growl...and I'm betting your heart feels just a little achy, too, when you hear that. Here...my arms have a hug in them for you."
I have been blown away (again) by how much at the surface Lizzie's emotions about this really are. Contrary to her resolve that she doesn't care about her relationship with the dog, she is ready to be sad and even to cry about that sadness. There have been at least six incidences of tears and/or deep sadness about this in the past week+. And this has been happening because of one thing: I'm ignoring her (annoying, inappropriate) behaviours and focusing on what must be going on in her heart; I'm focusing on helping her to feel her fear of pain/abandonment/rejection (whichever it is) and trying to stop her brain from jumping in to work at building up her defences.
Then, another movement. Two days ago, after a growling/comforting incident when Lizzie and I were sitting on the kitchen floor talking about her sadness over Charlie's growling, she said to me, with a huge sigh and a tone of great longing, "Mommy, I wish I knew how to stop Charlie growling at me. It just makes me so sad."
This said after at least a thousand lectures on my part, over the past ten months, about how to stop the dog from growling at her. But finally, as if a little light bulb were going off in her brain, Lizzie is interested to know what she can do to change things up a little.
Her statement of longing was the very first time I've heard her want to do something different in order to affect change in her relationship with the dog.
My response? I tried to keep it as basic and non-lecturey as possible...the fewer the words the better, I figured, and maybe an expression of encouragement would help.
"Well, darlin'," I responded, "I can hear in your voice how badly you must want that. I know it makes you sad when Charlie growls...it makes my heart hurt, too. I have a feeling you could figure out one or two little things that might help you in your wish that she stop growling at you. And if you need any help, I'm happy to talk about it."
We just sat there on the kitchen floor. Silent.
"Well, Mom, I notice that when Charlie's lying down and trying to sleep, she maybe doesn't really like it when I come up to her and try to hug her or pet her, or pick her up."
(Something I've been saying for 10 months, but said by Lizzie with wonder in an exploratory tone)
"Wow, Lizzie, what a great observation," I said, and I squeezed her just a little. "So you're saying that you are noticing that she doesn't like it when you might try to approach her when she's lying down?"
"Yeah," was the response. "And I can sometimes tell now by her eyes that she doesn't want to be touched right then."
"Huh. That's pretty amazing, Lizzie, that you are observing so much about Charlie. I bet you're wondering what you could do about that."
"Well, Mom, I'm wondering if she'd stop growling at me so much if I stopped bugging her when she's lying down."
(well, Lord have mercy...that's what I've been trying to get at for 10 months with ZERO impact. Zero.)
"Huh. Well, I wonder, too. Sounds like you might want to experiment a little with this, Lizzie."
"I think I'm starting to get this stuff Mom," she said. I was trying to keep my jaw from hitting my chest. "I'm going to try to watch out for those things."
"What if we experimented a little together, Lizzie," I offered. I'd love to hear your observations when you have them. So what if you were to try telling me when you notice these things about Charlie and what you might like to do about them?"
"That's a GREAT idea, Mom. I'll tell you when I observe Charlie lying down or when she's got the look in her eye that's telling me to leave her alone."
Well, didn't she just do that...multiple times yesterday and today. She suddenly comes running up to me, all excited, and whispers something like, "Mom, mom, look at Charlie. She's lying down and when I ran past her she gave me the look. Just look at her eyes. I'm going to decide not to touch her now because she's not in the mood and she might growl at me if I touch her now."
"Lizzie," I whisper back in a conspiratorial voice. "You're brilliant to notice that about her. That must make you feel so happy. I would have totally missed that and then I'd have been sad if I'd touched her and she growled at me. Wow. Should we see what happens if we sit down on the floor together, a ways away from Charlie, and see if we notice anything else or see what she does then?"
Well, bless Charlie, on three occasions, when Lizzie and I have sat down nearby, she has gotten up and come wagging over to see us. Lizzie gasped the first two times, so shocked that Charlie would actually approach her. (Really, she was coming to see me, but there's no reason to say that.)
I would say that the number of times, in the past two days, that I have had to pull Lizzie away from the dog or give her instructions to leave the dog alone, have reduced by at least half!
And this morning, to my shock, when Lizzie was downstairs before the other kids, we saw another small miracle. Rather than grabbing the dog, Lizzie reached down to where Charlie was sitting with me in the kitchen and gave her a few scratches and kisses on her head. She talked her baby talk to Charlie and Charlie ate it all up. Then Charlie got up, pranced over to the sunroom where she saw one of her squeaky toys, and she picked up the toy in her mouth; she stood there, wagging her tail and looking at Lizzie, and then suddenly bent her upper body towards the ground in that age-old, downward dog invitation to play, and kept looking right at Lizzie. Lizzie squealed, yelled that Charlie wanted to play, and I shouted back, "go for it." Lizzie proceeded to chase the dog around the main floor, over and over, while the dog ran/stopped/waited for her/grabbed the toy/ran/stopped/waited for Lizzie/grabbed the toy, etc etc etc. They played hard for about ten minutes. No problems. Lots of laughter. Lots of spunkiness from the dog and cheerful eyes. It was a blessed moment and Lizzie and I celebrated later for how good that laughter felt. We did a happy dance. She had a moment...a taste. And it was awesome. Later, Lizzie said again, "I think I'm starting to get this stuff, Mom."
I feel like I'm in a state of shock and awe about how profound a difference it makes to just shift my attitude towards seeing Lizzie as having a heart issue rather than exclusively behavioural issues. I'm shaking my head as I write this, and it feels sooo good to be making a contribution towards Lizzie's emotional health by just understanding a few things differently and making a simple change or two in my approach. She is feeling things in her relationship with the dog, both sorrow and joy, and this is so crucial to changing her brain's reaction to a scary situation where she fears that her relationship with the dog (or person) is at risk. It's cray cray. And cray cray awesome!
I'm under no illusions - this is going to take time. Despite crazy short term successes, these are, after all, heart issues, and heart issues take time and care and patience.
But it's a baby step. A real genuine baby step in a lifelong journey. And thank God for that dog of mine...for that precious, feisty, good-natured, ever-so-soft and raggedy looking little mop who is one of the best things ever to happen in this household. No wonder I adore her: She's going to help me help our Lizzie. :)