I often read the short, informational write-ups about dogs who are in need of a home and so many of them state the dog is the type that “needs to be with their person”, meaning the dog has suffered separation anxiety in the past, this is just a part of who they are, so they need to be adopted by a person who can be with them 24/7.
My heart sinks.
Not just because I know that separation anxiety is something that I regularly help my clients work through with their dogs to success, but also because I know that the dogs who are said to “have” separation anxiety will linger longer in shelters and rescues, some even to the point where they are put to sleep because a new family just can’t be found who can meet the dog’s needs. Those who seek to help the dog find a happy new home are without realizing it, dooming these dogs to lose out on a great home, just by typing those two dreaded words: Separation Anxiety.
People speak of separation anxiety as if it’s a kind of character flaw, something that is in the dog’s DNA make-up, something that just can’t be changed and is an integral part of who the dog is and it’s personality.
Separation anxiety occurs when a dog is mistakenly believing that it is responsible for the people in the household, so when the people leave and the dog can’t follow, the dog experiences very real panic. Think of yourself, watching your toddler walk out the door and you’re unable to follow to supervise and protect the baby. We could all honestly say we would ourselves go into a blind panic!
Dogs who are experiencing this separation anxiety will then try to find whatever has their person’s scent on it, in an effort to at least “feel” closer to the missing member. Very similar to a person going into their missing loved one’s room, finding an article of clothing that has been worn, and deeply inhaling their scent. (Interesting how we share instincts with our dogs, isn’t it?) Think of the items that are chewed most often; remote controllers, shoes, sofas. These are all thing which we spend lots of time handling/wearing/lounging on. Or, it may be the dog tries to tear through the door, the window casing, whatever is nearest to the exit the person regularly uses to leave the home, trying their level best to break out and find their “baby”.
Sadly, though, just finding their human’s scent isn’t enough, so the destruction begins. I’ve often been told by clients that they think the dog is “angry” or, “bored” and destroys to exact revenge or to just enjoy or busy themselves. This is far from the truth; chewing releases endorphins in the dog’s brain that help to calm them. In effect, our dogs will chew to self-medicate just to get through this horrible ordeal they’re experiencing. In human terms think of relieving stress by chewing fingernails, or even emotional eating!
What to do about separation anxiety? Simple. Communicate clearly to the dog, in the way the dog can actually understand, that they have no worries, no responsibilities for the people in the home and, in fact, the people are the ones responsible for keeping everyone safe and protected. When this is done consistently and calmly, establishing leadership and maintaining that position through every interaction of every day, the dog can then simply relax and take the opportunity to enjoy the quiet home, settling down for a good nap!
Want to learn how to communicate clearly with your dog? Call me.
Any changes in our dog’s environment can cause the dog to “ask questions”, that is display behaviors that we’ve either not seen in quite some time, or display new ones we’ve never seen. In our case, it was my husband’s schedule change once the new school year began.
John had been home all summer, all day every day, and the new school year meant he was once again leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening, sometimes late. I didn’t think too much about it until Emmett began some behaviors that I hadn’t seen in quite a long while. We’ve been applying Amichien Bonding with our dogs for approximately six years now and our dogs have calmed to such an extent that I hardly think about it anymore. So when Emmett began acting up, at first I didn’t quite catch on.
It began that first week with Emmett standing at the back door and barking as if asking to go out. Distracted, I would waited a few moments, then breezed by and opened the door to allow him outside. He didn’t go out but just stood there, sniffing the breeze. I closed the door. A few moments later he repeated this bark, looking at me expectantly once more. (I only know he looked at me because I checked in my peripheral vision). I didn’t comply, instead ignoring him. Emmett barked again. I left the room.
Now, the reason I did this was because Emmett had already been out that morning, just about an hour and a half earlier, so I thought this wasn’t a real “call of nature”, having given him the benefit of the doubt the first time. After all, we all have upsets from time to time. This time, however, I knew that this was his way of questioning and I answered in a way he immediately understood which was to not only ignore him, but to absent myself from him. Emmett is a very intelligent dog and one who leans toward the end of being an anxious dog as well, so my answers to him must be swift and unequivocal.
The next day, Emmett stood in the middle of our bedroom and issued a series of barks, just one or two, then would wait to see what would happen. Because I was in another room, I simply thanked him and kept on with what I was doing. Again, he barked. I walked into the room, looked out of the windows (without looking at him), said thank you once more and walked out. A few moments later, “Bark!” I walked past the doorway, pulled the door closed, made sure he was quiet, then counted slowly to five. I reopened the door and ignored him.
The week went on like this, with Emmett barking every so often, and at first I was just a bit exasperated because I didn’t understand why he was suddenly doing this questioning. In my mind, there was no reason that I could see that he should be uncertain of his place. Each time I gave him a clear answer, he would settle into his favorite nesting place and enjoy some downtime.
But then, it dawned on me. Of course! It was my husband’s schedule that had been a change, one that necessitated sorting out in Emmett’s mind. If he wasn’t satisfied that our pack had a trustworthy leader, regardless of the changes in the household, then he would have to step up and that is the last thing he wanted. The certainty of leadership is the key to the group’s survival. Emmett had no way of knowing whether John was going to return or not, so to Emmett the pack size had changed, meaning the roles of the individuals who are left must be sorted out. I told him what I needed to know.
It took Emmett a bit over a week to really understand the new rhythm of our schedule and now he’s stopped “asking” and is his old self again, snoozing in the sun, watching the birds through the window and enjoying life just being a dog. All because he knows I’m there, ready and capable of being the leader he needs.
Our one-year anniversary of Tinker’s adoption has come and gone, in August. The little dog with the lion’s mane keeps inching forward, tiny steps at a time. Every week I’m reminded of how much he has overcome, while not having any expectations about how much further he will, or will not, go.
One morning I noticed he was “winking”, and upon closer examination saw that one of his eyes seemed to be irritated. I phoned the veterinarian and set up an appointment for the following Monday (of course this happened on a weekend) because Tinker would have to be sedated for the exam, so I thought perhaps this would be a good time to have him groomed and looked over.
At about this same time, I had been working with Tinker on getting him comfortable with a slip lead, offering him rewards when he would put his head through the loop. All was going very well until one day when he startled and took off. I lost my grip on the lead and off he ran to his crate with the lead dragging along behind him. That panicked look told me everything, as did his pulling back from me by staying in his crate, curled up again. We weren’t even close to being able to have him walk on a lead. We were light years away from that, something I had hopes for to be able to take him to vet appointments.
Thankfully, Tinker’s eye cleared up so we didn’t have to go. Such relief. I want to avoid putting him through that process unless it’s very very necessary. But even though I had a moment of relief, I was still so worried about his progress. How do I keep him moving forward? Will he ever be comfortable with a lead? He doesn’t even have a collar on.
I decided to go to the forum to which I belong as a Dog Listener; a global forum on which we DLs can bring questions, challenges, concerns and receive advice from Dog Listeners all over the world possessing varying degrees of experience, including Jan Fennell herself. I brought all my worries about Tinker, what I had been doing with him thus far, what I was hoping to do, my concerns about continued training and whether he would ever improve; was I missing something important for his learning and improvement; everything, with my heart on my sleeve.
What I got back was indescribably wonderful.
One by one, people shared their own experiences with their own dogs, some of whom had been considered to be “lost causes” like Tinker. They shared the challenges their dogs came with and where they are now; shared their own worries about their progress; shared what had worked for them as well as what had not, all with humility and kindness. They offered the kind of caring support that one rarely experiences. And every posting evidenced a depth of compassion and love for their animals that was deeply, deeply touching and uplifting. I felt once again on a real and meaningful level, that I had found my tribe, my people. People who see dogs clearly, respectfully and extend such acceptance of them as I have not seen anywhere else.
Where most people are intent on molding their dog into something that will fit in with the general public, or with the picture they have in their minds of the kind of dog they want, or into something that others will see as being the “perfect” dog so that the dog will reflect well upon them, this group, this method of AB, offers dogs total and complete acceptance for the individuals they are, warts and all. AB seeks to give people the understanding needed to create a place for the dog that serves the dog, not themselves; a place that allows the dog to be a dog who can simply enjoy life because of the true security they feel in that home with people who can communicate security to them in the way they understand.
Such is the work of Jan Fennell. And it is times such as this, when I go to this collection of wonderful souls who have been drawn to this work, that I am so deeply thankful to have found Jan’s book. I am profoundly grateful to have been able to meet her and to study with her and to have met these like-minded and like-hearted people and to have the privilege of being a part of bringing this compassionate method and understanding to others.
So what advice did the Global Forum have for me regarding Tinker? The best advice I could have possibly received, which is to r-e-l-a-x. Without realizing, somehow I had constructed a goal line for the poor boy to reach and as soon as that happens it opens the door to anxiety, worry and stress. All of which are picked up by the dog who doesn’t understand that I’m concerned about him, but will believe I am concerned about a possible threat in the environment. This takes away his feelings of security.
I stopped everything immediately. All the heel work, SSCD (Stop, Start, Change Direction), all the intensive time together, all of it. I took a breath, and went back to simply being with Tinker. Of course I had been doing this before, but in snatches here and there. Now, I just let him be….just be. I have taken away the ideas of him and where he could end up progress-wise in my mind. I have put away any expectations of myself along with that. And now I just stay in the present moment, appreciating, and knowing that by applying Amichien Bonding I am doing everything I need to do for him, nothing more than that is required. The rest is up to him.
Tinker has responded beautifully well and shows me in little ways almost each week how he is choosing to come forward, step by step by tiny step. We have resumed some practice but it’s done with simple enjoyment, no goal in mind other than bonding time for us.
The best part? He is happy.
His countenance has changed from one of the terrified, bug-eyed look to a soft, curious expression with soft eyes and ears perked forward instead of held flat back. He sleeps on his back, legs splayed while we come and go from the room. Snoring to beat the band! He stays put when I walk past him, rather than darting for his bed or the corner of the sectional. When he comes to me his tail wags gently back and forth, and it’s no longer tucked when he walks walks away. I have seen him playing with his giant ball while I’m in the room with him, turning his head upside down and nudging the ball with his nose, then turning his head upright to look, and turning upside down once again. Freely grooms, lovely long sessions that he looks as though he thoroughly enjoys. Today he casually walked across the room to drink water while I type away on my computer while I watched, slack-jawed. Another first. He even rolls over for belly rubs! (No, of course I don’t give in, but it’s tough!)
Little things. Things most people take for granted and what people consider to be “normal” dog behavior brings such joy and feelings of accomplishment because each step forward is a gift from Tinker, one he is freely choosing to give in his own time and in his own way. The first time I realized he didn’t flinch when I placed my hand on him produced a river of tears from me. He trusts me! I had adjusted to the fact that he may always flinch when touched but once again he proved me wrong. A gift from his heart to mine.
Who knows what he will be like in a year, two years, five years from now. I no longer worry about it or think about it. Instead, I pick up a good book, make myself comfortable, and read while being serenaded by my funny, snoring little dog.
And I send a silent “thank-you” to all the caring, kind and compassionate people on the Global Forum who stand with Tinker and I, supporting us and cheering us on with every step forward and ready to offer their help. #Blessed
In the beginning of June, our daughter was expected to arrive home in under two weeks for a long-awaited and much anticipated visit. I wanted to give her the bathroom adjoining her bedroom back, which of course meant it was time for Tinker to be moved. I had thought I would move him down to the main floor, but had not really been able to find a good place for him without substantial re-positioning of furniture and felt it would be better for everyone and more relaxing for me to instead move the little guy into the TV room for the time being. I wanted to focus on our daughter’s visit. On the plus side, this would also mean that although Tinker’s world would become a bit bigger, it would be much less of a challenge for him than moving him to the main floor, and then have to deal with our daughter’s visit.
My plan had been to simply move Tinker’s crate from the bathroom to its new location, some twenty feet or so, while Tinker was otherwise occupied. This proved to be more challenging that I had expected because for whatever reason, Tinker decided he would stay either very close to his crate, or would dart inside whenever I even walked past the bathroom. He had a seemingly uncanny ability to sense when I was intending to walk in and pick up the crate.
All day, regardless of how nonchalant or aloof I was, when I made any move toward the landing or the bathroom, Tinker was zip past me and run into the crate. I tried everything; singing, carrying a book and trying to look interested (bear in mind, the dog is almost blind; I’m unsure what I was thinking by doing this, other than occupying my thoughts so I wasn’t focused on the crate); walking to the landing multiple times at unpredictable times and then leaving again; walking downstairs, then upstairs, down and up…nothing seemed to work to convince him he didn’t need to man the crate.
I should point out as well that during this time, Tinker was very comfortable being out of his crate with me, just hanging out in his little bed or joining me wherever I was on the second floor and laying on his belly, relaxing for a while then going back to his bed. I really didn’t expect this strange behavior of popping back into his crate the way he did.
This certainly points up something very important about our dogs, something that most people don’t understand or even know: Dogs, with their incredible sensing abilities of smell and hearing as well as their powers of observation, are able to “tune in” to our pulse rates, our hormones, sweat glands, our breathing. They notice what we would consider to be imperceptible changes in our behaviors, our body language, our attention, our habits. Any changes in these things alert our dogs to us. Changes in their environments represent possible problems in the dog’s minds. Anything, no matter how minute, is cause for notice, because for the dog it’s all about survival. If they were to be living wild minute changes such as bent grass where the grass was standing tall before, a torn leaf, a twig on the ground where it hadn’t been previously, a strand of hair caught on a burr, could mean an intruder is nearby, a possible threat. Dogs still live their lives by their instincts, regardless of the environment they’re in.
In short, it’s pretty tough to fool a dog!
I finally resigned myself to being out-maneuvered by Tinker and since I was fast running out of time in that day, thought my best alternative would be to just move the crate with him in it, which I proceeded to do.
I closed the door of the crate with Tinker in it and began to move the crate. As mentioned, it was a short twenty feet or so to the new location in the next room, so I thought it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. At first, Tinker simply lay on his belly in the crate, remaining still. I moved the crate slowly and found it was quite heavy, being a sizable crate and adding Tinker’s weight. I moved it in small increments, possibly a foot or two at a time. About halfway there, Tinker became visibly anxious and began moving around in the crate. This made the crate more difficult for me to pick up and move, with the contents shifting about but I kept at it, little bit at a time, and the crate dragged a little in the process. I could tell the sound of the dragging was adding to Tinker’s anxiety, so I finally just placed the crate down and opened the door. Tinker was out of the crate like a shot, moving around the room as though looking for someplace safe to hide. He finally found a cozy spot behind a large ottoman. When I looked over, all I could see were his little eyes peeping over the ottoman at me, wide and obviously shaken.
“Alright then”, I thought to myself, “This actually makes things a bit easier. I’ll settle the crate in and he will find it again, and all will be well!”
Sadly, this wasn’t the case.
Tinker did not return to his crate. In fact, Tinker avoided the crate completely. It broke my heart for him. I felt that I had taken his one real place of sanctuary from him, his one place of peace and true security. What have I done?!
After about an hour, I sat down next to the crate and requested Tinker to come, which he did, and gained his food reward by entering the crate to get it while I held it through the side. I did this a few times, praising him quietly when he retrieved his reward. But it was crystal clear he would not be spending any time in the crate, because each time he took his reward, he left the crate in a hurry. After a few light interactions, I ended the session and left him be.
That evening and in the days after moving the crate, I watched as Tinker would sometimes walk into the bathroom as though looking for his trusted crate, only to find it gone. I had seen him walk to the crate in the new place, sniff it very cautiously a couple of times, then walk away from it. Having the visual limitations he does, it’s not surprising he is trying very hard to reconcile this big change in his environment, and I couldn’t help but feel I had robbed him of something very, very dear to him. I took solace in knowing that he still had the choice of using his crate if he wished, as well as knowing he had his comfy little bed he seems to enjoy. Still, it was hard to watch him, to see him almost want to enter the crate, only to have his fear win out, remembering how his beloved crate had moved and frightened him. I felt I had ruined some of his very hard-earned security.
The only thing that could be done now is to simply ignore Tinker’s reaction of distress, being very careful not to get caught up in it which could result in my behavior putting pressure on the little guy. I would just have to continue on with life as it is, making certain that AB is in place.
This is the way I could help him best.
I have been wanting to become current on Tinker’s status but am plagued by a physical situation that has in the recent past rendered my hands and arms completely and quite literally useless due to tendonitis. Because of this I am cautious about how much typing I do; it takes much longer for me to complete things having to type in smaller increments so as not to overdo. Any soreness or pain has me dropping all activity related to typing because of the fear of losing the use of my hands, and since I haven’t completely trained my voice recognition software, I have not been able to regularly post anything except Facebook entries and to handle email. At this juncture I am becoming a bit frustrated but have resolved to work through the fear so I may get caught up on so many parts of my work that need real attention and completion.
The other reason I haven’t posted even a small update about our boy Tinker is that every time I have a blog posting on my day’s to-do list, he does something new or different or surprising, so I think to myself that I would like to add that in to my posting so I’ll wait and write it all up at once. Which, of course, I haven’t.
I shall try in the coming days and weeks to give you an overview of where Tinker is now. More than likely I will have to do so in installments until I get caught up, because trying to put everything that has happened over the last few months could very well end up being a small book!
Tinker’s progress had, for whatever reason, seemingly plateaued for a bit. I don’t worry about this because I know that when he’s ready he will take a leap forward. True to form, this is what happened today.
I had begun our interaction today in the usual ways: reuniting properly, asking him to come to me, etc. and we had started our heel work and Stop, Start, Change Direction when I heard one of my other dogs, Emmett, ascend the stairs. Tinker, as he always does when he knows one of the other dogs is nearby, made a beeline for his crate. I decided to use the time practicing SSCD with Emmett instead so Tinker could watch.
Emmett and I walked, circled, backed up, paused over and over again as Tinker watched from his crate. I had Emmett on a leash, which I always have attached to my two other dogs when they are in Tinker’s presence so I have control of them, keeping pressure off Tinker. Emmett and I stopped in front of Tinker’s doorway and he watched as I rewarded Emmett with praise, some good petting and cheese.
After about 5 minutes of practice I began walking Emmett into Tinker’s room, and rewarded Tinker with a bit of cheese after asking him to reach toward me for it, then I asked Emmett to go into a “down” in front of Tinker’s crate for his reward (I only asked for this because I didn’t have a way to make a space between Emmett and I so I could call him). At this point they were approximately a foot or so away from each other. As soon as Emmett received his reward, we walked out again. Short and sweet. We repeated this interaction over and over…and over again.
As mentioned, Tinker seemed to have plateaued for a bit. For a little while, his SSCD practice was going well, and then it wasn’t. I’m unsure as to why but didn’t want to dwell on it, choosing instead to focus on recall with him and keeping interactions positive and calm for him, engaging him very briefly in heel work but not pressing him on it when I saw he was edgy. I thought at some point he would decide to try again. It seems as though today was the day.
I finished my practice with Emmett and brought him back to the main floor, where he stayed of his own volition. Both of my other dogs have been very accepting and respectful of my time with “the man upstairs”, something that is a demonstration of their belief in my leadership. They know that when it’s their time with me, I will summon them. They no longer follow at my heels. Emmett’s bark this morning was met with a lack of response from me and he had begun descending the stairs when I decided to call him back up for practice. His return to the main floor was my decision as well and he accepted it willingly.
When I returned to the TV room, I sat on the floor and laid a slip lead on the floor, something I had already planned to do today. I placed it next to me in such a way that Tinker, poor eyesight or no, would definitely notice when I called him to me. I asked him to come to me and when he came to claim his reward, he took some cursory sniffs of the lead. I thought it would be more jarring to him to have the lead on the floor but he didn’t seem to mind its presence. I called him back to me periodically, slowing moving the lead closer to me by inches each time and eventually had it on my lap. Tinker would take a few sniffs here and there but largely ignored it.
I began having him come to me with the lead in my hand, rewarding him when he came and he did very well. After several interactions I picked up the slip lead, opened the loop to a large size. Holding it in front of me, I would reach my hand through the loop to give Tinker his reward. We repeated this over and over, and slowly I moved my hand back toward me so that Tinker would have to reach his head through to gain his reward. I didn’t have him come all the way through but he had to reach far enough so that his head was about halfway through. He did very, very well even though he did startle a few times which caused him to really take a good sniff of the lead.
That was more than enough for the day! On to SSCD practice…
It had seemed quite curious to me that Tinker had done so well with the slip lead practice; his confidence and calm was marked, even though he had been interacting with Emmett just a little while before. Sometimes this kind of activity will lead him to close down for a bit, and sometimes he is totally fine afterward. But today Tinker was decidedly different.
I requested him to “heel”. He joined me quickly; we began to move and Tinker walked with me beautifully and weirdly smoothly. He paused when we had to pass through a doorway, which is something he always does. I think this has something to do with his poor eyesight. After a moment’s look at the doorway he began moving forward once more. We kept moving, and the practice become one of those moments with Tinker in which time drops away and it almost feels as though we’re in a bubble together. The focus is there from us both; everything else fades away and we’re just moving together, back and forth; circling, pausing; stops, starts, forward and backward.
I have never seen him more confident. It was so incredibly touching to see him enjoying the practice, deciding to push himself, showing me that he could do it, too, just as Emmett had. And, more than this, he trusts me enough to follow willingly, happily and, for him, following almost blindly.
Yes, of course…I cried a bit.
Something I had learned in my AB training and something I try so very hard to impress upon my clients is that dogs learn by watching, not by telling one another what to do. Emmett was the teacher today, Tinker the student. I was simply the facilitator. As Jan Fennell says, it’s easier to train multiple dogs because they will, if we get out of the way, learn from one another quite quickly. That was certainly the case today.
Tinker clearly could have had a longer practice, but I didn’t want to risk pushing him beyond his tolerance so I ended our session together, reluctantly.
I can’t wait for the next one!
I am sitting here watching Tinker sleep.
His body is stretched out with his head draped over the end of his little bed. Not a care in the world.
The fact that he is sleeping is unremarkable; it’s where he is sleeping like this that is.
It is almost ten P.M. Tinker’s bed is in the middle of the TV room.
Normally Tinker is in his bed when it the sun begins to go down, and there he stays, sleeping for the rest of the night. The fact that he is sleeping in the middle of the room, in the wide open, at this time of the night is a first. Add to this the way he is sleeping; stretched out long, rather than curled up tight; head lolling over the side and resting on the floor.
Another step forward.
I watch as he stirs, stretches, then rolls onto his back to rest there, legs splayed, for just a moment before he stretches again, bringing his front paws to his muzzle in that sweet doggie prayer position, then rolls onto his side and back to stillness.
I can’t quite believe it.
To see Tinker at total ease like this gives me even greater belief that one day he will be truly as carefree as our other dogs.
I shall continue to hold to that vision while he does the hard work.
In my last blog post, I detailed how Tinker not only had become seemingly quite comfortable with being stroked while in his crate, but had actually begun asking for affection. I truly had expected that we would remain at this stage for a while, but Tinker had other plans.
About a week or so after I had discovered Tinker enjoyed receiving pets and scratches while in his crate, we were hanging out together in the TV room. I was reading, and Tinker was in his bed nearby. I was ready to take a little break so I put my book down and lay down beside Tinker’s bed. This placed me in close proximity to him and while I was settling onto the floor, he watched me with wide eyes and wariness. I ignored him and made myself comfortable.
As always, I had a food reward with me. I asked him to come and gave him the reward. He didn’t have to leave his bed completely, but I do require him to physically move toward me to gain the reward. He did so and as he was enjoying it, I slowly moved my hand to the side of his head and neck. This ensured that he would see and sense the movement and orientation of my hand and I wouldn’t surprise or frighten him.
Tinker came to stillness as he saw my hand and arm moving and I thought he would simply stand up and walk back to his crate, but I felt it was the time to at least try so I could gauge where he and I stood in terms of our relationship and his confidence.
Tinker didn’t move, not even one inch. It was as though he wanted to just wait and see what was going to happen.
I gently stroked the side of his neck a couple of times, then withdrew my hand but let it rest on the side of his bed.
Tinker sniffed at my hand, gave it a couple of very quick licks, then positioned his head, chin down, just as he had previously while in his crate. He was asking for more!
Tears sprang to my eyes, and I will be completely honest and say that I complied with his request for more affection. This was a huge, important step forward in our relationship. Tinker was inviting and enjoying physical affection while laying in his bed in the middle of the room; fleeing was an option and one he regularly employed and yet he was clearly choosing to engage physically with me. I couldn’t help but be touched by this moment. We enjoyed it together, and Imade sure that I didn’t let it go on so long that Tinker could make the choice to end it, and then I left the room.
Once I was out of range, downstairs and enclosed in my bathroom, I indulged myself in a good cry. Why cry? And why close myself away?
To reach a point with such a fearful dog, a dog that no one had much faith in and who had such fear that it was advised by the majority he should be destroyed; a dog who was quite literally afraid of his own shadow and wouldn’t emerge from his crate with others present for weeks and weeks at a time;to share a moment when such deep trust is gifted by him to me was both overwhelming and completely humbling. I didn’t ever honestly expect to be able to share affection with Tinker. I had put that idea out of my mind and oriented myself to just making sure each interaction in the present was done correctly and well for his sake, and I would find out whatever the future held when that time came. In this way I had no expectations, thus would experience no frustration with him. To reach this point was in a sense a huge surprise to me.
Why close myself away? Dogs have certain qualities they are looking for in their leader, qualities that must be evidenced in every moment, and in every interaction. This is a matter of survival for them, it’s not an idle wishlist for what would make the perfect pack leader. Leaders must be unflappable, strong, calm, ready for anything. To display the level of emotion I was feeling could send the signal to Tinker that I am unable to lead for the time being and when there is doubt about the capability of the leader, then everyone is at risk. Tinker is certainly not leadership material and he clearly knows this. To have me laid low could make his fearfulness rise again and possibly set his progress back. It’s just not worth the risk to allow myself to break down in his presence.
Dogs are so generous and have such heart. Their willingness to try again and again with humans is a quality unmatched by the human race. Dogs have so much teach us, if we would simply listen.
I find that I like experiencing moments with Tinker much more than writing about them. I have some catching up to do, once again.
Weeks ago I had mentioned that I had begun giving Tinker a quick stroke every once in a while when he is in his crate, something that actually made me uncomfortable because this meant that Tinker didn’t have much of a choice about the interaction. I suppose, given the size of his crate, that he could retreat if he was very uncomfortable with the contact, or perhaps even nip at me, but still there was a part of me that felt I was taking advantage of his being unable to make a choice and I truly didn’t ever want to push him to a place of fear within our relationship. To help us both feel better about things, I made sure to only attempt a stroke or two if he seemed up for the interaction, meaning if Tinker was curled up in a ball, or showing me half-moon eyes, I would leave him be. If he seemed engaged, sitting up, looking interested, then I would briefly stop at his crate, with my side facing him, offer him a food reward and ask him to ‘come’. By ‘come’, I meant he needed to make a serious effort at moving toward me in order to get the food reward. Then I would stroke his head and neck once or twice, and leave.
I had thought that we would be at this level of contact for quite some time, so I was unprepared for what happened one afternoon. We went through our usual routine, with me bustling about in his room, ignoring him; I then knelt down at the crate entrance, asked him to come, rewarded him and stroked his head a couple of times. Something distracted me for just a moment, causing me to just leave my hand at the entrance of his crate while I was attending to whatever had called my attention. I felt a little lick on my hand, and saw him do this in my peripheral vision. He licked, then positioned his head near my hand and became very still.
At first I wondered: was Tinker actually requesting another pet? I left the room, and turned it over and over in my mind, trying to figure out if what I thought he was doing was in fact what he really was doing, which was asking for more petting.
The next day I repeated our routine, gave him the ‘come’ request, rewarded him, then stroked his head. As he did the day before, Tinker quickly licked my hand and positioned his head, chin down, clearly with expectation. He really was asking for more! I sat very still for a moment, thinking about what I should do next. Should I comply? Every fiber of my being said I should encourage him by complying immediately. But then I remembered my end goal, which is to make sure I behaved in a way that Tinker would clearly understand as being leadership so that he would trust in me completely to lead, guide and protect him; this meant that every interaction must be on my terms. After debating with myself, I left the room.
The next day, after settling in and having Tinker come forward for his reward, I once again stroked his head but this time I didn’t stop with just a couple of strokes. I petted his little head and began scratching his head and neck, while watching his reaction closely. What I saw was lovely.
Tinker’s eyes, fairly soft to begin with, softened further, looking more and more sleepy. His head drooped down until his chin was resting on the side of his bed. He did flick his tongue once or twice at the start, but clearly he was sinking down and down into relaxation and enjoyment. I kept the session rather short (even though I didn’t want to), and when I stopped his eyes immediately popped open and he lifted his head as if to ask me why I had stopped.
How completely wonderful. Tinker had let me know that he trusted me enough to allow me to offer him physical affection. I was surprised, thrilled, excited and at the same time, trying not to get too excited about this turn of events. This little guy has proven he’s full of surprises, and this was big…but there was an even bigger surprise coming!