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!