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.