Tinker: One Year Later

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

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