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!
A few weeks ago I was working on my computer and a sound came to my attention. It entered my consciousness slowly, because it blended in with other familiar sounds in the environment, including the sounds of construction that come from our new neighbor’s continued progress in building their new home. In fact, I thought is actually was a sound coming from the construction site.
But it was more rhythmic, more consistent.
The sound became a distraction; it was tickling at my mind, becoming more and more insistent to the point I could no longer ignore it or even try to ignore it, because my attention was becoming divided.
I finally stopped typing and listened. At first I focused my hearing on the sounds of construction outside, but very soon knew it wasn’t coming from out there, but actually from in here.
Strange, since the noise sounded very much like a drill trying to push it’s way through a knot hole in a piece of wood.
I turned my head this way and that, trying to discern where this sound was coming from and what exactly it was.
Stealthily, I stood and began making my way through the house’s main floor oscillating my head like a radar dish. As I crept, I came upon my two dogs and observed them peacefully napping in their respective places. I moved on…
I moved through the rooms until I came to the base of the stairs leading to the second floor and determined that this sound was coming from above me, from the second floor. I began to make my way up the steps, soundlessly, one by one…
Then suddenly, realization dawned upon me and the mystery was solved:
Tinker was snoring!
The sound of deep, unconcerned, completely confident sleep! What a victory for this little guy!
Since the first instance of my discovering his snoring, he has progressed to the point of snoring even when we are in the adjoining room, watching television.
Now I find myself listening for this funny, weird, drilling-through-a-knothole-sound, and it fills my heart with happiness for this little dog, who has truly worked so very hard to reach out to us.
As one who is a Dog Listener, I’m often faced with folks who freely and vigorously state their opinions about Jan Fennell’s work; what it is, the theory behind it, etc. Or at least, what they’ve heard or led to believe.
I am often informed by these individuals that Amichien® Bonding is based upon dominance theory, something that we now know is incorrect and based upon faulty research, and that pack theory is an “old, outdated school of thought”. Add to this, they claim that Jan’s work is based upon her observations of her own dogs, and not ‘real’ canines. (Note: The gentleman who first wrote about dominance theory has, thankfully, publicly stated that it was based on faulty research on his part and that he regrets ever publishing his book in the first place because it has been proven to be a huge disservice to dogs and has been the catalyst of much abuse of dogs in the name of training. Jan Fennell has never, ever advocated dominance theory. Hierarchy, however, is a ‘real thing’, and in fact is something humans share with their canine buddies.)
I listen patiently, respectfully, calmly. I observe how emotional these people become when making these statements, and think how passionately they believe in them. I nod, giving my total and serious attention to them while they do their best to ‘enlighten’ me.
The conversation usually goes something like this:
Me (after they’ve unloaded their thoughts on me: “Have you ever read Jan Fennell’s work? Such as “The Dog Listener”? Or, “The Puppy Listener”? Or, “The Practical Dog Listener”? Or “The Seven Ages of Man’s Best Friend”?
Them: “No, but I know plenty of people who know her work, and her theories are outdated!”
Me: “But you’ve never taken the time to learn for yourself?”
Them: “I don’t have to! I know my friends are very well informed…one of them attended the Canine Behaviorist program in California! She knows what she’s talking about!”
Me: “Oh! How wonderful for her! Did you know it was the behaviorists who introduced the shock collars and prong collars? I’m thinking you must approve of those, if you’re a fan of behaviorist thought.”
Them: “No, of course not, I think those are terrible!”
Me: “Ah, I see…Jan Fennell doesn’t approve of them, either. In fact, her method is and has always been non-confrontational, nearly silent, gentle, all-positive and completely free of gadgets, force or threats…in fact, the techniques aren’t based on theory, as are the behaviorist’s, but on first-hand field observation by Jan of canines in the wild; they are replications of the rituals wild canines around the world engage in with one another to communicate their leadership, which means humans can use them to communicate with their dogs in the way dogs can recognize and understand.”
Them: “Oh…, well, I don’t know about that, but I am a fan of Turgid Rugaas; I believe what she talks about.”
Me: “You mean as in her book, “Calming Signals”? You must have read it, then.”
Them: “Well, no, not yet but I intend to…”
Me: “Lovely book! I was re-reading it the other day and particularly liked when she mentioned how canines organize themselves around their social hierarchy and how important it is to understand this about dogs so we can become their leaders.”
Them: “Yes! Exactly!”
Me: “Just as Jan says…”
Me: “Then you understand that “social hierarchy” is “pack hierarchy”, right? And that Jan’s work helps one to understand how to establish the proper hierarchy with our dogs so we can become their leaders…?” I think it’s wonderful that Rugaas also mentions that dogs have a universal language, something that Jan Fennell has demonstrated with her method of Amichien® Bonding for over 25 years now. What fascinated me as I was re-reading Rugaas’s book is that she states quite clearly that she made her discoveries by observing “tame” wolves, those in captivity, as well as her own and her client’s dogs. Huh…not the same as wild ones, eh?”
Me: “Is there anyone else who has ideas you particularly like?”
Me: “Well, it’s been such fun chatting about dogs, thank you! And when you get a chance to read “The Dog Listener”, let me know. I would love to talk with you again!”
Them: “Sure…” (as they hastily leave)
Have you read it?
It’s been quite some time since I last wrote about Tinker’s progress. It’s not that he hasn’t made progress; rather, each time I would be ready to write an entry, he would do something new and I thought I would write the post to include his new behavior. The changes I’ve been seeing happen on an almost daily basis, thus the entry has been significantly delayed. All to the good!
Tinker continues to put himself out there, continues to take what for him, are risks. Our reuniting ritual has developed into quite a show, with jumping up, touching me with his nose, giving quick little licks, invitations to play, intense sniffing, tail wagging, spins, and sometimes relentless barking, all to get my attention (of course to no avail). Oftentimes he comes out of his crate in the morning to give me a good sniff and a few licks on my hand when I tidy up after our night of sleep and before feeding. When I call him for greeting, he will sniff my face well before even taking his reward, as if the food has become secondary to greeting me, and we’ve even had times when he has come when I called, greeted me, then walked away without the reward, something I thought would not happen for a much longer time. Add to this, he walks over with a gently wagging tail. I hadn’t been sure he could even wag, given his quirky physical development, so seeing that relaxed tail leisurely wave back and forth when he’s called really warms my heart.
Rarely does Tinker remain curled up in his tight little ball of self-protection any more. He sits up in his crate, looking at me, as if to ask, “What’s next?” During feeding, as soon as I complete Gesture Eating and begin to place his bowl down, he’s out of his crate, headed to his bowl even though I’m leaning over him to pick up his water bowl for re-filling, and begins to eat even before I’ve stepped away.
When I’m in the TV room with Tinker, practicing recall, heel work or Stop, Start, Change Direction, and we take a little break he will either lay on his belly next to me, within a foot or so, or will go to his little bed to wait, rather than put distance between us by laying at the doorway or going back to his crate. He really enjoys playing Hide and Seek, and no longer shies away from me or jerks back in surprise when he finds me; instead he leans close to my face for a good sniff, then takes his reward. When he does secure his reward, he no longer retreats to eat it choosing instead to consume it right next to me. Sometimes he will, of his own accord, walk over to me and begin sniffing me from head to toe. I ignore this, but enjoy the level of comfort we have achieved.
He grumbles and growls much, much less and is now reserving it for times when he truly feels he has something to worry about, or when he’s trying to figure out what I’m asking of him. His response to Thank, Look and Isolate is much better, normally responding with quiet when I thank him, except when strangers come into the house, especially when they are male. Then his barking will reduce to grumbles and growls and he’s now quieting himself after a short period. If I can tell he’s beyond being able to calm himself, I close his door so he feels a bit more secure and will stop barking.
When I am moving around, attending to business upstairs Tinker will now step out of my way or will walk in a circle, rather than running back to his crate. In fact, I can really see he makes a conscious choice not to go back to his crate, and will try to tempt me into the room with him. When my husband joins us, Tinker will walk into his room sometimes, but will just stand in his room waiting for him to pass by rather than get into the crate and will then follow him to see where he’s going. All this he does calmly now, no skittering with panic.
I’m seeing more grooming behaviors now, something that has come in little bits over time, but yesterday he sat in his bed, enjoying a good grooming of the likes I hadn’t seen before. Then he settled down for a rest, stretched out in his bed, rather than curled up, just a few feet from me, struggling to remain awake.
Rarely do I see Tinker look behind him any more. This behavior used to be so frequent; his head would swivel almost every minute or less, first checking to see if his crate was still there, then as he moved further into the TV room he would check to make sure his exit was still there, always checking his path to safety. Now he does this only occasionally and he usually when my husband is in the house. Even then, however, he doesn’t seem to feel the need to keep making sure he has the ability to flee to safety.
Tinker still allows me to scratch his chin and throat a bit when he takes his food reward, occasionally pressing his chin/side of his muzzle against my hand. It’s a challenge to figure out ways to progress in this area because Tinker is so hand-shy and I think some of this is due to his vision issues. He can see shapes I’m sure, but I can’t imagine what a hand coming at him looks like to him, causing him to jump back in response. I tried putting peanut butter in the palm of my hand to encourage him to stay longer, thus allowing me to pet his chin and throat a little longer but so far that hasn’t worked very well. He takes a bit on his tongue, then takes a step back while he’s tasting it. Too wary.
What I have begun doing is to stroke his head when I am in his room cleaning up and he is in his crate. This way I’m not appearing to go to his crate for the reason of interacting with him; it’s an effort to make it appear to be more incidental contact so I can keep our interaction correct. Just one, soft stroke of his head and I move on, no eye contact, no speaking to him. Thus far he hasn’t responded with surprise, growl, lip-licking or even curling up more tightly, all good signs that I haven’t pushed him too far, too soon and run the risk of his developing distrust of me. I will take my time increasing the strokes, always being mindful of staying within his comfort level because I don’t want him to feel forced into accepting this contact. While it’s certainly not an ideal situation to do this while he’s in his crate, thereby taking away his flight option, I don’t know of any other way to begin this process when he’s out of the crate. He’s far too wary.
Interactions with our other two dogs is at a snail’s pace as well, although I will say that Tinker and Emmett came nose-to-nose one day last week while Tinker was standing in the doorway to the TV room, and he stood his ground rather than running to the safety of his crate. He allowed Emmett to sniff his muzzle for a moment, lifting his lip just a tiny bit while uttering a short, low growl. For Emmett’s part, the growl didn’t startle him (surprising in and of itself..well done, Emmett!), and he continued to sniff a couple of seconds more, then I drew him back away from Tinker to give the poor guy some space. They stood there, regarding one another. Emmett then looked to me. When he did, Tinker decided it was time to return to his crate, but this he did calmly, and it seemed with some measure of dignity as well. A choice made deliberately, but not one made in the throes of panic.
I am still so encouraged by Tinker’s progress and have great hopes he will continue moving forward. He loves SSCD and will walk along with me through the rooms with few hesitations, and his heel work has greatly improved, to the point where I can walk more upright rather than stooped low, tempting him along with food. We are still practicing off-leash and when I see more confidence from him, I will try a slip lead to see how he does with that. This will be done in baby steps, of course: first leaving the slip lead around for him to investigate it; slipping it over his head and taking it off: working up the time it’s on him, etc. And it’s almost time to move his crate to the main floor to really integrate him with the other boys and to begin working on house training. All in due time.
Tiny steps that add up to big gains for Tinker’s progress and happiness. It may take a couple of years to really have him behaving more normally, but we’ve got nothing but time!
The evening of my heel work session with Tinker had a twist: Tinker decided he would throw me a curve.
In his previous home, Tinker would begin to bark when the woman pulled into the driveway at day’s end and would not stop until she gave him attention and food. This was a daily routine they had and his carer had remarked that he just wouldn’t stop barking until she spent time with him. Clever boy!
I had noticed at times that Tinker would be more barky in the evening hours, around feeding time (although I do vary their feeding times quite a bit so they can’t demand it), but it hasn’t been a consistent enough behavior so I had chalked it up to being alert barking, since our other two dogs bark when my husband arrives. Tinker sometimes would bark beyond the time when the other dog’s had quieted, so I would use Thank, Look, Isolate, although I think I had isolated him perhaps once by briefly closing his door until he quieted. The evening after introducing a little heel work was decidedly different.
Tinker began to bark along with our other dogs when my husband pulled into the garage and kept barking. And barking. And barking. I thanked him, I looked, and then had no choice but to isolate by pulling his door closed. I stood at the door, waiting for Tinker to quiet, but he didn’t. So I began giving him information: when there was an even the briefest of pauses in his barking, I began to open the door. When he resumed barking, I pulled the door closed.
Open. Close. Open. Close. Open. Close. And when I say ‘open’, I mean just beginning to slowly open the door, then having to pull it closed again.
I could tell he was actually getting the message, because the pauses would become marginally longer; it became obvious, however, that this little guy was determined!
I worked with him for about 10 minutes at the door, then decided he truly needed some time to think about things, so I left the door closed and went about my business.
Tinker barked for a solid 23 minutes.
When he had truly quieted, had stopped his grumbly/growly sounds, I re-opened his door and walked away from him. It will be very, very interesting to see if and when he decides to repeat this behavior that had gained him much in his previous home, but absolutely nothing here.
If I were to use traditional training methods, which would mean I would respond to Tinker’s barking with a command of ‘quiet’, then a food reward when he complied, it would mean he would actually gain exactly what his goal had been all along, which is to get attention and food. So much better to offer him an opportunity to learn that his barking won’t yield a thing but being separated from his pack. More efficient in terms of time it takes for the dog to learn, and the learning goes much deeper when the dog puzzles it out on his own.
How I appreciate Amichien® Bonding!
Today I had a day jam-packed with things to get done so it left me little time to work with Tinker but honestly, sometimes less is more.
I didn’t take much time to just hang out with him and practice much recall; instead, I reunited with him, called him once after our greeting, then decided to get right into heel work. He was nothing short of being one hundred percent on board.
I stood up, slowly turned around and invited Tinker to heel. He came instantly, with no hesitation. I stayed in the same spot, asking him again and again to heel, trying to keep him near me rather than allowing him enough time to do his usual stepping back from me. I picked up the pace of my request little by little until he was only taking two steps back. I sped up a little more, then he was taking only one step back. Finally, I got him to the point where he was staying where he was, in the heel position, next to my leg. Success!
I decided that since he was so enthusiastic about this exercise, I would step forward. I invited him to heel, took a half-step forward (at which point he stepped back out of reflex) and invited him again, moving by baby steps while keeping the pace up enough to have the sense that he was following me. I did a small loop in the room, and even kept moving right out of the room onto the landing, at which point he balked. It must be mentioned that there is a fairly wide threshold that is a different color and material than the flooring. One of my other dogs, Emmett always jumps over it, rather than walk on it, so I wasn’t surprised when Tinker stopped, since I had seen him do that little hop over it also. A miscalculation on my part, so I busied myself for a few moments away from him, then came back and called him to me. He came immediately.
To have Tinker follow me as he did, which wasn’t a natural ‘follow’ in any sense, was still enough to have seemingly made a difference in our relationship in just one day. Tinker has never followed me, except for short stints of running up behind me as I leave the landing to go downstairs so, in reality I have left so he’s not really following me. He has always kept himself ahead of me so he can race back to the safety of his crate. This experience seems to have made quite an impression on him, because when I had determined I was going to end our session together, I arose from a seated position on the floor with Tinker resting on his belly nearby, perhaps five feet or so, and he didn’t move. At all. Normally, he would have sprung to his feet when I was even in the process of standing up, and would be making moves necessary to be ready to run to his crate. But now, he didn’t stand up. I moved laterally, then began moving forward to try and make my way around him and out the door. Tinker remained on his belly, just watching me move around. I was dumbfounded.
It was only after I had moved a few steps forward to go past him did he stand up. He stood up and backed up a few paces, but didn’t race for the door. He allowed me to pass and walk ahead of him and through the door. He followed me to the doorway and stopped, looking at me. Just stood there, looking at me, then looking back into the room behind him. He moved back further into the room, seemed to look around, then came back to the doorway and looked at me. Message? He wanted to stay in the TV room, and he wanted me to stay with him! I could have been knocked over with a feather.
We stood silently a few moments longer as I tried to figure out how to deal with this new situation. I needed to close the door to the TV room because when I don’t, Tinker runs in to toilet (dogs don’t like to toilet in their den), but I didn’t want to startle him or do anything to compromise the trust we had so carefully built. I finally decided to risk heading downstairs, then coming back up the stairs again, hoping he would then decide to go back into his crate.
Tinker watched me go over the crate, not moving. I descended a couple of steps, and he came forward to the gate, still watching me. I walked downstairs, moved a few things around and headed back upstairs, at which point I could hear him head to his crate. Trotting, not skittering.
What a difference a day makes.
My interactions with Tinker up to this point have consisted of lots of recall practice, some practicing of the ‘down’ request (only because it was something he does naturally, so I though I would capitalize on it, but it isn’t something I would use with him outside of a very safe place), and time spent just hanging out together, allowing him to determine whether he would explore the room…or me. He’s becoming quite comfortable so I thought perhaps it was time to throw in something new to help build the trust in our relationship: heel work.
Seems odd, given that Tinker is still so fearful at times. I really think that if he didn’t have a vision issue he would be much further along than he is. Movement is challenging for him, especially when there isn’t a lot of light. But I thought why not capitalize on something he often already does, which is to sometimes follow me when I am headed downstairs?
In Amichien® Bonding the aim is to set the dog up for success and if this means taking baby steps to achieve the aim, then that’s what is done. Building trust between yourself and the dog is the most important goal, so making it simple for the dog to do the right thing preserves the happy and calm interaction between you, helping the dog to choose to willingly cooperate because it’s fun and beneficial for the dog due to the food reward.
But with a dog who is skittish, how does one do that?
I had Tinker in the room with me and we were enjoying our usual routine of recall practice and practicing simply changing my positions around the room every so often so Tinker can learn that he is safe with me no matter how I move or where I sit or what position I’m in. I then stood up, turned my back to Tinker and, with food in hand, bent down and positioned my hand next to my leg, gave him eye contact and invited him by using the ‘heel’ request to come join me…and waited. Tinker looked at me, then at my hand. I wiggled my fingers as well to make sure I helped him to orient on where my hand is. It only took a moment for him to come forward to take his reward of the food as well as my praise of, “Good heel! Good Tinker!”
There ended the practice for that day. Why end it there? Because with a dog as fearful as this little guy is, I wanted to work well within his tolerance for ‘new and different’ as well as not pushing his boundary of trust by asking too much. I’m not worried about ending too soon, but I am concerned about being the one who ends our session, demonstrating that I am the decision-maker in this (and all)situations. This is in keeping with the motto, “Always leave ’em wanting more”. This is particularly true with Tinker.
The next day I repeated the scenario, but this time after Tinker received his reward for his first effort, I invited him again. Yesterday I noticed that Tinker took his reward, then backed off to a distance of about three to four feet, so I thought I would simply capitalize on that by inviting him three times while standing in place so he must come to me and position himself to gain reward. He succeeded in complying with my heel request three times in succession, then I ended the activity. Watching Tinker puzzle this new interaction out is great fun in and of itself! We enjoyed more of our routine interaction, then I repeat the exercise and he responded with even more prompt responses. This little dog, as every other dog, truly enjoys learning something new!
The following day I threw in a twist: after calling him to heel and rewarding him, I took a half-step forward and invited him to heel. Tinker startled a bit, hesitated for just a moment, then came, although I could see he was a bit uneasy about my movement. So I called him to heel again, but didn’t move this time. He seemed better with that, and when I could tell he relaxed a bit, I called him to heel again, then took another half-step and called him. He came with confidence this time…my heart melted.
I’m working toward having him move with me when I move forward, asking him follow me which in time will allow him to gain confidence in me as being a trustworthy leader. Time, repetition, consistency will all add up to Tinker believing in me enough to follow me outside one day. When? As in teachings of Jan Fennell, there is no schedule for progress, no timeline for success and…nature takes its time.
People often say, “It’s the little things…” and it is so true. Little, seemingly, insignificant things that are actually big indicators of progress. Here are some wonderful signs from Tinker that add up to huge progress:
Tinker now begins eating before I move to leave the room. I will place his bowl down and as I’m reaching for his water bowl, he is out of his crate and actually moving beneath me to get to his food. Bearing in mind that he must face away from me when he eats, with the vanity obstructing his view, he will now begin munching when I am about a foot and a half away from him. That is a ‘wow’ development.
I have noticed that Tinker is now releasing a much greater amount of urine when he uses his pads, rather than peeing in small spots. This is something Jan Fennell mentions in her book, “The Dog Listener”, and something I observed in my own dogs when I began to apply Amichien Bonding. It’s an indication of releasing fear and not needing to keep urine in reserve for all of the uses that may arise, such as marking boundaries to keep everyone safe, leaving scent markings so family (pack) members can find their way home, etc. For Tinker to be doing this kind of thing at this point is truly surprising to me, and I hope this points to his increasing feeling of ease here.
The other day as I was offering Tinker his food reward for recall, I was able to actually stroke his throat with my fingers. He didn’t startle, didn’t pull away. For him, and for me, this was a momentous moment. When an animal allows you to touch the vulnerable area on their body, it is a real demonstration of trust.
When I called Tinker to me a few weeks ago, of course with food reward at the ready, rather than taking the food first and giving a cursory sniff afterward, he greeted me first, coming very close to my face and having a good sniff, then calmly reached into my hand for his reward. It was one of those moments that left me thinking, “Did that just happen…?”
Little signs of big leaps forward.
Daily Tinker is showing more signs of calming and confidence. Here are some highlights:
When I called Tinker to greet him, food reward in hand, he trotted up and, rather than just taking the food and heading back to his crate, he chose instead to greet me first, slowly and calmly before taking his reward. This change almost didn’t dawn on me initially. I place it in the category of, “Did he really just do that?”
Tinker has not had any interactions with my husband at all, simply because he seemed to have real discomfort with men, so I preferred to build my relationship with him so he will trust me enough to know that I won’t put him in a bad situation by having my husband completely ignore him. This is paying some very nice dividends, because now Tinker appears to be curious about John, rather than frightened, because this tall man hasn’t asked anything at all from the little guy.
I was enjoying a session with Tinker in the TV room and my husband ascended the stairs and arrived at the top, behind the gate. Tinker startled, then walked toward John, stopping at the doorway to the room we were in, then took a few more steps out onto the landing, calmly, and stopped. Tinker stood, looking at John, who continued to look at me. I asked John to slowly begin to move over the gate and as he did, Tinker predictably walked quickly into the bathroom where his crate is. I assumed he had taken refuge in his crate as he always does, but when John entered the room he remarked that Tinker had simply stood in the bathroom, rather than ducking into his crate. That in itself was a great development. John went into our computer space and pulled the door almost closed. Tinker immediately came into the room and walked to the door, sniffing and trying to peek in to see where John was. I just watched with amazement. Tinker then walked over to me and lay down on his belly once more. Wow. The little guy was actually choosing to remain out in the room with me rather than retreating to his crate during John’s presence. This is huge and wonderful news! Note there was no food involved as well.
Speaking of food, Tinker and I enjoyed a nice, long session together in which my food reward ran out within the first half-hour, yet Tinker hung out with me for a continuous hour and a half during which he would come to me and sniff me, offer tiny licks of my hand or my leg, investigate the room, lay down with his chin on his paws, etc. This is the longest amount of continuous time we have spent together. Normally I break my time up with him and work within his tolerance so I don’t inadvertently push him too far with interaction. My motto is: Always leave ’em wanting more!
Introducing him to our two other dogs has taken a back seat to developing trust with Tinker as well, but he has been doing so well I thought I would begin this process. Unfortunately Tinker at this point does not go outside, so introducing the dogs on neutral ground is out of the question. What I did instead was to bring Emmett, our nine year-old, upstairs for Stop, Start, Change Direction practice with the plan to incorporate exposure to Tinker while doing so.
I brought Emmett upstairs and into the TV room, on-leash and with food reward at the ready. The gate across Tinker’s room had been removed, and kept the gate across the top of the stairs so Buster, our other dog, wouldn’t be able to join us. Emmett I began our SSCD practice and when Em seemed to be in a good place, I walked him to the landing and stopped very briefly. Emmett looked toward Tinker, who was tightly curled up in his crate, peeking out at us, and as soon as he did, I gave him reward and we immediately walked back into the other room. This is the way I worked it, over and over, bringing Emmett to the doorway and rewarding him with food and quiet and calm praise as soon as he looked at Tinker, patiently building a positive association, and being mindful to keep the looks limited to just seconds before taking Emmett away again.
The dog I was most concerned about of course was Tinker, and I was very aware of his situation, being essentially “cornered” in his crate with no way to flee, so I didn’t bring Emmett close, just to the point of being inside the doorway, slowly working Emmett closer and closer. What surprised me greatly was Tinker’s reaction or, shall I say, lack of reaction: there were no growls and no shaking from Tinker. This was my aim; to allow the boys to get a good look at one another, but not push beyond Tinker’s comfort level into fear. The last ‘look’ that I allowed, had Emmett fully inside Tinker’s room and lasted just long enough to allow Em to take a few seconds to really explore through sniffing, for perhaps five seconds. A great beginning for both dogs! I will be repeating this exposure in the coming weeks, and will do the same with Buster, eventually keeping the gate to Tinker’s room down, and leashes on my dogs for control so if Tinker chooses to come out to be with the gang, he can…or not. Up to this point, Tinker doesn’t seem rattled at all when the dogs come to the gate at the top of the stairs. He doesn’t run for cover, just walks nearer to the crate for a good sniff. I’m trying to keep everyone curious about one another and to have everything calm and friendly enough to become one, happy family.
The brightest part of the last week? Seeing that little tail wag when he comes to greet me!
In my last posting regarding Tinker’s progress, I reported that he had hit all the markers for adjusting here in terms of behaviors he had exhibited in his previous home, such as playing with toys, barking for attention, etc. Since the eight-week mark, he has been moving at quite an impressive pace, and I marvel at his courage every time he does something that shows he is reaching out. Here is a short list, just to bring things up to date:
Tinker barks upon my return home now, so I make sure to go through the reuniting ritual with him as I do with my other two dogs. I go upstairs and behave as though I am preoccupied with something, such as changing his wee pads in his room. Tinker now pops out of his crate (where he always goes for safety), takes a good sniff of me, gives me a quick little lick, and goes back to his crate, where he will wait until I am ready to call him, unless I move into the adjoining TV room, in which case he will follow me and hang out in the doorway where I allow him to just relax for a bit before I call him.
I had been offering Tinker invitations to play by exhibiting play bows, feinting toward him, bouncing a bit from side to side and at first he was skeptical, just standing and watching me with obvious curiosity, then running back to his crate. Then one day, I gave him these signals and he stood still for a moment, then suddenly bounded in a circle quickly and came to a sudden stop, facing me. I feinted toward him again, with a little “ha!” and he did it again…he was playing!
Tinker’s tail has been a source of interest for me. It is most always held in the horizontal position or lower, and this makes sense given he is such a fearful dog. But I had yet to see anything akin to a true wag from him, so I had been unsure if whether he could actually wag it at all. I needn’t have worried. One afternoon I brought a plate of chopped apples with me and sat on the floor of the TV room to spend some time with Tinker. On the plate I had put a dollop of peanut butter to go with the apples for us to share. Now, his former carers had told me peanut butter was something Tinker absolutely loved and had helped the woman to advance her relationship with the little guy, but up until this point, I hadn’t offered it to him myself. I called Tinker to me, and rewarded him with a piece of apple with just a small smear of peanut butter. With the first piece, he moved away from me to eat it, as he normally does with foods that take time to consume. He finished it, and turned to stare with such a funny expression. It was as though he just realized what he had tasted and couldn’t believe it. I waited until he finally gave up staring at me in the hopes of getting another piece and had begun walking out of the room to call him. I called him back, and he came at a speed I hadn’t witnessed from him before, head lowered and…yes! I saw it! His tail actually wagged! He was rewarded with more apple, which he ate while standing less than a foot from me, and didn’t want to leave my side.
Generally speaking, Tinker leaves when the food runs out. His former carers had told me this, and it has held true during his time in our home. So I was very surprised when one day he stayed in the room with me long after the food had been finished. I had been sitting on the floor while having interaction with him, and while he was laying on his tummy about seven feet away from me, I changed positions to laying on my side. Tinker immediately trotted over to investigate and we enjoyed our continued recall practice for a bit. Then, when the food was finished, put my head down and closed my eyes. Again, he came over to check me over, sniffing all the while. Up until this point, Tinker had been giving his usual running commentary consisting of little grumbles, growls, whines, something that is normal for him when we are interacting. After laying there, pretending to sleep for a few minutes, I realized he had become silent. I thought he had probably returned to his crate, but decided to peek carefully, just in case. There he was, on his belly, chin on his paws, eyelids drooping. He was going to nap with me in the same room, rather than return to his crate! Frankly, I was completely surprised by this, but thrilled that he was beginning to choose to stay in my presence rather than return to his crate. This is a truly wonderful development that I hadn’t expected to come about for quite some time.
Just this week, before I had place Tinker’s bowl down for his feeding after Gesture Eating he had come out of his crate and moved to his dish before I had even stepped away. He had made a small mess on the floor of the landing, so I had pulled his door almost closed so I could clean up out of his sight, and had thought he would probably either stand by his bowl and wait to eat until I had left completely, or either go back to his crate to wait. I was working quickly and noticed as I was cleaning up, the door was slowly opening on its own. I peeked, and there was Tinker, happily munching away, taking no notice of me whatsoever, despite the fact that I was barely five feet away. I could have been knocked over by a feather.
When I give Tinker food reward after calling him, I hold my hand in a cupped position so he has to reach in with his muzzle to get the food. I had done this so I could begin to just brush his chin with my thumb to start helping him to become used to contact. Up until this point, I had been just touching his hair very lightly, but this day I though I would go a bit further. I called Tinker to me, he reached in for his reward, and I stroked his chin once, twice, three times. No pulling away, no startling on Tinker’s part. Subsequently, he has actually pressed his chin/muzzle against my hand, just briefly, but it’s there.
Up until recently, I haven’t had to isolate Tinker at all simply because he is so fearful that he will quiet on his own, or after a short ‘thank-you’, so I was quite surprised when I had a gentleman in to talk about some cabinetry we are looking to have done. After my guest arrived Tinker barked and I thanked him. He continued to bark. I climbed to the top of the stairs, looked about, thanked him again while I descended the stairs. Tinker hesitated, then resumed barking when we began to converse again. I went upstairs and pulled the door to his room closed, waited for quiet (he continued to grumble, so I had to wait a bit), counted to five, opened the door, began to walk away. Tinker began barking again, so I repeated the isolation again, lengthening it a few more seconds after he quieted, then opened the door and walked away. He remained quiet for a few minutes, but then to my surprise he began barking again. At this point, I could tell he was very uncomfortable with the man’s presence in the house, so I simply pulled his door closed for the remainder of our meeting to help increase Tinker’s feeling of safety. As soon as my guest had departed, I reopened the door and reunited with him. It was quite a thrill to have a situation in which Tinker was ‘asking questions’ of me, rather than curling up in his crate and quaking. To me it showed a level of confidence he hadn’t shown before.
Yesterday after I had called Tinker to be as part of our practice, he stayed very close to me (this is generally the case now), and not only sniffed me, but stepped up and sniffed my book, my hair, my face, and then gave my hand a few licks before laying down near me on his belly. He generally will give me a quick flick of his tongue when we reunite now, but these licks were slower and more deliberate. Sweetness.
Every day Tinker reaches out a bit more. Although the steps may be small to the casual observer, for Tinker they are hugs leaps in trust, trying to overcome tremendous and crippling fear. I often wonder how brave I would be if I were in his place. Building upon these tiny successes by consistently giving him a consistent and trustworthy leader will eventually unveil a sweet little dog with a darling personality who is able to fully enjoy life.