Having recently brought Tisen into our home, we are going through the period of learning about each other. We try to unravel the lessons that Tisen has been taught over the past 8 years and understand where we must be extra gentle, where we must be extra patient, and where we must be firm.
Since dogs cannot tell us their stories directly, we must hone our powers of observation to figure out what will work and what will not to gently shape this dog into the confident, trusting sweetheart he was born to be.
We start with food.
I mix his food with warm water and place the bowl on the floor. Tisen cowers. I take a piece of food from the bowl and hand it to him, telling him it’s OK in a “happy puppy voice.” He tentatively takes the piece from my hand, stepping back quickly as if he’s afraid of what happens next. I keep talking to him, telling him what a good boy he is. I repeat the process until I lead him to the bowl where, at last, he sinks his teeth in and takes a mouth full. I shift slightly and he is startled, cowering back from the bowl once more.
I continue telling him what a good dog he is and start over, leading him back to the bowl. I try not to move once he starts eating. He pauses once and looks up at me; I reassure him again. He finishes his food and I praise him. I try not to imagine what his life must have been like that he’s afraid to approach a bowl of dog food.
As I keep increasing the ratio of his new food to his old food, I keep thinking it will be more enticing to him. But it doesn’t make a difference.
I discover that he is just as skittish about his bone. When I start pulling at smoked fat stuck to the bone, giving him something to bite on, he eventually gets interested and starts chomping on it for all he’s worth. He can chew it just fine, he was just afraid to.
He seems to have a similar fear about his toys. He won’t claim them the way most dogs will. While it’s nice that he doesn’t claim my slippers, I’ve never had a dog who was afraid to play with a tennis ball. Once again, I stop myself from wondering how full of terror his life must have been.
I am glad no one is home to catch me on video demonstrating how to chase a tennis ball. For the record, I stop short of picking it up in my mouth.
Tonight, when I feed him, he comes over to his bowl with a wagging tail and digs right in. It was the first time he’s eaten without being lured. Funny how the sight of a dog with a wagging tail eating dog food can bring tears to your eyes. I’ve just witnessed a miracle.