The little terrier mix with the award winning underbite didn’t want us near him. He was cute, big ears flopping forward, but the worried face and the scared round eyes told us a lot. He stared warningly from the back of his kennel at anyone he saw. He had no name. He was a Gus, we thought.
Gus made it clear that he didn’t want any of us to approach. Who knew why? What we did know that it was going to take some time for him to trust us.
We gave him as much control over his environment as we could in a shelter setting. We followed his lead, watching his body language for signals on how close he would allow us to be to him, how safe he felt, building confidence that we weren’t going to come in uninvited. We avoided direct eye contact, we passed by his kennel slowly and with our bodies low, tossing in treats low to the ground so that he never saw a raised hand. We never made direct eye contact with him. We asked nothing from him.
Gradually, Gus came out of his shell. He decided everything: when he wanted to approach, what person he felt most safe with, where on his body it felt good to be touched. He crept, he sidled, he looked sideways at us, and finally, finally, he stood up, his body relaxed, and he walked right out of his kennel. He wagged his tail. We laughed. Small milestones had led to big successes.
That lovely, funny little guy had found joy in being with us, generous with his kisses, and we discovered at about the same time that he was a born lap snuggler. If burying his head in laps were an Olympic event, Gus would take home the gold.
And if a shelter dog’s life goes as it should, what happens is that as our dogs blossom into the dogs they were meant to be, one by one, they leave us for their forever home. Yeah, Gus too.