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Her Foster Dog Taught Her a Lesson in Trust - Guideposts
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Her Foster Dog Taught Her a Lesson in Trust

There was always a reason for a dog’s behavior—and hers.

Illustration of a black and white border collie
Credit: SYSTEM
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“Come on, Tuck,” I said, patting the floor of the 4Runner. “Load. Let’s go for a walk.”

This was our first afternoon with the black-and-white border collie I was fostering, and it was time for the daily hike. My dog, Keeper, had jumped into the 4Runner as soon as I opened the hatch. Our young guest, Tuck, danced nervously at my feet, then sat and looked up at me with sad eyes. He wouldn’t jump in.

Tuck and Keeper had hit it off right away, running and playing in the yard while I visited with my friend Tammy, who’d come by with Tuck that morning. Tuck had found plenty to keep him busy since Tammy drove off. Why was he hesitating now?

I’d taken Tuck in reluctantly, as a temporary solution for my friend. She was in a bind, trying to rehome her mom’s three-year-old border collie in the environment an energetic dog needs. Tammy knew I had a special place in my heart for the breed. She also understood why I wasn’t willing to give Tuck a permanent home.

Three months earlier, I’d lost my beloved Bantam, the border collie who’d been my rock for 12 years. I wasn’t the only one grieving after the stroke that took her life. Keeper had lost her best friend. She’d been lonesome, and I saw joy return to her eyes as soon as Tuck ran into our yard. Still, I wasn’t ready to let a new dog into our lives for good. I couldn’t imagine I ever would be. But I’d agreed to help Tammy out while she continued her search.

My faithful Keeper looked down from the car’s cargo area, surely wondering what was stopping Tuck from quickening our adventure. Tuck wouldn’t budge, no matter how much I coaxed. Knowing there was always a reason for a dog’s behavior, I finally scooped the dog up and deposited him in the back. “Load,” I said, teaching him the command. “Good boy.”

But every day, when it came time to load for our hike, we went through the same ritual. Tuck didn’t trust my invitation to load. For two weeks, the scene replayed itself: I opened the hatch to the 4Runner, Keeper leaped in, Tuck sat on the ground looking at me with those eyes. I tried my best to coax him but always had to pick him up and load him myself. When it came to exiting, Tuck would leap out into the endless rolling hills, romping and frisking with Keeper as they followed me along. Jumping wasn’t the problem, so what was it?

I felt some relief that the situation was only temporary. Tammy had promised to come back for Tuck if it took too long to find him a new home. At the end of the third week, I became impatient. Tuck was a sweet dog and seemed to love everyone. He had this boyish enthusiasm toward strangers. It was kind of endearing to see him greet every person who pulled into the driveway as if he was sure they had arrived just to see him.

This was the polar opposite of my Bantam. She was always hesitant with strangers and remained my constant protector. I missed the loyal affection Bantam bestowed on me. She would curl on top of my feet in the evenings when I read or watched TV, and never missed a chance to get extra love. Anytime I sat down in the yard, I could depend on the sound of a ball plunked near my feet, Bantam begging for a game with her intense amber eyes. Tuck, on the other hand, might bring the ball back. Sometimes. When he wasn’t playing with Keeper or chasing mice or birds, he’d flop into an exhausted lump of fur and sleep for hours. Keeper’s joy balanced out any minor disappointments I might have had with Tuck. I knew it wasn’t fair of me to compare him to Bantam.

Days crept into a third week. I found myself grinning at Tuck’s antics, appreciating him for who he was. One afternoon, in the middle of his passionate play with Keeper, he came to the steps where I sat. He shyly looked at me, then walked over and put one big foot on my knee. The gesture caused me to gulp back emotion. He did want affection, but on his own terms.

Our main problem, though, went unresolved. Tuck still refused to load. I got angry one day. “You load,” I said, raising my voice. “I can’t lift you up for the rest of your life.” Tuck went down to the ground and put his head on his paws. His eyes swam with fear.

“I’m sorry,” I said, lifting him into the 4Runner as usual. “Lord, I need a little help here. What is troubling this dog? Why won’t he trust me?”

Back at home after another exuberant outing, I rested in front of the TV. I happened to catch a show about crate training. A puppy left too long in confinement could show lingering trauma. I knew that Tammy’s mother had adopted Tuck from a pet store and immediately thought of the crate in the back of the 4Runner. Bantam’s crate. She’d had a powerful fear of thunder that made her dive into a secure space at the first crack. At home, she’d hide under the bed. I kept the carrier in the car for her in case we got caught in a storm while we were out. Over the past few months, I’d never gotten around to removing Bantam’s safe space. Maybe it was my way of holding onto Bantam.

The next afternoon, when I called the dogs over to load, I let Tuck watch as I removed the crate. “We don’t need this anymore,” I told him. I slapped the floor of the 4Runner. “Come on now, Tuck. You can trust me.”

To my surprise, Tuck jumped up on his own, tail wagging. He gave me and Keeper sloppy kisses, as if proud of his accomplishment. Mystery solved. I swallowed the lump in my throat. While I was trying to trust that fostering Tuck was the right thing to do, Tuck was fighting a battle to trust me. He didn’t disappoint when it was time to load for home.

Upon our return, a late spring storm came rolling in with booming thunder. I dashed into the house with the dogs behind me. Tuck grabbed his toy, completely oblivious to the noise. Unlike Bantam, he had no fear of thunder.

“You aren’t Bantam,” I said, sitting down near him. “But you’ve worked your way into my heart.” His tail flopped against the couch and he walked toward me. One big foot came clumsily onto my knee as I reached to rub him behind the ears. Those knowing eyes focused on mine.

I called Tammy. “Keeper and I have decided to give Tuck a permanent home here with us.” Tammy admitted that she and her mom had been praying for this outcome. The dogs curled up on their rugs, content. We’d had a big day. I had asked God to help Tuck trust me, but I’d forgotten to ask that he also help me trust his plan for a life without Bantam. Keeper saw before I did that Tuck was the angel we didn’t expect.

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