Belle has been living with me for almost eight weeks and is getting a little more comfortable, comparatively. It helps that she has enough experience in her current environment that she can often predict what will happen next. She knows that if the human announces "It's gonna be loud" from the kitchen, a coffee bean grinder will make all kinds of racket for a bit, but nothing will happen in her area in the living room. She can stay right where she is with some sense of safety.
She knows that the beep-beep of the house alarm being set late at night means that she should get up from her resting place and be ready to go down the hall. She waits for the human to call "go to bed" and then lopes down the hall to the back bedroom. When the dogs and I are settled into the big bed, she settles into her dog bed for the night, knowing that, according to her experience so far, no one will encroach upon her space.
As one might expect, she has learned a suite of predictive cues related to meal times and her anticipation begins growing earlier in the process. The evening meal time is less predictable than the morning meal time, but Belle knows the very beginning of the process. As soon as Foodnutty Dog #1 is told to "kennel up," Belle's ears perk and her eyes turn toward the kitchen, where the amazing food action will soon take place. As Foodnutty Dog #2 will attest, my food preparation pace is glacial and I occasionally get sidetracked by text messaging. As if food weren't exciting enough, this bit of uncertainty increases the anticipation. And this is when Belle dances her bunny hop.
Video will be captured as soon as Belle allows it, but I will try to do it justice. She bounces on her back legs with her body slightly forward in the air and her front legs tucked close to her body. Side to side she bounces on two legs, her mouth cutely framed by her jutting lower canines. Around the coffee table she bounces mostly on four legs. She bows and bounces and the tiny stub tail wags. Sometimes she lets out the softest grunts of excitement as she rears and bounces. Not much is more thrilling to me than watching a dog who experiences so much fear have so much fun.
When it's finally her turn to eat, I stand in the middle of the living room while she bounces around me and then I sing "Be-elle." She gets into her start line crouch. I say, "Let's eat!" and she races around the coffee table once before loping down the hall to the back bedroom where she'll be hand fed. She peers around the bedroom door to make sure I'm on my way.
Belle is now accepting handfuls of food with my body in a sitting position facing her and my wrist resting on my knee. Her underbite acts like a shovel that will knock some wet kibble onto the floor. She's comfortable now reaching for the kibble on the floor underneath my hand and is even okay with her ear brushing my hand. I still avoid direct eye contact.
Belle has learned far more environmental cues than I could even guess. Hundreds, no doubt. I’m sure she's learned more about my body language than I have hers. It's important that she have some sense of control over her environment and her own body so she can feel safer. Compared to her extreme hyper-vigilance when she was new to the environment, she has at least calmed enough that she must feel safer.