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A Bodhi Update—and New Challenges

Bodhi has been a busy boy, and being his busy mom, I’ve neglected to update this blog. Apologies!

We’ve been making some progress in specific areas. The first time I’d taken Bodhi to see the vet, he was very fearful. The vet had been patient, coaxing him with treats, but wasn’t able to get her hands on him unless she took him to the back and the techs restrained him. He struggled anxiously when handled. I asked the vet to show me the type of restraint they were likely to do, and she showed a technique where the dog is lying on his side and the human is over him, holding him down in a specific way. So we went home and practiced, and I’m happy to say that a month later when Bodhi was shaking his head repeatedly (probably to say “No, not the vet’s office again!”) I took him in and what do you know, the vet came out and said, “Wow, what a difference! Once we put him on his side he immediately relaxed.” Hurray for classical conditioning.

The more challenging area we’ve been working on is his on-leash reactivity toward other dogs. Originally I’d used a front-clip body harness, but it wasn’t doing the trick as far as keeping him close enough to me and giving me enough control to do some proper training, so we switched to a head halter. After two months of diligent work, Bodhi will now look at me and take treats when he sees another dog, instead of lunging and barking. Sure, there’ still some whining at times, but all things considered, his behavior is much improved. This morning at the park we passed a woman on an asphalt road who had two small dogs, both on Flexi-leashes. As we approached we moved over to one side; she, however, did no such thing. Perhaps she missed the gleam in Bodhi’s eyes at spying the “moveable feast” (somehow I’m guessing that’s not what Hemingway meant by that title), because she not only stayed in the middle of the path, but allowed her dogs to run out to the ends of their leashes, ending up all of maybe five feet from Bodhi. I’m relieved and happy to say he took treats and walked past them like a champ. Of course, not all days are this good, but that’s how behavior improves, a bit at a time, and sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Two-steps-forward days are great.

And then there’s Sierra. She’s not aggressive toward other dogs at all. However, when she’s on leash and sees one in the distance (and with her instincts, she’ll spot ’em everywhere), she goes into that laser focus mode. Her one purpose is to go toward the dog. If she were allowed to do just that, all she would do is greet them. I’ve seen her go up to small dogs and play-bow. But in most cases I don’t want her to approach unfamiliar dogs, and she gets frustrated. This translates to barking and lunging at the end of the leash just as though she was aggressive. The really awful part is that if Bodhi is being walked with her, she’ll redirect on him. My husband finally saw this for himself this weekend when we did some urban mushing.

Both dogs were running at a nice pace, I was on the scooter, and my husband was on the bike ahead of us. Suddenly a woman with a small dog walked on to the path. Sierra and Bodhi saw the dog and without missing a beat, ran toward it. I eased on the brakes and stopped them at enough of a distance that the dog was in no danger, but Sierra “went crazy” as my clients might say, and redirected on poor Bodhi, who seemed unable to hold it together in this situation. My husband and I quickly got hold of Sierra and Bodhi and sorted it out, but this happened twice on our run. My husband, never having seen this behavior from Sierra before, was shocked. “She was like a wild thing!” he kept saying. Yep. It’s frustrating, because we want to join in mushing with other people and their dogs, and I’m not sure how this is going to work.

I’ll continue to work with Bodhi, and I suppose now I’ll start working separately with Sierra on her on-leash behavior, and then eventually get them to where they can walk past other dogs together without incident. But I’m honestly wondering whether these two northern breed mixes (Sierra’s a husky mix and Bodhi’s a malamute mix) are going to be able to hold it together when seeing a dog when they’re amped up on adrenaline while running.  The work I’m doing with Bodhi is successful when we’re walking, but I sure don’t want him stopping mid-run to take a treat from me if another dog appears! I’m thinking of conditioning a super-strong “Leave it” and seeing whether that can be built up and generalized enough to work in a mushing-enountering-other-dogs situation. Mushers have a “Go by!” cue, but that has to be taught somehow as well, and in this case, with the emotions involved, I don’t see it working.

Wouldn’t life be boring if we all had easy dogs?

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