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Rehabilitating My Dogs: Breaking on Through to the Other Side

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

dog lying on couch looking at camera

Sometimes dogs acclimate quickly into a new home. Then there are dogs like Bodhi, the adolescent Husky mix we adopted. If you’ve been following this blog, you already know it’s been a long and challenging two months around here. Bodhi and Sierra fought for the first two weeks, then she became timid of coming back into the house or the room at certain times if Bodhi was inside. He’s also got a huge penchant for destruction, and I don’t mean only when no one’s around—I mean if you’re in the next room and have dared to remove your attention for all of two seconds.

Being able to leave appropriate chew items out for him was complicated by the fact that he would resource guard anything and everything from Sierra, resulting in fights. He also didn’t appreciate any type of real handling, and was mildly reactive with other dogs. Oh, and pushy, did I mention pushy? Any time I’d pet Sierra he’d bodily insert himself between us, which again, sometimes resulted in fights. Things got so difficult on a daily basis that we did consider whether we’d made the right choice in adopting him.

The first two months weren’t all negative, though. Sierra was no longer so distressed about being left alone when we were gone, which is huge. And she and Bodhi do love to play together. And now for more good news: I think—and I say this with cautious optimism—that we’ve finally broken through to the other side. Things are finally improving. In the interests of helping someone else out there, I’ll share what’s worked: first, providing chew items. It took some trial and error, but I finally found chew items that were low value enough that they could be left out, but interesting enough that Bodhi would chew them. This turned out to be antlers, Galileo bones, and Nylabones. I’ve never been a big fan of the latter two, as they are plastic (although the pieces flake in tiny bits and are easily passed through a dog’s system), but in this case I was willing to go with what works. It was also necessary to leave enough of said items lying around that there was no need for resource guarding.

Bodhi’s reactivity toward other dogs has improved. I should say the on-leash reactivity, as he’s mostly fine with other dogs off-leash, so long as the other dog isn’t aggressive or overly dominant. My husband took Bodhi for a walk this morning (I had taken Sierra to her friend Niko’s house for a play date—we believe in giving them separate “alone time” and activities), and they passed a woman with two dogs on a narrow walkway. My husband knows to try to avoid that situation, but this was one of those sudden appearances from around a corner. Bodhi did just fine. No growling, nothing. Hurray for classical conditioning! It’s good to know the work we’ve been doing is paying off.

Now for my perhaps unorthodox method of solving Bodhi’s pushy, attention-seeking, meddling behavior. I mounted a cuddling offense. Up until then, I’d been simply pushing Bodhi away (verbally or, if necessary, physically) whenever he started to get in the middle of me petting Sierra, or telling him to go lie down. As a test, instead, I started to give him lots of extra attention at other times. I figured that maybe, just maybe, if he felt like he was getting plenty of affection, his insecurity about it would slacken. Now, this may go against the logic of a “leadership program,” but guess what? It worked. Now much of the time he’s willing to lie contentedly nearby as I pet Sierra. In fact, he just did as I brushed Sierra out, and then him.

Yes, his tolerance for handling is slowly improving as well. I haven’t used food treats, but instead, just used a calm, soothing, patient manner as I gently held him to look between his paw pads, brush him out, and so forth. After practicing a bit at a time, he’s getting to where he’ll allow me to do those things without attempting to put his teeth around my forearm—a breakthrough. We’re going to start practicing some restraint holds as well so he’ll be more comfortable at the vet’s office.

Oh, and the destruction! It’s been over a week now that he hasn’t destroyed anything. That might not sound like much, but when you’ve been living with a one-dog demolition team day after day, a week of things staying intact is huge. Of course, we’ve still got a ways to go. But all things considered, Bodhi is finally starting to relax, and that’s helped his behavior quite a bit across the board. It’s certainly helped us to relax as well. If you'd like to read more about Bodhi's rehabilitation along with other stories of my life training and working with dogs and wolfdogs, check out Hit by a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Real Life with Dogs and Wolves.

dog curled up on couch


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