Day 11: A Bodhi and Sierra Update

September 15, 2010

As you know if you read my last blog entry, bringing a new dog into the family has been exciting, but there’s been a little too much excitement around here, as the dogs have gotten into a few fights.

I’ve been carefully managing feeding times and making sure that when I give the dogs attention, Bodhi is not able to crowd Sierra. Asking the dogs to sit or lie on opposite sides of me is helpful, as is using body blocking and a verbal “eh-eh” with Bodhi when necessary. You might remember that my lying on the couch was a potentially hazardous situation as well. I’m happy to report that now when I lie on the couch, Bodhi and Sierra will both go lie down as well, nearby but at a short distance from each other.

It hasn’t been going quite that well across the board, though. Four nights ago, I’d given each dog a stuffed Kong after dinner. I had locked Sierra outside, and because I’m crate training Bodhi, I had him locked in the crate indoors with his Kong. A short while later they’d both finished. I’d carefully retrieved each empty Kong separately and rinsed them in the sink before allowing the dogs to come back together. As I stood at the sink washing the Kongs, a skirmish erupted behind me. I didn’t see what happened, but it could be that Bodhi was guarding even an empty Kong that was in the sink, way out of his reach. I was able to break it up verbally, and Sierra ran outside. She sat outside the dog door peering in for minutes, and would not come back in the house. She was leery of Bodhi the rest of that night. Obviously, we will have to be even more careful around resources.

The next day things had returned to normal between the dogs, and they wrestled and played. That night, however, twice the play boiled over into aggression. And both times it was obvious that Sierra had gone after Bodhi. It was like she’d decided enough was enough, she was alpha bitch around here! Well, she’s half right—and the redheaded one just isn’t having it. It’s fine for dogs to work things out among themselves, but there’s also a time to step in and say look, these are the house rules, and if you guys are getting out of control I will stop you, throw you both outside, or do whatever is appropriate at the time.

Another day, I’d needed to go for a quick ½ hour errand run. I have to take full responsibility for this one. I’d become so lulled by Sierra’s excellent behavior when left alone that I just wasn’t thinking hmm, two-year-old dog, house full of stuff…what could go wrong? I know, it sounds incredibly stupid, and it was. I had just thought since the dogs were so wiped out from their respective morning walks/hikes, they’d sleep. Hah. I returned to find that Bodhi had eaten one of the two house phones—he’d torn off the back, pulled out the batteries, and chewed the wiring in half—as well as overturning the chock-full-of-poop metal can in the back of the house. I’d hate to have gone through my entire life without knowing what a sea of poop looked like, after all. Other minor things had been pulled outside and shredded as well. But again, my fault, not Bodhi’s. It’s ironic how, as a trainer, there are things you’d never advise your clients to do, and yet… well, you see what I’m saying.

Interestingly, I found out at the vet exam that Bodhi is only a year to a year-and-a-half old. My husband and I had suspected as much based on his behavior. He was scared of the large male vet tech and of my vet, who is also a large man. I did the handling and restraint during the exam. Add handling exercises to our growing list of things to work on, and probably desensitization to a muzzle as well. Also, Bodhi is somewhat reactive to passerby dogs when he’s on leash. He won’t full-out lunge and snarl at them, but he definitely reacts with a low growling and slight pulling. Add it to the list! He is fine with dogs off leash so far, at least with the ones I’ve carefully introduced him to.

The biggest issue, the potential deal-breaker, has always been how he and Sierra get along. Although some trainers proudly claim they can “fix” any issue between two dogs, in my opinion that’s just not so. Sure, I’ve helped clients with worse inter-dog issues than this resolve them, but dogs are living beings, not kitchen sinks, and sometimes it comes down to them just not liking each other. And I’m not looking for 10-15 years of walking on eggshells. The last week has been tense, and very stressful. There have been times when I have wondered whether we would be able to keep Bodhi. But as I write this, the dogs are racing around the house, out through the dog door, back in for some wrestling, and back out again. I’m cautiously optimistic, as it seems that finally, in the last two days, the quality of their play and other interactions has relaxed a bit. It’s as though before, there was a tension behind it all that said, “I’m still working out how far I can push you, and what you’ll allow,” and now, that’s been somewhat settled. At least the edge is off it. Of course, we will continue to be vigilant on all counts for quite a while, and possibly permanently when it comes to resources. But as long as things keep going in the direction they are, Bodhi has a permanent home.

There’s still plenty of work ahead, but I suspect plenty of joy as well. Underneath that rambunctious, sometimes reactive teenager is a good, sweet dog with a lot of potential. Did I need or want a project? Oh, no. But am I glad we brought Bodhi home? Yes, absolutely. Stay tuned for updates.


Day 5 with Bodhi: Trouble in Paradise

September 9, 2010

We’ve had Bodhi now for just under five days. I blogged yesterday “announcing” him, and so many of you were kind enough to send nice emails and comments. A few mentioned that it was good to see someone taking problem behaviors and working with them rather than giving up, as many adopters do. So in the spirit of sharing what’s going on, here is an update.

Bodhi and Sierra play well together in and around the house. It’s wonderful; Sierra loves to wrestle, and Bodhi’s style matches hers well. It gets rough but does not boil over into aggression. They’re both getting exercise and getting that energy out in a productive way. All good!

I had started training sessions with Bodhi on Day 2. He will now sit and wait until released to eat his food (which, given how food crazed he is, really is something). He and Sierra can now sit, lie down, and stay at the same time, a few feet apart. They will come when I call and both sit. Sierra already knows “leave it” and I’m teaching Bodhi the skill. I will soon begin working with him on going to his place, and on backing up. Some of you might think that’s a lot of training to throw at a dog right away, but being a trainer and seeing problems between them already, I know it’s going to be necessary for Bodhi to be under excellent control and to respond to cues immediately.

Now for the not so great news: I’d already shared that there were potential resource guarding issues, and that we were managing things like feeding times and bones. That’s all fine. But yesterday I was taking a break from work, lying on the couch reading a book. I was snacking on mini peanut butter crackers from Trader Joes (which really, if anyone would resource guard, it’d be me!). The box was wedged between my body and the back of the couch. There’s a coffee table in front of the couch that creates a narrow pathway between the couch and the table. Bodhi walked up and looked at the box of crackers. I ignored him. He laid his head on my chest and gave me the big brown eyes. As I started to say, “Not for you,” Sierra came walking up from the other side so they were facing each other in the narrow pathway, nose to nose. Bodhi attacked her inches from my face. I quickly stood up, got the book between them (boy, was I wishing for a hardcover—at least it wasn’t a Kindle), and got them separated. It was more of a serious skirmish than a flat-out fight, and might have stopped on its own had I let it. I’m a fan of letting dogs work things out and not interfering, but at that moment I wasn’t willing to take that chance. It was terrible to see the look on Sierra’s face afterwards. Although she didn’t run away, her ears were back, her eyes kept squinting and opening as though she was afraid of being hit, and she was looking at me with an expression that obviously conveyed distress. I took a deep breath and got us all calmed down.

The dogs recovered quickly and were soon playing together again. (Isn’t it amazing how much faster dogs get over these things than we do?) But later that night, my husband and I were watching television. He was sitting on one couch, and I was lying on the other—the same couch I’d been lying on when the skirmish had occurred. No food this time. As it got late, I drifted off to sleep. I was woken by snarling and teeth clacking in my face. I stood up, got my body between the dogs, and got everyone calmed down. My husband had seen the whole thing. He said Sierra had walked up to lick my face, and Bodhi immediately ran up and attacked her. Now, training is all good and fine, but it’s difficult to give a dog a cue when you’re dead asleep. Fortunately, there was no damage to any of us. Whether the incident happened because Bodhi thought there might be food involved again or because he was just jealous, I don’t know for sure. It could have been either one, as he’s demonstrated a definite jealousy issue whenever I give Sierra any attention.

At times, when I go to pet Sierra, Bodhi inserts his body between us. This is a problem, as I give Sierra lots of petting, tummy rubs, and affection; we both enjoy it. I am now working on exercises where Bodhi sits or lies and stays, and gets rewarded as I pet Sierra at the same time, with a safe distance between them. But honestly, only time will tell whether this will work out. It’s one thing to see problems, know what to do about them, and apply that knowledge, but quite another to realize that this is real life and you can’t micro-manage every second of every day perfectly. Most rescued dogs take a few weeks to really settle in and show their true personality, and this adolescent is extremely pushy and jealous right out of the box. It’s hard to believe he’s two years old as they said. We have a vet visit scheduled for today, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he might be younger than we were told.

Although there are times where both dogs lie a few feet apart and get tummy rubs at the same time, the situation is worrisome, and perhaps ironic after blogging about how I just “knew” this was the dog for us. I’m still hoping he is. Regardless, I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I did feel a definite pull to adopt him. We will be diligently working on these issues, but the bottom line has to be Sierra’s safety. Hopefully things will settle down soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Sierra Gets a Buddy

September 8, 2010

September 2nd was my birthday, and my husband had gone out to get pizza from the best place in town. (Yep, I’m an expensive date!) I was sitting at the computer looking at photos of dogs on, something I’d been doing on and off for months. I was starting to lose hope that we’d find a friend for Sierra anytime soon. I’d been looking at huskies and husky mixes, since Sierra is part husky and seems to play well with them. I clicked on page after page. Then I saw him.

If you’ve ever had a strong intuition about something, you’ll understand what happened next. I saw that photo, and I knew. I actually gave a little gasp and said out loud, “It’s you.” Well, that was the easy part. Normally on Petfinder you enter an acceptable search radius; mine is usually within 75 miles. But I’d neglected to specify this time, and the handsome boy in the photo turned out to be in a no-kill shelter…in Fresno. Fresno! We live 45 minutes outside of L.A. Can you imagine the look on my husband’s face when I told him?

It says a lot for my husband that he was willing to take a 200-mile-plus drive, based on my intuition. Of course, we had to bring Sierra along so the dogs could meet. Three and a half hours and two rest stops later, we arrived. My husband walked Sierra around outside while I went in to talk to the staff and meet the dog. Oh, did I mention what this dog was named? Bazooka! He’d belonged to a college kid who couldn’t afford his upkeep. Hmm. A cute name if you’re a Chihuahua, but not for this boy. You won’t see me yelling, “Bazooka! Come!” across a park anytime soon.

The staff brought the dog to a getting to know you room. He was gorgeous, underweight, and very sweet. He was more interested in sniffing around now that he was out of his run, but he did greet me and accepted handling well. We put him on a leash and took him out to meet Sierra. We parallel walked them, allowed a few seconds of sniffing, more walking…the usual introduction ritual. Both dogs did fine. Then we brought them back indoors (thank goodness for air conditioned greeting rooms), where we let them off-leash. They played! Not only did they play, but they played very nicely, softly, and appropriately. It warmed my heart to see it, because Sierra can be obnoxious in her play style, and sometimes too overwhelming. This dog had at least five or ten pounds on her, which might have helped.

A short time later I signed the paperwork. Fast forward to the dogs being home. I’m happy to say that The Dog Formerly Known as Bazooka is definitely housebroken. He’s also definitely very food motivated, and pretty darned pushy. Hmm, wonder what sort of manners he might have learned in a college dorm? He needs some work on house manners and training, of course. And he is a two-year-old, active breed boy. So far he and Sierra have played very well together. They race around the house and wrestle, and do that wonderful lazy-wrestling play where they both lie on their backs and mouth. I love that. We do have to be very careful about resources, though, including affection. They would most certainly fight over food, and show signs of being willing to fight over greetings if they’re not well managed. The new dog already knew sit, and is now sitting and waiting to be released to eat his meal, have his leash put on, jump out of the car, and so forth. He’s almost got a down, and has a decent short stay. He learns quickly. Did I mention food motivated?

We’ve been taking Sierra to the local dog park early in the morning for some time now, before most other dogs arrive. She’s got a best buddy, Niko the husky, who we meet there for playdates. But Sierra is a different dog at the park. You could call her the Dog Park Police. If two dogs start playing, she runs in and splits them up…move it along! If she’s playing with another dog, she’ll get snarky if a third dog tries to join in. We tried to take her and The Dog Formerly Known as Bazooka together, and they got into two brief skirmishes, both of which Sierra started, and they ended it themselves. Alone at the park, Sierra can be borderline obnoxious but is manageable. Alone at the park, the new dog is absolutely fine with everyone. Needless to say, they will not be there together. When I take him to the park, Sierra goes on the morning hike with my husband, and vice versa. It’s good for them to have time apart and alone with us as well.

Since I didn’t want to keep calling this handsome boy The Dog Formerly Known as Bazooka, I drove myself and my husband crazy with potential names. We went through Dakota, Beau, Shaman, D’Artagnan (okay, that one would have driven everyone nuts, although it fits him)…and finally settled on Bodhi. I’d had the name in my mind for some time. I’d always liked it and hoped that whenever we got a dog again it might suit him. It’s short for Bodhisattva, which is an enlightened, compassionate being. Here’s to hoping it does fit him, and that he and Sierra have a long, happy life here with us. Finding him certainly was a nice birthday gift! Right now I can’t stop taking photos, so here are a few more. Hope you enjoy them.

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