Day 5 with Bodhi: Trouble in Paradise

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.


13 Responses to Day 5 with Bodhi: Trouble in Paradise

  1. I’m so sorry to read that Bodhi is engaging in such intense guarding, especially so quickly after his adoption. I know first hand how stressful it is to live with dogs who begin fighting, even if they’re not doing damage. Thank goodness you have so much experience in reading dogs, managing the environment and staying calm (good for you).

    I know that I will continue to learn from you as I read about your journey with Bodhi and Sierra. Thank you so much for writing about it.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Christine! I think a lot of trainers are loathe to share anything that implies that things are less than perfect with the dogs they work with or own. But this is real life, and stuff happens, and my whole goal in sharing it is that hopefully others can take something away from this. Thanks for your support. I continue to learn as well.

  2. Ugh Nicole, I’m so sorry to hear about this new development. Since he is so food motivated have you considered paying him with treats rather than attention when you give Sierra attention? They did this at the SD Zoo when a Drill wouldn’t let the female eat. They put out 20 feeders and the big male would chase her away from any feeder she approached. They started a program of feeding him a special treat every time he allowed her to go to a feeder and it worked great. So since Bodhi is so food motivated that would be the direction I’d go.


    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Laura, GMTA and that was the first scenario I thought of, I’d reward him with treats (and a tether if a down-stay doesn’t do it). I’ve used that scenario successfully with clients’ dogs. I only started out trying it with the attention instead because the attention IS so high value to him, plus there’s real potential for instant high arousal with him over food. But I’m going to experiment with the reward being attention and the reward being food and see which works better.

      • Yeah, I agree about the tether. I’d tether him, and possibly her to if she has a tendency to move closer to you during the exercise. But of course far enough apart that there is no possible threat to him. Since I haven’t seen him in action I was visualizing him eyeballing her and starting a problem while you are right there next to him. I had visions of you ending up in the middle of a fight, so tossing treats to him might be safer for you. Just thinkin’ of you Nicole! LOL

      • wildewmn says:

        Laura, I think something was lost in translation here…Sierra *would* be close to me during the exercise, I’d be petting her. I envision Bodhi being a short distance away and tossing the treats to him, as the whole goal is that he can eventually feel good about lying (or sitting) calmly a short distance away as I give Sierra attention. LOL you’ve known me all these years dealing with the wolves and aggressive dogs, hopefully my luck with keeping all my fingers and toes will hold out. 😉

  3. Ok. I was picturing them as farther apart & you going back & forth between them. Like petting Sierra once with very little emotion, enthusiasm, etc…, then moving over & petting him a lot & giving him a treat so it’s a bigger payoff for him and he sees he’s getting more. I might even use a clicker so you can click him while you pet her.

    • wildewmn says:

      Laura, good ideas. I’ll tell you exactly what it looked like, since I just did a session before reading your last comment. Bodhi was tethered to a wooden bench which is right next to the dog bed. I asked him to down-stay on the dog bed. I got Sierra lying on the couch, which is a few feet away. In that way I was able to pet her, then reach over and give him a treat, down between his front legs so he stayed down. Cuddle her, give him a treat (of course with praise as well). Started out with brief pets, ended with me giving her a tummy rub as she relaxed enough to have one, with him lying on the dog bed, getting treats and also getting petting periodically. Worked well, and the whole thing lasted maybe 3-5 minutes. Of course, this does not a real life situation make and management is constant, but it’s a start that shows potential.

  4. Thanks for sharing Nicole. I have 2 dogs and took in a most adorable foster that I don’t think I can place (insert live without!). At only 6 months, she is quite the little guarder, and I felt the same way. At 6 m she is calling dibs on me, toys and food over my 4 and 12 year old dogs, neither of which is any slouch. It is a red flag and not fair for my dogs to live in fear or stress. Time will tell. Good luck, we will need it!

  5. Karen says:

    I just received Patricia McConnell’s DVD on dog-to-dog aggression. Just got to the part about dog’s aggressive to each other in the home. Then I read your blog and find you are having this exact same problem. I feel so bad for all of you. I will be very interested in how you handle this situation. I have 3 female dogs and consider myself very lucky in that in all these years, not once have my girls shown any aggression to each other. I sincerely hope that you will be able to resolve this conflict. Please keep us posted.

  6. This is something that my wife and I have discussed a number of times as well. Even though we only have Penny, we worry that in the future if we ever did get another dog how they would get along.

    I know it’s an emotional response, but my loyalty would and always will be with Penny since she is my “first-born” and my baby in the event that the new addition to the family started being aggressive or started taking over Penny’s favorite toys or attention time.

    It also doesn’t help that Penny is so sweet and gentle to everyone, human and dog alike. She has never barked at anyone in anger and like a lot of Bichons (at least the ones I’ve met) is very docile and mild-mannered.

    She will even get upset if my wife and I raise our voices when we are having a “discussion”…which helps to promote overall family harmony in our house. 😀

    My wife would like to get another dog, but I’m not so sure that would be a good idea.

  7. Dyane says:

    I’m interested in how you decide when it’s safe to let dogs work out their aggression issues. I have two 5 yr old female littermates who’ve been together their whole lives and who spend a lot of time licking one another’s faces and howling together. A couple of weeks ago, they got into a fight/skirmish that resulted in one dog being bitten next to her eye. How would I have been able to tell they could work it out? They’ve been fine ever since, but having had female dogs fight and really hurt each other before, I’m nervous.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Dyane,

      What a great question! I wish there was a definitive answer, but the truth is, it’s really situation-specific. Knowing the dogs, their relationship, and the circumstances that caused it helps. And of course it depends on whether the intensity is escalating and the interaction is unbroken. But in general, it’s more of a feeling when you’re right there. With your dogs, you know they’ve had a good relationship all those years, and yet, many times aggression between female dogs can start later in life, and as you know, it can be quite serious. Not that I’m saying this is the case with yours; it could be that one wasn’t feeling well, or there was some other extenuating circumstance that caused the “perfect storm” where they got into it. I’m glad to hear they’ve been fine ever since.

      With Bodhi and Sierra, or any two new dogs who will be living together, they’re feeling out how far they can push each other, what will be tolerated, etc. so I would try to let them work it out. But obviously if it’s getting serious and going on more than a few seconds (I can’t say exactly how long, it’s situation-dependent), I’d step in and break it up. Sometimes, in a situation like dogs playing at a dog park, it’s becomes clear quickly that this is NOT something that’s going to “work itself out” and intervention is necessary; but even then, I’ve seen dogs who are just playing rough boil over into aggression because someone stepped in too quickly. It really is a judgement call.

      Take care,

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