Breaking on Through to the Other Side

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. 


9 Responses to Breaking on Through to the Other Side

  1. fearfuldogs says:

    Poco a poco! Change happens. But still a good thing that Bodhi is so darn cute.

  2. Karen says:

    Wonderful news! As a volunteer for a rescue group, I can tell you most people would have given up on this dog long ago and returned him. I am also impressed that you are working on the handling issues without the use of food. He sure is a handsome boy! Keep us posted!

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks Karen and all for the comments and encouragement about Bodhi. Karen, as a trainer who’s done a lot of rescue work as well, I completely agree with you that most people would have returned Bodhi long ago. Although sweet with a lot of potential, he is definitely a handful and a half. The reason I approached the handling issues without food is that Bodhi is SO extremely food-motivated that he’d get overly excited and grabby, which is the exact opposite of what I need him to be, which is lying still and feeling calm. So instead, I lightly restrain him, and combined with soothing talk and interspersed long petting strokes and short bits of handling, I can now look between his toes for foxtails (a must where I live), and brush his hindquarters and tail. I wouldn’t say we’re home free, but it’s a start. 🙂

  3. I really like the part where you abandoned the “leadership program” and went with your intuition about what might work–and it did. There’s a lesson in that–don’t let ‘received wisdom’ crowd out your gut sense about what might work for a particular dog. And, ‘it’ might not work. OK. Then, try something else. Thanks!

  4. Laure-Anne says:

    It makes you think, though. What if that dog was not in professional, patient, capable hands? The shelter system is busting with dogs like Bodhdi, and there’s not enough owners like you.

    Keep up the good works and high spirit. Looking forward to that post in a few weeks that says there’s no more destruction at all.

    Good luck!

  5. Laure-Anne says:

    Oh, and, breed geek that I am. Anyone’s guess as to what the other breed could be in Bohdi’s mix?

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Laure-Anne,

      Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. It is a horrible situation when a dog gets bounced around, becoming more insecure and less stable with each new home. It often ends badly for the dog. It’s also incredibly difficult for the person living with that dog, though, as it really turns your life upside down. I am hoping there’s continued improvement. I’m sure time will help too, if we can just survive Bodhi’s adolesence!

      Regarding breed he’s mixed with, I’m really not sure. If I had to guess I’d say German Shepherd, but I’d love to hear thoughts from others.

      Take care,

  6. Hi, I have really enjoyed reading your blog post. It shows that just by being patient and being committed to helping your dog over its problems, this can be achieved.

    Yes food can help in certain areas, but what if your dog is not food orientated, what then? This blog shows that you can help a dog through issues without food and that owners and other trainers alike have to try all sorts of ways to help their dogs.

    I look forward to the next update.

    All the best


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