A Bodhi Update—and New Challenges

January 31, 2011

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?


Bodhi Learns a Few New Tricks

January 14, 2011

I’m a big fan of giving dogs mental stimulation, and one of my favorite ways to provide it is by teaching tricks. Sierra has learned a few (including the oh-so-cute “Take a bow!”), but lately I’ve been concentrating more on Bodhi. You remember, the couch-eating, pushy, out of control adolescent? I figure he needs it, and frankly, I was interested to see how well and how quickly he could learn tricks beyond the simple things like Shake and Spin. (He’s the canine equivalent of the rock star-cute guy with the “duh” sign over his head.) I’m happy to say he surprised me!  Not only does he learn quickly and retain the knowledge, but he is now offering behaviors that were previously learned. This makes me especially happy, since it shows that he’s gaining some much-needed confidence.

I am also happily surprised to find that capturing behaviors works well with him. Often I’ll start out with the intention of teaching one trick, but then he does something I can’t pass up; so I’ll capture it, and a new trick is born. Sure, it takes some repetition, but the light bulb does go on. This afternoon I had started with the intention of working on, “Are you sleepy?” which is my version of the old “Bang!” trick where the dog falls down as if dead. (Somehow the “sleepy” cue bothers me less.) We’d worked on it before, and I’d backchained it to where Bodhi would fall on to his side from a lying position and remain there. Now I wanted to add lying down from a standing position, so the sequence would be complete. But somehow before I could begin, Bodhi had gone to lay down on his bed, and had rested his head on the floor between his front paws. It was so cute, I had to capture it. I did two repetitions and then turned on the video camera. Happily, he did it another few times. It’s not perfect, and you’ll be able to tell that he’s just learning it. (That’s why later, after I tried to start working on the originally intended trick and he repeats the head down instead, I reward him for it anyway; I didn’t want to lose that new behavior.) He does eventually do a pretty nice “sleepy” trick, though. Check out the video here. It’s progress!

Snow Dogs, Meet Snow!

January 3, 2011

It’s not often that it snows in the desert, but it did yesterday. The last time we had this kind of weather just outside of Los Angeles was at least three years ago, and since Sierra and Bodhi are younger than that, and were both adopted from southern California shelters, I’m guessing they’ve never seen the fluffy white stuff before.

The flakes fell for hours and actually stuck, turning the dog ramp in back of the house into a bone-colored magic carpet for dogs. Sierra and Bodhi ran outside, stopped short, and looked around in wonder. It then took Bodhi .5 seconds to decide it was an Endless Buffet from Heaven, and he began to eat as much snow as he could. When Sierra started doing the same, he tried to guard the snow from her. Anywhere she’d lower her head, Bodhi was there saying, “That’s mine! I don’t know what it is, but it’s mine!” Adolescent boys! The cold and snow also made the dogs frisky, and they interspersed eating the snow with playing in it. Here’s a video.

My husband immediately decided we should put on our snow gear and take the dogs for a walk in the mountains in back of our house. This probably would have worked out better if we actually had any snow gear. But I learned something new, namely that the waterproof action of rain boots does not actually extend to snow. Soggy, squishy socks aside, the hike was an excellent adventure. We carefully made our way up the trails, the dogs straining against their long lines, anxious to explore. Sierra seemed right at home, while Bodhi shivered until we began moving along more quickly. Here’s a brief video clip of my husband running with the wanna-be sled dogs : http://bit.ly/h27MR4

I know that for many of you the snow is nothing new, and has even become an inconvenience. But for us, that beautiful white blanket across the mountains and trees was magical. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

You can view the rest of the photos here. Enjoy!


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