Every dog-reactive dog has a type—you know, the kind of dog that really gets their motor running, and not in a good way. For some dogs it’s a certain size of dog, or a specific gender, or even a particular breed. For Bodhi, there is something about small, white, cute-as-hell furry dogs (a.k.a. foo-foo dogs) that just puts him over the top.
Many dogs seem to see small, white dogs as prey. This may be the case with Bodhi as well. Of course, any dog with respectable hunting instincts won’t bark and lunge at prey, since that would scare it off, but will instead quietly stalk it. I have, however, observed Bodhi sit on the couch and bark through the window at the bunnies lounging out in front of the house. Sierra just looks on incredulously.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’ve been diligently working Bodhi around other dogs. At first we had to maintain quite a distance, and even then he’d lose control at times, and bark and lunge. So we worked even further away. It seems like it’s taken a long time to make the kind of progress I’m happy with, but we can now walk calmly past other dogs at a distance of ten or fifteen feet or so without Bodhi’s arousal level going over threshold. If the trigger is a large dog who’s sitting calmly, we may be able to get even closer. But if the dog is barking, all bets are off. And it’s also still difficult for Bodhi to maintain his composure if the other dog is running or is very active. Still, it’s progress.
So this morning at the park, walking with my friend Kathy and her dog Niko (Bodhi’s one and only dog buddy other than Sierra) we spied a man ahead on the dirt path walking two little white dogs off-leash. As I kept Bodhi’s attention, I asked Kathy if she would walk ahead with Niko and ask the man to kindly put the dogs on leash. Being that Bodhi’s not quite a candidate for sainthood yet, I’d hate to see what would happen if one of those little dogs were to come scampering up to us. It took the man a few minutes to get one of his dogs to come close enough to allow him to clip the leash on. During this time Bodhi was visibly anxious, but kept it together and took treats gently, sat, and did whatever else I asked. Once the dogs were leashed, we prepared to pass each other. As the surrounding sticker-filled weeds would have been difficult for either of us to move off the path, we each hugged one side and gave each other as wide a berth as possible, which turned out to be approximately ten feet. Bodhi did admirably well, taking treats and keeping his focus on me, with short glances at the dogs in between. Kathy exclaimed happily that she hadn’t heard any growling or barking from Bodhi, and just as I was about to respond, Kathy said, “There’s another one!” What are the chances? We always walk early in the morning and don’t normally encounter many dogs, and here we were running into Bodhi’s top triggers, one after the other. This adorable little white dog was attached to a woman who was on her cell phone and oblivious to her surroundings, but I was able to get her attention and at least get her to move over slightly to one side and not let her dog lunge out toward us. The dog actually barked a few times as we passed, but still, Bodhi kept it together. I was so proud of him!
There is also a woman we see regularly walking a large, sweet adult black Lab. Early on when we’d encountered them, Bodhi would lunge and bark furiously. I could tell the woman was irritated, and although I always called out a good morning greeting, she barely responded. But a few days ago we’d passed them and I’d called out, “Hey, look, he’s doing better!” She responded, “I thought you had the other dog with you!” This was quite the compliment, since she’s seen me with Sierra as well, and Sierra has never been reactive toward them. So this morning, back at the parking lot, I purposely walked Bodhi past her dog at a short distance. He did well, but once her dog was twenty feet or so away, another dog began barking and Bodhi lost it and began barking at the nearest dog, which was, unfortunately, the Lab. Barking, lunging…all the things he hadn’t done for a while now. I calmed him, and then after a few minutes, we walked past the Lab again (albeit at a larger distance). All went well. We said our goodbyes to Kathy and Niko, and got in the car to go home. As we drove through the park, I heard Bodhi bark. I turned my head just in time to see his head stuck out the back window, barking at that same black Lab. I guess Bodhi had the last word after all. What can I say, we’re working on it.