You might think because of the title of this blog that it’s going to be about dogs who play too roughly and eventually get hurt. It’s not. (Sorry, I just liked the title!). But, it is about a dog having to wear a cone on his head, namely my dog Bodhi, and how our new daily routine has been made possible by the behavioral work we put in early on.
Bodhi had surgery last Friday to remove a lump from his head. It had started out small. In fact, when I first noticed it I thought it was a tick and tried to remove it. (Sorry, Bodhi!) Once I realized it was a growth, I kept my eye on it. I wasn’t panicked, as Bodhi is approximately nine-and-a-half years old and I’ve seen my share of lumps and bumps on older dogs. But when it began to grow, I took him to the vet to have a needle aspiration done. The vet wasn’t overly concerned, although she did say it was difficult to declare the lump benign based only on the cells she could see under the microscope. Fast forward a few months and the lump had become a LUMP. I decided enough was enough. Not only was I alarmed that it had grown so quickly and so much, but it was positioned above his eye, and I didn’t want to chance it eventually pressing down on his eye area.
As with all dogs who need to be kept from scratching or pawing at themselves and opening their incisions, Bodhi came home sporting an oh-so-fashionable white plastic cone. Yes, that cone—the Cone of Shame, the Cone of Silence…he was a Conehead now for sure, and you know how much dogs love a cone around the head. Unwieldy and annoying though it might be, it’s also necessary. So, like a good, responsible owner, I’m leaving it on except when Bodhi eats, or when we go for a walk. Even if I’m watching him at other times, it would take only a split-second for damage to be done, and Bodhi is exactly the kind of dog that would do it. When I mentioned to a friend that I was removing the cone and putting it back on multiple times each day, she expressed surprise that Bodhi was so good about letting me handle him that way. She went on to say she couldn’t imagine being able to do that with her own dogs.
Her remark got me thinking back to when we first adopted Bodhi. He was somewhere around a year to a year-and-a-half old, smack dab in the middle of his obnoxious teenage phase which, in concert with his myriad of behavior issues, made pretty much everything difficult. He had issues with other dogs. He was super destructive. He was leaking urine (not his fault, but so not charming). If my husband or I took a few steps, he would jump up and put his teeth all over us, not aggressively, but in what I recognized as a totally insecure, unsocialized, unmannerly way. (If you really want to know how bad it was and how I solved his issues, check out Hit by a Flying Wolf.) In addition to all of that, to say he did not like being handled would be an understatement. He not only didn’t like having his paws handled or rear touched, as is the case with many dogs, but he also hated being brushed. If I so much as touched the brush to his fur when he was lying down, he’d whip his head around, take my hand in his teeth, and look at me as if to say, “Don’t make me do something we’ll both regret.” While I understood that he’d probably had zero experience with people treating him gently and working with him, it was not okay to let him go through life that way. And so, we began the long, gradual process of working on his handling issues, along with all the others.
It’s now been just over eight years since we bought Bodhi home and, hopefully, he’ll be with us for years to come (we’re waiting on the pathology of that pesky lump). Had I not put in all of the time and effort with him at the beginning, I am confident that he would not be easy to cone or de-cone, to brush, or to live with at all, really. The fact is, dogs come with baggage just like people do. We can take offense and try to strong-arm them into compliance, which only suppresses the underlying reason for the behavior and doesn’t solve it; we can give up on them entirely; or, we can work with them kindly and patiently to make things better. As this challenging period, along with a myriad of other interactions in our day-to-day life proves, in the end, being gentle, patient, and willing to work cooperatively over time always pays off.
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