Holy Coyote!

December 13, 2012

“You don’t have to tell them everything.” That was the advice I got today when I told a well-meaning person about writing the blog I’m about to share…and I can see why she said it. But as much as I’m not proud of what happened a few days ago, it’s only fair to share it here, after the last post about how well Bodhi was doing off-leash at the park.

Two mornings ago, Bodhi and I were taking our usual COD (Crack Of Dawn) walk around the hills and pathways of our local park. I’d been allowing him off-leash for brief incriments in areas where I could see that no other people or dogs were around. He was doing great! He’d trot off maybe 20-30 feet away, leave pee-mail on a poor, unsuspecting bush, then come back to my side. We practiced recalls and “walk with me” as we went. He was doing so well two mornings ago, in fact, that I was able to recall him from a full charge after a bunny that crossed our path!

Although I was feeling pretty pleased with the both of us, I still kept Bodhi leashed in certain areas. It wasn’t just the people and other dogs I was concerned about—it was the coyotes that roam the hillsides. My husband, who takes one dog running in the mornings while I take the other to the park, had warned, “He’ll chase a coyote, be careful.” I didn’t doubt it. And so I waited until we’d left the hillsides where the coyotes hang out and we were headed onto the flat dirt track, a main area of the park that’s out in the open. I unclipped Bodhi’s leash and kept walking. A split-second later, he’d turned to look at something behind us in the distance, and disappeared! I don’t know how it’s possible to live with a dog for two years and never have seen him running at full speed, but that’s exactly what happened. Bodhi was suddenly a blur of black tearing across the field after a coyote, who was racing toward the hillside. My first thought was about how coyotes have been known to lure dogs into the hillsides, where their coyote gang is waiting. I ran after Bodhi, calling to him as I went.

Have I mentioned that by “the field” what I really mean is a huge dirt lot filled with nothing but sticker bushes? Nevertheless, I raced after Bodhi as fast as I could, calling to him over and over in what I hoped was still a happy, encouraging voice. All too quickly, he and the coyote disappeared around a bend in the hillside. There was nothing to do but keep running toward them and calling Bodhi’s name. Other than my voice, the morning was silent—too silent. They seemed to stretch on forever, those moments of chasing Bodhi while trying to catch my breath long enough to call him again.

In reality, it was probably less than a minute between the time he dashed off and the time he finally reappeared, trotting back toward me. My relief at seeing him was quickly replaced by worry at noticing that he was limping. Had he been attacked? Did we need to rush to the vet? Visions of having to carry Bodhi across a field of sticker bushes danced through my mind as he reached me. Since I’d been calling him, and he did show up, I managed to give Bodhi a jackpot of hot dogs and happy praise.

Then I inspected his leg. It quickly became apparent that the limping was caused by a number of stickers that had embedded themselves in his paw pads. Relieved that it wasn’t worse, I took my gloves off and carefully removed the stickers one by one—how do they always seem to manage to pierce human skin so easily? Soon Bodhi was happily walking along by my side as I led him between the bushes back on to the main trail. And yes, I leashed him.

And so, this isn’t the blog I wanted to write today. “Bodhi recalls off chasing a bunny!” would have sounded so much nicer. But it’s what happened. I’m not happy about it, and clearly I will need to be more careful in that entire section of the park. A long line is going to be Bodhi’s friend once again. That’s okay. Better safe than sorry, and believe me, had it turned out badly, that would have been the kind of sorry that would have haunted me the rest of my life. So, it isn’t pretty, but it’s the truth. Things happen, and sometimes all we can do is to learn from them and be more vigilant the next time.

My Little Secret

December 5, 2012

Bodhi leashless park smallThose of you who have been reading my blog for some time now know that I share quite a bit here about my life with Sierra and Bodhi. But for the last few weeks I’ve been keeping a secret from you all…it’s something I’ve been doing in the early morning hours, and it involves one of the dogs. Let me explain.

You all know how I feel about people who are irresponsible with their dogs, whether that means not cleaning up after them, neglecting them, or letting them off leash in public places. But for the last few weeks, I’ve been doing the latter. No, I haven’t become one of those “off-leash regulars” I see all too often, but I have, in a very limited way, been allowing Bodhi to be off-leash.

It’s been over two years since we adopted him from the shelter, and Bodhi has come a long way with many issues, including leashwork. At the beginning it was apparent that walking on a leash was a concept he’d never encountered, and for the longest time he couldn’t understand why I’d want to stop him from lunging and barking at other dogs. But we kept at it, and he can now walk nicely next to me and even stop and sit in the vicinity of other dogs—including Darth Vader, as I’ve nicknamed the poor, sweet black Lab who just plain sets Bodhi off for reasons known only to him. Anyway, having a malamute mix who is good on leash the vast majority of the time is a beautiful thing. But I also believe that dogs should be trained to off-leash reliability; you never know when you’ll need it.

We started months ago with a long-line, practicing recalls, attention, and “with me” (my cue for walking by my side). Fortunately, Bodhi is more of a stick-with-you type than a take-off-when-the-leash-comes-off kinda dog…but still, I don’t take unnecessary chances. We frequent the park at the crack of dawn when there are very few people around, and because of the park’s large, spread out areas, it’s easy to see people approaching from a great distance. So a few weeks ago, in one of those safe areas, far from the parking lots and the more populated paths, I undid Bodhi’s leash. His first reaction was priceless…it was as though he was trying to figure out how it was possible that he was suddenly unencumbered, moving at the pace he’d always wished he could, if he didn’t have that sleepy redhead attached. He pranced happily forward a few feet—and then turned to look at me. Yes! Beautiful! I smiled and he came running back, and promptly received a hot dog with a side order of enthusiastic praise.

Our walk quickly fell into a pattern of Bodhi walking a few feet ahead, peeing on something or just exploring, and then running back to me. Each time, he got a reward. And when we re-entered the part of the park where people normally walk or jog, the leash went back on. (Oh, and by the way, once the leash was on and we passed a familiar woman, she said, “Look at the adoring way he watches you.” Yep, he was right next to me, gazing into my face, all right…wishing for a hot dog.) Since that first walk, whenever we do the off-leash thing, the joy on Bodhi’s face is unmistakeable. But something else has happened that I hadn’t anticipated: not only did those experiences please me from a training point of view, but they’ve actually made me feel closer to Bodhi. There’s just something about an animal who has the freedom to choose where to be, and chooses to be with you. I love that he doesn’t just think, Woohoo, free at last! and disappear into the nearest hillside.

Now, I would never do this with Sierra. As you may have heard, the girl has a prey drive from hell. She’s a little wild thing, and although we’ve done plenty of training and she’s got a pretty spectacular recall, I don’t have such an inflated opinion of myself that I believe I can compete with a squirrel. Not yet, anyway. We have, however, been practicing with the long line.

I’m not suggesting that anyone allow their dogs to go leashless, or to take chances they shouldn’t. But for us, the freedom those short off-leash jaunts have given Bodhi, and the joy they’ve given us both, have been great rewards in and of themselves.

Bodhi’s Big Day

October 6, 2011

Last week, my husband reminded me that Bodhi’s been with us just over a year now. While we love him, of course, there have certainly been plenty of trials and tribulations along the way. These include him having eaten the couch and disemboweled a mini-fridge, anxiety issues, urine leakage, and fear-based reactivity toward other dogs. The latter is something we’ve been working on for many months.

As some of you already know, my husband and I have an arrangement with the dogs. He takes one with him on weekday mornings before work, while I take the other to a different location. That allows him to run one dog through the arroyos or hike in the mountains, while whoever is with me gets a somewhat more sedate walking workout, but with more training and focus exercises. Since we’re at the park very early in the morning, I normally let whichever dog is with me run in the empty dog park area before we walk. If another owner shows up and wants to enter, especially if Bodhi is with me, we leave. It’s just not worth chancing Bodhi becoming reactive and undoing all of the progress we’ve made. And, I never know whether the other dog might be aggressive.

That’s what was going through my mind a few mornings ago when Bodhi and I were in the empty dog park. I spied an owner approaching with her smallish, mixed-breed dog. As she approached the gated entry, I asked her to wait, and explained that I wasn’t sure whether Bodhi would be reactive with her dog. He’s always been better with smaller dogs than large ones, and chances were that at this point he’d be fine. Still, I prefer to err on the side of caution, even if it causes other owners to think I’m being overly careful.

I had asked the woman to move her dog away from the entry gate so I could walk Bodhi out, and as we continued our amiable discussion, instead of moving back, she moved toward the chain link fence and allowed her dog to approach. Bodhi and the cute little dog, who looked like an American Eskimo/Pomeranian mix, had a getting-to-know-you sniff through the fence. Neither dog seemed reactive. Although she said the dog was a male and, as it turned out, just about Bodhi’s age, I had one of those intuitive feelings that all would be well. Just to be sure, though, I walked Bodhi out of the park and, with loose leashes, we allowed the two to meet. After a few seconds of curious but relaxed sniffing, the woman walked her dog, who turned out to be named Copper, into the park.

Bodhi and I soon followed. Copper was in the middle of the park sniffing what little grass there was. Bodhi walked in quickly, but without making a beeline for Copper. Soon enough, Copper began to solicit play by jumping at Bodhi and then darting a short distance away. Bodhi stood there looking interested but a bit perplexed. Copper continued, play bowing, spinning, and attempting to entice Bodhi to chase or wrestle with whatever maneuvers came into his fluffy little head. Soon Bodhi began to run, allowing Copper to chase him around the park. Of course, a dog running away does not necessarily denote play, but Bodhi looked like he was enjoying himself, and as the two rounded the perimeter and ended up back where Copper’s owner and I stood, they began to wrestle. Bodhi! Wrestling with a dog who wasn’t Sierra—and enjoying it! My heart swelled and I broke out in a big grin. This must be how parents of socially awkward children feel when their child makes a friend! I wasn’t so lost in my joy that I forgot to get video footage, though…I whipped out my iphone and captured some of the fun. Here’s a very short clip.

When we first got Bodhi I had taken him into the dog park when a few dogs were there, ones I knew to be friendly. Still, he’d been very stiff and had chosen to avoid them rather than engaging in play. I could have been like many owners and thought, Ah, he’ll come around and just let him get habituated to it. And he might have. But it could have just as easily gone the other way, with dogs pouncing at Bodhi and him becoming more and more reactive. And so I had made the decision to stick with on-leash walks around the park’s perimeter instead, working on his reactivity a bit at a time. Progress can be painfully slow at times, and there are setbacks, but we have made progress. There are certain dogs we encounter regularly, namely the group of dogs who are walked off-leash early in the mornings, that Bodhi actually ignores in favor of rushing their humans, who have taught him that if he approaches and sits, a treat will be forthcoming. Okay, not great manners with the humans, but I’m thrilled that he’s not at all concerned about the dogs. Strangely, a few weeks ago he did the same thing to a man we pass now and then with his Golden retriever. This man has never given Bodhi treats, but perhaps he reminded Bodhi of the others. Bodhi began to pull toward the dog and I let him, since his normal response is to whine, get himself under control, and then look at me for a treat—plus I knew the young Golden was friendly. When he reached them he looked at the man expectantly, and I laughed and explained why he was doing it. I let the very curious dog and Bodhi sniff each other for a few seconds, and then led Bodhi calmly away.

I know we’ve still got a way to go. Sometimes it feels as though we’ve been working on this behavior issue a long time, but I have to remind myself that Bodhi came to us from the shelter with this issue, and he’d already had a year or more to practice the unwanted behavior. Besides, a year in, things are looking promising.

Dawn of the Little White Foo-Foo Dogs

March 30, 2011

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.

Bodhi Reinvents Thanksgiving Dinner “Stuffing”

November 30, 2010

As you know if you’ve been following this blog, things have been improving with Bodhi slowly but surely. I’d finally reached the point where I could leave him and Sierra alone in the house while I did errands, and my husband and I could even leave them for three to four hours to go enjoy a movie.  Of course, we made sure they were well exercised first, and things were put out of jaws’ reach.

We were invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, which was to happen at 3:00 p.m. We took the dogs out for exercise late morning, and I fed them their dinner early, at 2:30 since I didn’t want them to become hungry and therefore anxious while we were away. I figured we’d be gone for three to four hours—no big deal. Well, we ended up staying later than anticipated, and didn’t return home until 7:30. Five hours. What can an energetic, adolescent dog do in five hours? Well, here’s one thing…

Yep, Bodhi ate the couch. Not the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but I bet he had fun doing it. He tore into the backing cushion and ripped the upholstery to shreds. (That orange multi-colored thing is a spread that had been covering the couch.) I bet Sierra stood ten feet away the whole time, ears back, frantically trying to telepathically communicate, “Stop! What are you thinking?” In fact, when we walked in, she was the one who looked upset. Bodhi just bopped right along, the way he always does. So, here’s my confession: I was more than a little pissed off, as you might imagine. I yelled at Bodhi, and there was a handful of couch stuffing in my hand as I did it, close to his face. He finally “got” that something was wrong. When I relayed this story to my mother, she replied, “But in your books you say you’re not supposed to punish them after the fact!” I knew I should never have let her read that book. But, yes, of course the verbal correction came who knows how long after the act. And guess what, I’m human; stuffing happens. Now, don’t think I didn’t also think about my own part in this. Had I erred on the side of caution and locked the dogs outside, regardless of how cold and dark it would have gotten, and how well they’d been doing, my couch would be intact. But I didn’t. It’s just this two steps forward, five steps back thing with Bodhi that’s hard to take.

On the positive side, Bodhi has been making progress. Because my husband has now begun to take the dogs (separately) hiking in the mountains in back of our house, which are filled with foxtails and other dangerous, sticky weeds, it’s necessary for me to check between furry toes when they return (the dogs’, not the husband’s). Bodhi definitely doesn’t like it, but he will for the most part lie there and let me dig between his toes with my fingers and remove any pointy objects.

He’s doing well in his training, too. He can now do a down from a standing or sitting position on a verbal cue alone,  has a pretty decent “spin,” is getting “go to your bed,” and has just started to learn “take a bow.” I have this vision in my head of he and Sierra, who already knows the trick, bowing side by side. Cute, and preferable to the vision I had of him going back to the shelter the night he ate the couch. His leashwork is much better too, although he’s still reactive toward other dogs while on leash. We’re working on it. I think that sums it all with Bodhi, who I still maintain is sweet underneath all the insanity. We’re working on it.

Six Weeks In: A Bodhi and Sierra Update

October 20, 2010

I’ve owed this update for some time, but to be honest, things have been so up and down with Bodhi that it would have been difficult to write until now. It has been a challenging time. The good news is that Bodhi and Sierra have, for the most part, settled down as far as playing nicely with each other. I do have to feed them separately, and any treats/chewies require that they be separated as well. I have begun to be able to keep them both in the house with very low-value chewies (antlers). Bodhi will periodically try to take Sierra’s chew right out of her mouth, and when she goes after him, I let her. The skirmishes are normally settled very quickly. You’d think he’d have learned by now, but…not so much.

Here’s the thing: Bodhi is a pushy, obnoxious adolescent who seems like he’s been raised by wolves. Wait, let’s not insult the wolves. Had Bodhi not been housebroken, I’d never believe that he’d even lived indoors before. It’s like I adopted a teenage frat boy. I expect to come home and find him with a keg of beer, a bunch of rowdy friends, Animal Planet blasting in the background, and destruction everywhere. Oh yes, the boy is destructive with a capital D! If I leave a paperback book lying out on the coffee table, I’m sure to find it completely shredded the next morning. Hand towels end up dragged out through the dog door. (On a positive note, he’s training me to put things away.) There are a multitude of other small things, and I should add that he’ll destroy things even when we’re at home but not in the same room. (Ironically, as I typed this, he shredded the corner of the dog bed.) Still, it’s the bigger things that are more troublesome, including one of the house phones. And oh, the outdoors…my husband had built a carpet-covered wooden ramp for Mojo, back when he was old and having hip trouble. That ramp is now covered in shreds of carpet, because Bodhi apparently thought tearing it off strip by strip would be a fun craft project. Oh, and then there’s the mini-fridge. One day I’d given both dogs marrow bones—the first and last time I’d done this, by the way. Sierra was outdoors with hers (she prefers the outdoors for chewing), Bodhi was indoors, and the dog door was closed. Because it was late and neither dog had finished, I decided to take each bone away and put them in the outdoor mini-fridge. My mistake was letting Bodhi see me do it.

I should explain that the mini-fridge has a bungee cable around it to help ensure that it stayed closed. Okay, had is more accurate. Bodhi managed to chew through the bungee cable, tear open the door, and get to the bones—but he didn’t stop there. He proceeded to pull out all the rubber insulation, the plastic drawers, and finally, tilt the entire fridge over almost on to its side. Did I mention destructive?

The extra-challenging part about the destruction is that if I catch him in the act and give him a strong verbal reprimand, Sierra is the one who cowers and looks “guilty”–she’s very sensitive–as Bodhi just sits there with a goofy look. It’s as though, as someone suggested, he’s a bit “special needs.” We’re now on reprimands with brief time outs.

Speaking of Sierra, Bodhi’s resource guarding of things, people (in a pushy, “I want the affection” way, more obnoxious than aggressive), locations, etc. is hard on her at times. Although I interfere when appropriate, I can’t manage things 24/7, and truly, I don’t want to have to. There are times when Sierra walks into the house very cautiously, looking to see whether Bodhi has picked something up that he might want to guard; or she’ll lie in an out of the way place such as wedged between the exercise machine and the wall so he can’t get to her, and she can see his approach. Although these things do not involve aggressive incidents, they do speak to the change in lifestyle that Sierra has undergone since Bodhi’s arrival. Sure, they play together and I do believe she likes having him here during those times. I also think she feels “suppressed” by his presence at other times. After all, she can’t just walk up and get petted like she used to without Bodhi trying to insert himself, or relax like she used to. And that, more than almost anything else, is troublesome.

We’re also working on Bodhi’s reactivity with other dogs. My husband takes Sierra out on the mornings I take Bodhi. This makes Sierra very happy, as she gets Alone Time with Daddy, and gets to go running at top speed (on a long line) through the arroyo after jack rabbits. This morning I took Bodhi to the local park to meet with our friends Kathy and Niko the Husky, and a friend of hers who recently adopted a sweet female spaniel-type mix who is non-reactive and dog-friendly. The first two thirds of the walk were spent working Bodhi at a bit of a distance, since he initially and periodically would lose it and begin barking/lunging toward the other dog. But by the last third of the walk he was much better, and toward the end, was even able to do a quick sniff at the other dog’s rear, and walk parallel a few feet away from her. Of course, getting Bodhi comfortable around other dogs is going to be a project.

I most certainly did not mean to adopt a project, but isn’t that always the way? I am glad Bodhi ended up with someone who is willing to work with him in a positive, gentle way on his issues, because although he’s a sweet, wonderful dog underneath it all, he can be a handful.

If I can live through Bodhi’s adolesence we’ll be fine.

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