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Dogged Determination

How I managed not to give up on our challenging adopted dog

By: Susan Kauffmann

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I begged… I pleaded… I made promises… All in the attempt to convince my husband, Michael, to allow us to adopt “Bodie,” the adorable 18-month-old Australian Shepherd/Great Pyrenees cross I had fallen in love with on Sure, Bodie was big, young, hairy, and mostly untrained, and yeah, I had all kinds of chronic pain issues that made it completely illogical for me to get such a dog, but that face! Who could resist it? Besides, I told Michael, Bodie's foster mom described him as “easy to have around,” and from everything I knew about him, I was sure he would bring us far more joy than trouble. Famous last words.

When Bodie arrived, he was every bit as cute and cuddly as I had imagined he would be. However, I was soon to learn that a rescue dog of unknown background might seem like the perfect pooch in one set of circumstances, only to turn into a mutt of mayhem in another. For example, Bodie was polite and respectful with Alison's cats, but he launched himself at ours with alarming intensity, sending them fleeing for their lives. The difference was that Alison's cats were used to new dogs coming into their home and knew how to put them in their place immediately, while ours had no experience with unfamiliar canines other than the coyotes who had tried to eat them before we got our perimeter fencing up.

Our normally pampered indoor/outdoor cats would spend most of the next two months shivering on top of the haystack in the barn, not daring to venture inside the house at all. I didn't blame them, as Bodie chased them at every opportunity. We tried to do some controlled cat/dog introductions, usually with Michael holding a barely contained Bodie on a leash and me attempting to wrangle an extremely reluctant cat, but the bright red scratches on my arms and torso bore testimony to just how badly most of those attempts had failed.

As bad as things were with the cats, there was a lot more to stress about in those first weeks of Bodiedom. There were the epic marks he gouged into our once lovely front door if we tried to leave him unattended in the house for ten seconds. There was the anxious chorus of whining and clawing whenever we shut him into his crate, which made us feel terrible and kept me awake half the night, every night. He had been fine being crated at Alison's where he always had other dogs crated in the room with him, but at our place, he was completely alone and anything but fine.

"Dig deep, find your inner Zen master, get help if you need it, and remember that it will all be worth it in the end."

Unfortunately, there was no way we could leave Bodie uncrated overnight, as he had quickly proven himself a menace to anything within his reach, and given his size and prodigious counter-surfing skills, his reach was impressive. Ball caps, gloves, throw blankets, slippers, dog beds, trash cans, food left unattended, bags of dog kibble, packages of toilet paper, and much more fell prey to Bodie's gleaming white chompers. The upside of Bodie's eclectic kleptomania was that I was forced to become a much better housekeeper, but I found myself constantly fretting that Bodie would eventually destroy something really important or valuable, so trying to keep Bodie out of trouble became pretty much a 24/7 job.

And, just to add injury to insult, Bodie hurt himself soon after he arrived, so off to the vet we went to assess a troubling hind leg limp. Rest and medication were prescribed, leaving us with a boisterous young dog who was supposed to be kept quiet and on leash, which only exacerbated the already daunting challenge of preventing Bodie from ransacking our home. That same day—but of course after we got back from the vet—Bodie started licking obsessively at a tiny scab on a front leg, creating a hot spot which quickly blew up into a large swelling that required treatment and bandaging. I ended up driving down our dizzying mountain road three times that day: first to the vet, then to get bandages and medication for the hot spot, then to find a collar to prevent him from ripping off the bandages, which I didn't think to get on the second trip.

Naturally, the collar didn't work, so I had to watch Bodie closely to try to get him to leave his leg alone. What little sleep I had been getting turned into next to none, leaving me feeling and looking like an extra from the set of The Walking Dead. For even more fun, a severe storm turned our property into ten acres of mud, which meant that every walk ended in a prolonged wrestling match as I battled to get the sticky clay off of Bodie's ginormous white paws. And since Bodie basically refused to "go potty" if he was on a leash, there were lots of these glorious walks every day!

Finally, I gave up trying to keep Bodie on leash, as I was getting too sore from his pulling, which nearly removed my arms from my body every time he saw something exciting. Our property was fenced with five-foot-high horse mesh that our other dogs had never managed to escape, so we gave Bodie the run of the place and hoped his leg would still manage to heal. Imagine my surprise a couple of days later when I was out cleaning the horse paddock and saw a dog that looked an awful lot like Bodie scampering around outside our fence!

This was the first of several off-property escapades Bodie enjoyed before we discovered that he was somehow scooching his big body under some relatively tiny gaps that had been made under the wire by snow melt or digging rabbits. The good news was that he never travelled very far, though the frantic searches I conducted each time he went on a walkabout were not doing my blood pressure any good. We found and blocked every gap in the fence and were relieved when he didn't start digging under on his own, though we lived on tenterhooks, expecting that idea to arise in his fluffy noggin any day.

Then there was the charging and nipping at my horses whenever the horses were near the paddock fence, inevitably accompanied by vociferous barking that echoed off the surrounding hills and frayed every last nerve in my sleep-deprived brain. And the time he pooped in my husband's home office during an important meeting, somehow managing to get most of the horrifically stinky pile inside a new ski boot. And the time he flattened me when running full speed with his Irish Wolfhound girlfriend, leaving me limping and bruised all over. As such moments of chaos piled on, I kept hearing that line from the old Talking Heads song in my head: "And you may say to yourself, 'My god! What have I done?'"

By the three-week mark, I felt completely overwhelmed. While there were many endearing things about Bodie, the joy/trouble scales were definitely tipped way off in the wrong direction. Though I felt terrible about it, I thought we should return him to the rescue, who had said he could come back any time if he didn't work out. However, to my utter amazement, Michael had fallen completely in love with Bodie and flat out refused to even consider that option. Michael, who had always been the tough one with our previous dogs, was putty in Bodie's paws, playing with him constantly and saying, “I don't know what it is about this dog, but I just can't get mad at him!”

While I was plenty mad, plenty often, I had to admit that Michael was right when he said that none of the behavioural issues we were experiencing were Bodie's fault, as he was simply a young dog that no one had ever taken the time to train, a dog who had been kicked around from place to place and who needed time to learn what was expected of him in our home. The bottom line, Michael asserted, was that we had chosen to take responsibility for this dog, so we had to find a way to make it work, whatever it took.

Turns out that what it took was a lot of patience, consistency, adaptation, and a couple of sessions with Trevor Wilson, an excellent local dog trainer who gave us strategies to work on everything from safe introductions with the cats to improving leash walking and behaviour in the house. The most important piece of the puzzle was teaching Bodie the concept of "leave it," which was incredibly helpful with the cat situation and many of the other issues we had been having. Once Bodie learned to let go of a thought or an object on request, he became much more manageable.

While we still have plenty of work to do, we are making great strides, most importantly with the cats, with whom Bodie now genuinely wants to be friends. Sometimes, he even brings them his favourite toys, which is both adorable and heartening. And, as he is learning how to tone down his energy around them, the cats have finally started making tentative forays back into the house and will actually approach Bodie at times.

We also bought Bodie a larger, airier crate and have worked on making it a positive place. He chooses to nap in there sometimes, though he now sleeps quietly at the foot of our bed overnight. Bodie still likes to make confetti out of dog beds, however, so we got him the "Chew Proof Armored Padded Elevated Dog Crate Bed," from K9 Ballistics, a company that specializes in super-tough beds for the mayhem mutts of the world. Problem solved.

I am also pleased to report that Bodie is stealing fewer things these days, rushes the horses less often (and can be called off when he does), and can even be walked through the exciting sights and smells of nearby Virginia City without dislocating our appendages. I am now as besotted with the big floof head as my husband is and find myself telling Bodie what a great dog he is many times a day. I am so grateful that Michael pushed me to hang in there with this lovely dog when I was ready to give up, and I would urge anyone in similar circumstances to dig deep, find your inner zen master, get help if you need it, and remember that it will all be worth it in the end.


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By: Susan Kauffmann
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