Today marks Ben’s 17th week with us. His progress has been greatly hindered by the enforced isolation he’s had to endure for the past few weeks, but we’re doing our best to help him deal with it. Until recently, the weather was a real problem – too cold to work him outside even for a few minutes – but the temperatures are rising nicely, so we’ve been able to get him outside for play time and for short walks. I injured my knee a couple of days ago and I’m on crutches, so getting him to the daycare facility hasn’t happened yet. I’m hoping to get him there this weekend, though.
Since he’s been in isolation, Ben’s trust in us has been compromised and he’s been exhibiting some anxiety with food again. I’ve been working extra hard with him to help him overcome that, but it’s a slow process; he does really good focusing on me and waiting until I give him permission to eat – and I never make him wait longer than about five or six seconds – but the frantic, fearful behavior he had when he first came to us is starting to reappear, and he is starting to wolf his food again.
To combat this reversion, I’m taking control of his food bowl and slowing him down by giving him a little at a time. He doesn’t like that, but it has to be done. Not only does it help him rebuild trust in me, it also prevents him from eating so fast that he throws it up later.
From the day he arrived in our home, Ben has struggled with the idea that toys are meant to be played with and not killed. He is still struggling with that, but he can now play for several minutes at a time before his prey drive is triggered and the session is stopped. Paying close attention to everything from his body language to the tone of his play growls, and knowing when to stop the play so that he can calm down has helped reinforce the “play nice” rule quite nicely. Also, keeping a firm grip on the toy and not allowing him to “win” by yanking it out of my hand teaches him to use restraint, and it teaches him that I am in control of the situation, not him. This is important for all dogs to learn, but it’s especially important when you’re working with very powerful breeds.
While he is getting better about sharing toys with our dog, Ben still has a tendency to claim and give a warning growl if she gets too close to them. The behavior is immediately corrected and the toy is taken away from him as a result, but he still practices it, so I’m continuing to work on helping him overcome that. Ben did nip at me a couple of times when I took a toy away from him, and he was immediately corrected. He hasn’t practiced that behavior with me since.
Ben is doing fairly well with his basics (sit, down, stay, come, etc.) despite being isolated. He is still breaking the stay position – he’s very stubborn sometimes! – but on the whole, he’s doing quite well. In the past couple of days, with the warmer temperatures we’ve enjoyed – and due to a knee injury that’s prevented me from doing it – my husband has taken Ben out for short walks. He’s told me that Ben has done a great job of walking nicely on the leash. He also said that Ben hasn’t exhibited any signs of aggression when he’s heard other dogs in the neighborhood barking at them as they’ve walked by.
Working Ben on “place” [a.k.a. “mat”] has been going very well. The only real challenge with the mat exercise comes when Ben gets really excited – e.g. at meal times, or when someone comes to the door. On those occasions, Ben does not listen at all, and it becomes a battle of wills between us and him. Because he’s lost some trust in us due to being put into isolation, he’s starting to revert to his previous behavior of trying to control every situation and make all the decisions instead of relaxing and letting us deal with things.
Where the door is concerned, Ben was rushing it and making it difficult for people to get inside. This disrespect for our authority was proving to be quite challenging to correct, so we sought assistance from colleagues about it. With their guidance, Ben finally started learning the correct behavior and he was getting better at practicing it. But, since he’s been in isolation, his progress in this area has been significantly, negatively impacted. Now, when people come to the door, instead of relaxing and trusting us to have the situation under control, Ben becomes reactive by barking until he’s nearly hoarse and trying to force his way out of the area in which he’s confined.
Overall, despite being confined, Ben is doing his very best to be a good boy. I work him as much as possible in the room itself, and I make sure to play with him as often as possible, too. When I have him outside to potty – and when the weather allows for it – I let him run around and play until he lets me know he’s had enough. Currently, we are enjoying nicer temperatures, so I can get him outside for slow walks. Since injuring my knee earlier this week, Ben has been doing an awesome job of walking slowly and carefully with me, adjusting his pace to mine without being asked and staying right beside me.
Regardless of all the challenges he’s been having to deal with over the past few weeks, Ben is a very loving, very compassionate dog. He has helped us deal with a tremendous loss in our family, he stays by our side when one of us is sick or not feeling well, he is awesome with our dog, and he’s even been working hard to stop trying to attack our cat. He’s had three recent close encounters with Violet and not only did he not attempt to attack her, but he actually stayed quite calm and wait for us to remove her from his reach.
Ben is an extraordinary dog. No matter what challenges he faces, he gives us everything he’s got so that we can help him move towards a more balanced state of being. He does have issues – yes, he does. But Ben is worth fighting for, and when he gets his forever home, he’s going to make his new people very, very happy.
Have a great day, everyone, and remember to stay calm and lead on…