“I like your dog, he’s well behaved.”

Count that among the things I didn’t expect to hear in reference to Bubba. That was my father-in-law’s comment to Natasha as we got into our car Christmas Eve. After the initial excitement of being in a strange house filled with the smells of five cats who were sequestered in other parts of the house, he settled down nicely and laid by the fire chewing on a bone while we opened gifts with her parents. We decided to crate him in an upstairs bedroom while we drove a couple towns over and spent the afternoon with N’s sister’s family, which includes three young boys and an old yellow lab. I knew it would be tough for him to be left alone in a new place, so we took him for a long walk to tire him out before leaving. Part way through the walk Natasha decided to head back to the house for more time with her family. We’re accustomed to him having a hard time with separation like that, but this time he managed to get away from me while I was adjusting his harness and he took off running down the middle of the street after her. Oof. Cars stopped and people got out trying to catch him (thanks, friendly Mainers), but he was on a mission to get to his momma. Fortunately as soon as he reached her she was able to grab him. He never really relaxed after that point, but we managed to finish off the walk ok. Crating him upstairs was another story entirely- he took a long time to settle down before we left, and we came home to find that he’d managed to open the crate door, but thankfully he didn’t destroy anything in the room. We’ll call it even. In other encouraging news, this morning a co-worker commented on how much he has calmed down over these past few months. Her actual comment was something along the lines of, “I’m amazed at how calm he is considering how out of control he used to be.” He is much more relaxed and comfortable when greeting people in the office now, almost never barks and only jumps occasionally, mostly if someone is carrying food.

Leash Manners-
We still practice heeling on every walk. Sometimes he’s great, sometimes he just wants to pull and pull. A lot of that has to do with his energy level and what kind of environment he’s in. Our next big challenges will be getting him to walk on a loose leash in the woods, and if we ever get some snow, maybe trying to teach him to walk/run behind me while I cross-country ski. Dogs are still a big trigger for him, but his reaction is becoming less intense with time and exposure.

We go for a long ride most mornings before work, and we ride to work and back about once a week. I don’t know who enjoys it more, him or I, but we both have a good time and Natasha joins on some weekend and evening rides. He’s very comfortable running beside the bike, and he also has a GREAT memory for the places where we’ve encountered dogs and likes to run really fast up to those spots. We’ve had no accidents or major incidents to report… though some rides go better than others. Yesterday he drove me a little nuts when he came to a dead stop to investigate a petrified road-kill squirrel. Sometimes I have to work hard to keep him from pulling, other times when he’s tired it’s a challenge to get him moving faster than a snail’s pace. This is my favorite way to exercise him, though.

House Manners-
For the most part Bubba is awesome in the house. The major issue is with the cats. He finds them irresistable. Maddie, our little girl cat, is totally afraid of him, and Elvis is dog-aggressive. The cats have their safe places in the house; the gated off kitchen, a chair in the basement where they like to cuddle, up on our tall bed, and outside whenever they want to be. We’ve seen some recent improvement with Elvis being able to slowly walk right past Bubba resting in the living room (with much encouragement and praise/treats afterward). Elvis likes to taunt Bubba from the kitchen side of the gate, though, hissing and howling at him when he knows he’s safely out of reach. I hope in time they’ll work it out. Mostly I wish Bubba would leave timid Maddie alone. I’ve laid down some stern corrections when I’ve caught him chasing after her. I think he just wants to play, but it’s not a game to the cats and unfair to make them live in fear. He also will bust through the kitchen gate to get at the cat food at any opportunity. I need to be better about making sure it’s always properly latched.

Surprisingly, he’s been great about not getting into things in the house. He hasn’t chewed up or torn apart much of our stuff, not even the shiny and exciting Christmas decorations we put up. [Knock on wood.] He has his own box of toys to choose from and seems to understand very well what is and is not his to play with. (Note to Bubba, Smartwool socks are not yours.)

Lately he’s been trying to get up on the couch with us more than ever before. We’ve never allowed him on the furniture and he has a soft dog bed that we put right in front of the couch for him. It’s hard not to laugh because he is cute- sort of sneaking up with a guilty look on his face and quickly laying himself down on the couch, but we aren’t giving in (and he doesn’t seem to be giving up his effort). Nice try, though.

The Crate-
Thankfully Bubba likes his crate. He goes into it willingly at bed time or whenever we ask him to “kennel up.” What he doesn’t like is being left alone. His stress reaction is to pull the sheet covering his crate in with him. That’s how he managed to open the door on Christmas Eve. He does this probably about half the time we leave him crated. Doesn’t seem to be related to the length of time he’s there. But always when we get home he is quiet, and will stay quietly in there even if we putter around the house for a while before releasing him, so it’s not like he’s stressed out the whole time. I don’t know how to help him with this, I just hope it keeps improving with time. Maybe someday he’ll be able to stay free in the house while we’re gone, but not yet, and probably not while we still have cats.

Next month Bubba will turn one year old, having spent five of those months with us. We’re all doing a good job together and I am thankful for everything he’s brought to our lives, even the challenges. We’re still only at the beginning of our time with him and we have a long way to go. I have moments of feeling very discouraged, mostly when it comes to my own short temper and lack of patience. More often I have moments of feeling completely in love with this dog and lucky for having him with us. Here’s to a hopeful and confident new year.