more progress

Things worth mentioning from the past week or so:

Bubba put himself to bed for the first time ever last week. It had been a busy day, and around 9pm he got up from the living room, went into the bedroom and put himself to sleep in his crate. He’s done it again one other time since then. A big change from the dog we used to know who would whine anytime he wasn’t right with us.

Last week Natasha and I were both in the basement for a while. When we came up into the kitchen we saw that the baby gate separating the kitchen from the rest of the house had been left wide open, and there was Bubba standing at the gate with his feet firmly planted on the dining room side of the doorway. The cat food bowls next to the stove were completely untouched. Way to go Bubba!

Behavior at the office continues to improve. Bubba hardly ever barks at the other dog in the office now and is much calmer when greeting people. I can also walk away from my desk for a few minutes at a time without crating him or worrying about him whining or busting through the gate that keeps him behind my desk.

The biggest change we’ve seen lately is also the most exciting because it has to do with DOGS. The big D. The final frontier. We’re very encouraged to see Bubba’s behavior starting to relax around other dogs. Natasha and I have both noticed the shift while out on walks and bike rides. Both of us have adopted a non-avoidance approach whenever possible. On the bike, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid other dogs anyway, especially since we started taking a busier bike/walking path part way to work. It’s a safer route in terms of street traffic, but a lot more challenging because everybody’s out walking their dogs in the morning. When we come to another dog, I just keep riding. Bubba may pull a little, more so if the other dog is really animated or off-leash, but we keep moving. If he behaves while we pass, he gets a treat. Bubba gets exposure to lots of other dogs this way and he has started to show more restraint around them. 9 times out of 10 he doesn’t bark, but may whine or pull as we pass.

Natasha made a decision while out on a walk last week that if they encountered another dog, she would not change her behavior at all, and see what happened. No treats, no asking for eye contact, no crossing the street. Well, much to her surprise, Bubba behaved like a champ with dogs on the other side of the street, and in the three instances when someone else was walking toward them on the same sidewalk, the other people chose to cross with their dogs who were clearly having a hard time behaving themselves. Natasha came back from the walk feeling like, for the first time, Bubba was the good dog!

This morning we walked to work along the bike path and passed about ten dogs, including our buddy Banjo who was out for his morning walk! Bubba and Banjo haven’t officially “met” yet but they did pass each other mostly nicely. Bubba’s reaction is becoming more one of excitement than aggression. He jumped some, but no barking! Maybe someday we can plan a walk together with Banjo.

Hopefully Banjo doesn't mind having his picture up. We think he's a good looker.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ll say that the mental shift of viewing encounters with dogs as an opportunity to practice good behavior rather than a disaster waiting to happen has been vital. It’s taken six months to get to this point where we trust Bubba and ourselves enough to navigate these situations comfortably, but now my confidence is way up and my fear about meeting other dogs is almost gone. I still maintain a sensible amount of caution, but that feels prudent and not the same as the nervousness and anxiety that used to arise. I give a lot of credit to Bubba who has been great about trusting us and following our lead. His attitude has been shifting right along with ours, feeding off each other. It’s all the more motivation to keep putting our best into this work.