Progress, Not Perfection

June 24, 2024 By Kristan L. Anderson, CEBS®, CFP®
Dogs hugging. West Financial.

Back in May 2023, I wrote about investing in a dog’s mental health. Here we are, more than a year later and I thought I’d catch you up on how my dog’s own recovery journey is coming along.

First, some context for what we are dealing with. Our dog, Loki, is leash reactive to other dogs, has stranger danger, and is overall anxious with the world outside. He is on behavioral medication, and we try to provide enrichment and processes to help him make better choices around his triggers. Like all guardians of reactive dogs, I’ve learned to be a bit of a trainer, but I’m not a good or consistent one.

The other piece of this puzzle is what I’ve learned by volunteering with our local rescue, Lost Dog and Cat Rescue (see an earlier blog post about this experience). Over the past few years, I’ve become more involved in activities such as the weekly pack walk, doing initial observations on dogs following intake, and occasionally helping with dog play groups.  All these activities provide much needed data on how dogs interact with people and each other, their temperament, playstyle and overall compatibility with dogs and people.  My stated goal was to be able to eventually foster older dogs, before they find their forever home. To be able to reach this goal, we needed to work on Loki’s overall reactivity and determine if this was something that he wanted, as well.  This past year has been a big one in terms of Loki’s recovery.  Just by observing him and giving him the space to process his emotions, we have achieved goals I never thought we would be able to achieve.  

The first big experience we navigated was a relatively large gathering that my family arranged at my parent’s summer home in Rhode Island. The event was a celebration of my father, who died last year following an extended fight against recurring cancer.  There was obvious concern about exposing elderly and not particularly mobile people to my unpredictable dog. Even without instructions, partygoers did a great job of ignoring Loki and letting him just be a dog in the middle of a party. It was a stressful event under the best of circumstances, but we all navigated it and celebrated a win at the end.

The second big milestone was having another dog as a houseguest. Through the rescue, I met Dutches, a five-year old pit bull terrier mix who was an owner surrender. She was a calm and confident dog who walked through the kennel chaos unfazed and was playful with other dogs in playgroup. If I had to dream up a dog to introduce to Loki, this was the one. We took her out on a Dogventure for five hours one day, then later brought her home for an overnight.  When she wasn’t adopted her first weekend at events, we chose to bring her home for an extended Dogventure. 

It was clear throughout our time with Dutches that Loki just doesn’t know how to be a dog. And while she made a good effort to show him, a week wasn’t enough time to undo the lack of appropriate and positive socialization with other dogs. So, we ended up adopting her and renaming her Lola. 

Loki is still not 100 percent comfortable when Lola gets into his personal space or makes sudden movements or tries to play with him when he’s not ready. But watching him try and awkwardly engage her in play, or nose a door open for her, or refuse to go for walks without her makes me think we made the right call.  Because it’s always nice to have a friend around to provide some sense of calm when you are anxious.

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