He's not randomly aggressive toward people or children. In fact, he’s friendly to people. He’s not even food possessive/aggressive. It took him two nights to learn that he is never to even look at Juno when she's eating. He has two choices when he's finished: look at me or leave the room. Now he and Juno can eat dinner and bones side by side without any issues and with people close to them petting them. And I can leave them alone. After he's finished, he leaves the room and finds me so I can tell him he's a good boy for ignoring Juno while she eats.
Loki’s main naughty behaviors are redirected anxiety--taking stress out on whomever is closest to him, a person holding his leash or a nearby dog. When he gets excited either from happiness or nervous anxiety it can build and culminate into naughty behavior. He “loads up.”
Thankfully, between all the reading I’m doing about anxious, high-drive dogs and my trainers, I’m learning how to work with a dog like Loki. His training becomes an hour of making judgment calls of when to correct him or when to “unload him” by touching and walking him easily.
After our daily walks, I would let Loki and Juno into the dog yard and used to unhook their collars and let them run. Still loaded with some low level excitement and anxiety from the walk itself, he'd release his anxiety by bullying Juno and biting her scruff. While it’s not exactly a dog fight, it’s definitely not a form of play, therefore it’s unacceptable. And Juno hates that behavior when it isn't playful. Who wouldn’t?
So now, after our walks, Juno gets released first while Loki and I spend a minute or two together while I unload his stress and anxiety through touch and praise for his excellent walking. After unloading him, I give him the release command and he looks up at me completely surprised like, “really, I can go now?” and he calmly walks away, instead of sprinting after Juno for a bite.
Unloading Loki has become a way of living but the rewards are gaining quickly. Though I don't leave toys out, I do leave one or two “low drive” tug toys he can put in his mouth to redirect his anxiety instead of taking it out on Juno. He now goes and reaches for his toy when he has anxiety building from his natural need to possess us while we’re spending time with Juno. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner. His biggest form of anxiety release is through mouthing and tugging.
Loki still rants and rages occasionally in obedience class. Over time, it’s gotten better. The first class I couldn’t shut him up or keep him from wigging out. The stimulation of dogs running on recall exercises and running up agility walls was all too much for him to handle. In the 9 weeks we've been training, he still protests like a defiant teenager, but he can now make it through an entire group class without a trainer pulling me aside to work one on one with us.
People who've watched him from that first day comment to me on how far he's come. He made THAT much of an impression that first day. Think: two year old temper tantrum during a quiet moment at a movie theater and envision the two year old having chomping fangs and 64 lbs of muscle and you’ll begin to get the picture. Most people would probably run. Not me. I seem to have a few screws loose.
To me, Loki is like a special edition corvette, with unique engineering and steering capacity that an ordinary person who can drive a car won’t necessarily figure out. I can’t let just anyone drive my corvette. He will ALWAYS test his handler. I see it every time I do a leash hand off to a trainer Loki may not know. He’ll spend 5 seconds wigging out and trying to dominate the handler. He learns pretty quickly the handler has driven that type of car before so he falls into place. I, myself, am still learning how to drive this corvette.
The truth is Loki’s got some special gifts that make him an exceptional dog. He’s got a high drive to work, loves agility and shows his pride with strong athletic grace. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this dog. He’s also silly and likes to cuddle.
I almost peed my pants one day last week when a Labrador puppy went over to distract him while he was in a down-stay at the park. That lab walked over him, stood over him, sniffed him, licked him and basically did every single thing to tease him out of his down. Loki, having just been corrected for breaking his down stay, had amazing resilience and stayed down for several minutes until I released him. He made me proud. I know he can do this. I know he can become obedient. And I’m so thrilled to be the person who can help him become a model canine citizen.
Happy 6-Month Anniversary Loki! You light up our home and soul.