This weekend marked Loki's 9th year with us and roughly his 10th (maybe 11th) birthday. Time sure flies when you live with a cracker. He's been our greatest teacher, our best friend, our most loyal companion.
This is the photo that melted my heart. When I called AHAN, the rescue, they literally said, "I'm not sure he's suitable for a home because he's a biter. He may have to go to dog sanctuary." Thank goodness for his foster who worked with him on his less desirable behaviors. She sold with the words: "He really wants to do the right thing." Those words were never truer.
The first two years with him felt like a constant struggle. A dog with a very high working drive and a high anxiety drive can be a challenge to someone who never worked with a high working drive dog let alone one with anxiety. I don't know what changed between us, and how handling him became so much easier. Perhaps it was when I changed from trying to physically control him to working hands-off with his drives and needs rather than against them. Sometimes people look at this as "cross over training" in the dog training world. I developed a very hands-off approach to handling him and it's worked out better than I could imagine. Teaching your dog to think and make decisions goes a long way in developing a trusting, confident dog. As much as I joke about managing my dogs with an "iron skillet," with a dog as strong, powerful and intelligent as Loki, you can't win through physical force. Getting him to use his head to make decisions and let him freely control his own body was the key to him becoming more balanced and less anxious.
Every night, before dinner, he goes out to the dog run and patrols the fence, preemptively barking at the wild life (we get lots of coyotes, bobcats, deer and mt. lions on our property 10-20 feet outside the fenced area), as if it's his job and his payment is dinner. Then he comes in and watches me finish making their dinner, just like this in the photo above. After dinner, he goes out and does the same thing. If you don't give a working dog work, they will always make work for themselves. And that's OK with me. I enjoy his patrolling routines so much, and not only encourage them but thank him for his excellent service. And when his patrolling barks raise to cracker-insane cujuo, I, or Mr. Wild Dingo go out to assist him. Every single time that happens, Loki is 100% correct. It's usually a skunk, a coyote or raccoon. That's OK with me too. Because one day, it could be a burglar. We tell him he's a good boy and reward him for his accurate alert.
One of the other things I've come to love about Loki is the trust he's gained in me as well. When I first got him, he would flip out over anything touching him other than petting. This can be troublesome if you have to investigate a tick bite or a fox tail or anything that could cause a dog harm. But now he's so trusting, he comes to me and asks for help. My favorite of course is when he eats too much grass and it gets stuck coming out the other end. He looks at me sheepishly and knows I will have a bag to help him out his uncomfortable situation (it pulls right out and no it's not gross, i pick up dog poop). It took a long time to develop this "lemme see" approach whenever he had an owie or something bothering him. He'd jump around like a Mexican Jumping Bean rather than letting me see or touch the source of his concern. Now he comes to me for help and stands still to let me handle it.
One of my favorite experiences is when I come home and Mr. Wild Dingo is out in the garden with the dogs. Loki runs and greets my car at the gate and herds me 500 feet down the driveway into the garage. In the beginning I was always panicked that he'd get hurt no matter how slowly I drove, but over time we both figured it out. He's a herding dog, and this is what he does so I let him, carefully of course, herd me and my car to the garage. As soon as I open the door, I get a big sloppy kiss and some cries. When he herds me, no matter how badly I feel, it brings a mile-wide smile to my face.
He enjoys communication and using his head to make decisions that make me happy. I never miss a chance to tell him when he makes the right decision and what a good boy he was for it. Even if that decision was for coming to me to help him with a problem, he gets a "Good Boy" and lots of pets. That is literally all it takes. How I wish I knew that early on in our journey.
I love you Loki," I tell him. "Thanks Mom! I love me too," he replies. Sigh. Self love: another important lesson he teaches me.
Happy Loki-versary handsome! You are the light and soul of our lives! Love, Momma, Poppy and Juicy