A Lesson in Patience

Starting on Wednesday at roughly 6 PM our dog Mojo began giving us another lesson in patience that can only be learned if you have dogs. Mojo got away from us when we were bringing him inside off his leash, never a good thing but not necessarily a catastrophe either with most dogs. But Mojo is a special case. A little information about Mojo will help you to understand.

Mojo is our all white Siberian Husky with Blue Eyes and pink nose. I love his color and his eyes but in reading about animals over the years, I have read some information that indicates animals that are close to being albino, such as being white and having blue eyes etc. have genetics that not only play an important role in their color but also in their behavior/cognition that are related. If you are interested in that Google it and see what you can find.

In many ways Mojo is one of our best dogs. He is not aggressive to other dogs and even likes to play with some dogs. Mojo is not aggressive to humans. He was easily crate trained for a long time and often preferred his crate. When not in his crate Mojo rarely causes trouble in the house and if he does it’s not usually anything serious. Mojo knows basic cues like site, kennel, touch, wait, and kiss. He is a pretty well-rounded dog.

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Despite his good nature, Mojo has some very odd behavior issues. Mojo is a very high-strung, anxious type dog in general. This is most obvious in any time there is a change in the status quo. As I noted Mojo is generally fine with other dogs. He can be a bit barky particularly with new dogs but once he settles in and knows the dogs he is fine. He will either, play when play is initiated or generally ignore the presence of other dogs. However, it is a very different story with people. Mojo is very reluctant to engage with people. He seems to actually like people but is at the same time is afraid of them. He will only approach and interact on his own terms. When out for walks he will walk far off to the side of any people who approach but then circle around to sniff them from behind and if the turn to look he skitters off again. Mojo even behaves this way with my wife and I whom he sees every single day, although not to that extreme. Mojo often avoids direct contact initiated by us to try to pet him. He will often avoid us if we approach him or will get up and trot away if we approach where he is laying. However, when Mojo wants attention he has no problem approaching us and rubbing up against us and letting us pet him or even put an arm around him. He will even lie down next to us sometimes even right up against us or with his head on us. Contact just has to be on his terms.

Mojo also seems to have a fear of doorways going in and out of the house. He does not like to pass through them. It is obvious in his behavior and posture that he is uncomfortable as he approaches them and transitions through from inside to outside or outside to inside. He will go through the doorway if he is held by his collar or is on a leash but if there is anything he doesn’t like about it he will try to back away. The situation has to be just right. He very rarely will go through on his own.

Mojo is also not a very highly food motivated or play motivated dog which makes working with him in training or luring him to do something challenging. But luckily under most situations it’s not a big deal as he is generally well-behaved.

So, Mojo who is basically afraid of people and afraid of going through doorways, and doesn’t really care about food is now outside off leash. This is not our first rodeo with this type of incident and actually, over the years he has gotten better about cooperating with us to get back in the house. This would not be one of those times

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Mojo realized that he was no longer on his leash nor held by one of his humans and he was not about to go back to that. He was not about to go inside the house. At first, I wasn’t too concerned. Mojo has gotten free before and has always come back in eventually on his own terms. It doesn’t help when its fall and its dark by like 6:00 PM. Thankfully Mojo is white and easy to see both by us and any potential drivers etc. As it got close to time for bed we still couldn’t get Mojo into the house, but I still wasn’t too concerned. It’s not the ideal situation but still not a catastrophe. Mojo usually stays nearby and is young and healthy and loves it outside. He usually just sleeps on the hill by our house. I figured he would enjoy a night outside in the yard then be bored or hungry and want to come in, in the morning, which has happened in the past.

No dice. I got up early at 5:00 AM when my alarm went off and went out to check on Mojo. He was still in our yard but still not cooperating. I went inside and began getting ready for work and feeding the other dogs along with keeping an eye on Mojo. I normally leave for work around 6:00 AM. Six came and went and Mojo remained outside. Our neighbors recently got a new dog and I knew that they let their dog out around 6:00 AM as well so I made sure I was out in the yard keeping an eye on Mojo to make sure there were no problems. When the neighbor’s dog was let out he was barking up a storm and Mojo took off towards their yard (neither of our yards are fenced in) and I ran around the other side of the house to cut him off and succeeded in deterring him from crossing over into the neighbor’s property. Now I had no choice but to call in to work and stay home to keep an eye on Mojo and continue to try to get him in the house. At this point, it was just about trying to keep Mojo safe.

I basically spent the entire day going in and out of the house and spending most of the time walking around the yard watching Mojo, just making sure he was safe. I tried everything I could think of to try to get him to come to me, or to get him to go into the house, or to get a hold of him but nothing was working for me.

Mojo is a very alert dog. He is always aware of his surroundings. I don’t know if he owes that to his Husky heritage but he is by far more alert and perceptive than our other dogs. This makes any deception or trick or trap very difficult to pull off.

Knowing Mojo would never allow me to just walk up to him and get ahold of his color to take him inside I tried to use this to my advantage. I left a door open that Mojo has gone in and out countless times. I tried to use my presence to herd Mojo toward that door in hopes that he would just decide to go in. As he made sure to keep his distance from me he would get closer to the door often being in the same area he would be when we would let him in off his leash close to the porch. But he never would approach the door. This evolved into a series of walks around the house. Every time I got too close for Mojo’s comfort, he would just bolt away and never go to the door.

I tried to take advantage of dog pack social structure and herd behavior. I let our other dogs out to interact and make it seem like just another normal day. The hope being that when I gathered the other dogs to go back into he house Mojo would just come along for the ride and follow everyone else into the house. Like most of the other tactics I tried this has worked in the past but it would not work today. Mojo was not going for it.

I tried to convince him to get into the car by letting one of the other dogs get in the car like we are going for a ride. This did not even tempt Mojo. He has never been a huge car ride enthusiast. However, I bet our dog Buck was awfully disappointed when I had him get out of the car without going for a car ride.

At one point I tried stalking him like a wild animal stalking its prey or for me like a wildlife photographer stalking his subject. Just slowly getting closer and closer as he was lying down. Inched small step by small step freezing and waiting every time Mojo looked at me. If he started to look unsettled I froze until he relaxed. When I got about 6 feet away Mojo suddenly jumped up and scampered away. After he settled back down and relaxed and laid back down I gave it another shot. I was able to get really close this time. Close enough that I thought I would have a shot to get a hold of him if I moved fast enough. I didn’t want to scare him more or hurt him. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I thought about just diving on him and trying to pin him down with my body, but I really didn’t want to hurt him or have it go bad in any other way. I decided I would try to lunge and reach for his collar to grab it. Mojo was very relaxed and sleepy. I was able to get near him and crouch down and lean towards him. Then I made my move and dove towards him. I grasped for the collar. I felt it touch my hand. I thought I was going to get a hold of hit and at that same moment Mojo darted away leaving my hand empty. To anyone driving by I must have looked like some kind of crazy fool.

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Next step: food. Not dog food or dog treats. Mojo barely eats them as it is. I went straight for the human food. I brought out what I thought would be the big guns. I brought out a whole package of ham steaks. I really thought this would be a winner. I brought out the ham and my training gear. I would entice him with a training session. I would work with him and the other dogs and he would be so happy to get the food he would forget about everything else and come to me. I thought for sure when he saw me giving the ham to the other dogs he would trot right over and want some. He did not. I thought I could lure him to me. I would toss him ham and toss it at shorter and shorter distances and he would have to come closer and closer to get it until I could reach him or lure him into the house. Mojo showed surprisingly little interest in the ham. He would only eat the ham that was thrown right to him. He would not move to get the other pieces of ham even letting the other dogs run over to get it when he could have easily gotten it first. The food lure did not work at all. It is as if Mojo knew what I was trying to do, and maybe he did.

I even tried just sitting there. Just being in the yard with no attempt to get closer to him in an attempt to let him become habituated to my presence and perhaps be willing to come a little closer or even approach me like he would in the house. This met with similar failure of all the other plans.

Eventually I had to go into the house for a little while. Mojo had been outside for 24 hours and I had been watching him all day. I was mentally exhausted. I needed a break. I kept tabs on him through the windows. After a few minutes, I realized Mojo seemed to be gone. I went back outside to look for him. He eventually reappeared and from the distance seemed to have something wrong with him. He was kicking at his face. I was able to get close enough to see that he had gotten into it with a porcupine. He had a face full of quills. Despite his pain he still would not come to me or go in the house. My desperate pleads for him to let me help him were not good enough. He would start to approach and then once he got within a certain distance he would seem to get spooked and run off. Then he would kick at his face more trying desperately to get the quills out on his own. I can’t imagine how much that must hurt. Thankfully shortly after this my wife got home.

However, even with two of us we could not convince Mojo to come to us or to go into the house or into the car. We went inside to try to contact the vet. I kept trying to call him into the house. I opened a door for what seemed like the millionth time and out of nowhere Mojo decided to come in. Oddly enough it was a door he hardly ever uses. I was so thankful to at least have him in the house. While we were exchanging messages with the vet we started to try to pull out quills. I can’t imagine how much that must hurt. Thankfully we have an amazing vet who is willing to go the extra mile for her clients. She was able to meet us at the vets office in the middle of the night. We were able to have Mojo sedated and remove the rest of the quills. Mojo has recovered well and seems to be back to normal or at least normal for him. Hopefully now after his second run in with a porcupine he will not do that again.

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The only thing to think during these situations with Mojo is that he is acting like a wild animal. He acts as if he knows humans are dangerous and he should be wary. He acts the way a fox, coyote, or wolf might but not to that extreme. He has a safe zone around him at which if you violate it he will retreat from you.

I have a background in psychology. I have had double-digit numbers of dogs in my life. I have read books about dog training and animal behavior. However, it is not always enough. There will always be situations one is not prepared for in life and Mojo is that situation.

I hate to use the word crazy in regard to humans or animals but when you have a lack of knowledge and expertise and understanding that is just the word you default to. When I can’t see what the problem is for Mojo it makes me feel like he just must be crazy. I know that is not the accurate term and that someone with more experience and specialized expertise might be able to diagnose exactly what the issue is but I just can’t get there.

I only wish I had the expertise to discover what frightened him so much so I could fix it, especially when it comes to the doorways. It would make his and our lives much easier and less stressful. All I can think of is Temple Grandin and how she was able to see things from the animal’s perspectives so she could design man-made structures that would help animals be less afraid. I try to see things from Mojo’s perspective, but I just can’t see what he fears. It makes me feel helpless.

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