Well, it seems Kaktus is in heat. But he is a male! I have suspected it all along that he has his own season as Bella used to. Last year he was chemically neutered with Suprelorin in the hope that he wouldn’t have to deal with this stress yet again, but he turned into a very scared and insecure dog. We removed the implant and he slowly returned to his old self, but then he turned in the opposite direction and seemed to have a rush of testosterone storming his body. He acted then as he does now, becoming restless all the time, whining to go outside, whining while outside, obsessing with smells, marking every plant, over reacting to stimuli, having the energy of a dog on speed and commands are forgotten. I end up frustrating him because all the things he wants to do just adds to his stress. The more he obsesses the more he gets lost in his testicles and stress. The difference this time around is that Bella is spayed and there are no other bitches in heat in the area. I doubt that it’s coincidental that it happens now at the same time of year as every other year and the time when the Basenji bitches come into season. He often goes to check if Bella smells interesting, but every time he snuffs in disappointment.
For Bella all this is very challanging. She is of course effected by his behaviour and often uneasy because his social skills are gone. He has no impulse control and doesn’t listen to her when she asks him to please calm down. We interfere so she can relax and know that we will help when she can’t get through to him. It also greatly effects me and Reidar. Walks are a challange and at home everything revolves around getting Kaktus to calm down. I started crying and went in the dark dispair of the basement and stayed there for an hour just hugging the misery and feeling deeply sorry for myself. I really wasn’t prepared to go through this again. It’s painful to see him so frustrated, you quickly feel inadiquate and become just as frustrated as him. I loose confidence in myself as a guardian and I become scared that my lack of guardian skills is harming him.
After hanging out in the darkness of the basement it was time to get it together. We downloaded several books from Dogwise and as usual it helps. We started with Kathy Sdao’s book Plenty in life is free. A brilliant book with much compassion and it gave me an obvious idea. I started focusing on rewarding every behaviour that I liked where Kaktus was calm. He would sit and whine while scratching my leg and I would wait until he sat quietly looking at me, then he would either get my attention, praise and soft gentle voice or he would get a treat. I sat for several hours just rewarding everything calm and giving treats to Bella when Kaktus stressed again. He quickly showed improvement and his stress was a lot less intens. Bella relaxed a lot more and he was less reactive to sounds he heard outside the apartment. Next day both me and Reidar continued and we had gone through how we would do this, so when I left to work on the renovations of the house Reidar would just continue “shaping” Kaktus into a relaxed state of mind. Yesterday he really showed a lot of improvement. He relaxed most of the day. I took him out for his morning walk alone and I went out at 8 in the morning so there wouldn’t be other dogs and not too many smells. I let him go sniff his obsessions and let him be in control of what and where to go. I rewarded every contact with me, every calm behaviour I saw and then we ran! We jogged and jogged, we ran in the fields and then we took a quiet time to just watch the world, walk a little and then we ran. He found tracks to investigate on the field and we just went to see where those took us. Some of them ended in a tasty deer poop and I got to test if his impulse control could work or be rewarded and it worked! I got more and more contact with him and he got more control over his troubled mind. Bella went out with Reidar and she finally had a break from Kaktus.
Today we went out for the morning walks alone. I was going to drive Kaktus to the barn but he had other plans so I let him decide. We had a short but nice walk and once inside it was back to rewarding him for being calm. He tried for a short while to whine very carefully and scratch my leg but then he seemed to remember that there was more rewarding things he could do and asked to be let under his blanket on the floor so he could sleep. I held up his blanket as usual and he got a tasty treat. They both get their usual kibble searches, and kibble in treat dispensers etc, we play with tug toys and we do fun training inside. Kaktus loves it when I ask him to use the furniture as a parkour course. We jump from chair to chair, from the sofa to the book shelf and we do tricks on the sofa table. We do impulse control games and when we are done we focus on calm. I feel so sorry that he gets this every year. He has enough with his allergies and other ailments. The vet thankfully seems confident that she will figure out his physical challenges and he is almost not itching at all. And thank god for easy access to great minds when it comes to behaviour and training.
Here is a video of him from the past days.