GUEST POST by Cleodhna Nightshade, PhD
The Batzoid – it usually starts with a super-exaggerated play-bow where he’ll THWAM himself down, ears back, with a weird expression on his face … he lunges and grabs. Maybe some dark part of his brain is recapitulating hunting bears in northern Japan …
I fell in love with Taji on the Internet. He was called Kai at the time. He was 18 months old, and we were not in a position to adopt him– we were to head off to France in 2 months, and it takes 7 months to get the rabies jags and pet passport sorted.
We had already been hideously disappointed when another dog– also called Kai– who we wanted to adopt was abruptly put to sleep by the shelter where he was staying without informing the rescue society.
This all came very close on the heels of my mother in law’s unexpected death and then my previous dog, Laszlo‘s, soon after. It left a huge hole on our lives.
Taji (Kai) was staying at a kennel in Bellshill, and I could visit him, so with the permission of the kennel staff and the Friends of Akitas Trust UK I started going out to give him a walk and some time.
The kennels were surrounded by lovely wooded walks. Taji loved every minute of it. I couldn’t for the life of me discern why he should have been adopted and handed back in not once but three times, with the complaint of ‘too boisterous’.
He never seemed too boisterous to me: just an inquisitive young dog who hadn’t been out enough exploring and sniffing everything.
He did have some strange behaviours. He loved to stick his head down drains. He also had an obsession with Buckfast bottles he’d find on walks – especially if he found one with any of the cheap, fortified, tonic wine still in it. He once picked up a huge piece of broken Bucky bottle, then chewed it up and swallowed it, to my horror.
The wonderful kennel manager met me at the step, vet already consulted. Taji was fine, if a bit confused as to why we were making such a fuss.
He still has a weird thing about beer or wine– if you leave a glass on the coffee table, he will drink it. He won’t knock it over. He’s very delicate, though he does splat a bit.
We went to France and I continued to stalk Taji on the internet.
At one point someone else was ready to take him, and I gave him all my blessings– as much as he was loved at the kennels they did not have the time for him and after 6 months in kennels and three failed homes he needed someone, but the guy decided he was ours.
We brought him home the week we returned to Scotland. He was magnificent. Good in the car, good at the vet’s, an instant friend to our two dogs, Habibi and Berkeley, whom he’d already met on walks in Bellshill.
We got a message that it was soon to be the birthday of one of his carers at the kennels, one who had particularly loved him. We went out to see her, walked him around all his old haunts, and then– importantly– took him home again.
I look back on this now and I realise that all this time Taji never really looked at me.
Anyway. We took him home, and he settled in wonderfully. Good with Berkeley and Bibi, good on walks, good in the car, good at the vet’s, good with games.
We had been warned by the kennel staff that he did not like collars– apparently after his second adoption, he could not stand to wear one, and I suspect someone has done something awful to him with a collar at some point.
This is not viable in a dog who travels so I did some gentle introduction with him. He now wears one no problem. He does not like to be handled by it – this will take more work, but he will let me, so I think it’s all possible.
Anyway. The Batzoid.
When I first was walking Taji at Bellshill, he would occasionally fly into these frenzies where he would pitch around, dash blindly, flip himself over on his harness – I was sure he would hurt himself. I put it down to puppyishness and having been confined all day. It got worse, and I started to understand what ‘too boisterous’ meant.
He had these episodes where he would jump at me and gnaw my hands and arms. He was completely uncontrollable. If I managed to get him down, he’d go for my knees and ankles. He’d sometimes go for my face. Sometimes he obliged me to drag him home, he was so recalcitrant.
Taji is not a small dog and I am not a big person: this was pretty scary. I was black and blue all over. He broke skin several times and I didn’t dare walk him without a coat to protect me from teeth. He’d dash about like a mad thing, trip himself up, and injure himself. He could get loose. It was dangerous.
And then, as if nothing had ever happened, he’d be perfectly sweet again.
I had no idea how to process this weird behaviour. Was it dominance aggression? Was he just awful? Fortunately I had a lot of support and help from Friends of Akitas Trust members and lots of other people on dog forums. It took me a while to work through it, but I am almost certain that it is a play behaviour, taught by some idiot. Possibly the same one who taught him to like Buckfast. Wrestling with a little, fat puppy is cute. Scale that puppy up… and you see what happens. Three owners, and seven months in kennels, for a dog under two years old. It is shameful.
He’ll still initiate this Batzoiding but now we understand what it is, we can stop it as soon as it starts. Just turn your back. Make no sound or eye contact. Make it clear that the game is refused, and he will get it. Sometimes Taji does need a half minute of sitting still, and it is remarkable how Habibi and Berkeley have both adapted to it: they just get out of the way and go quiet, and listen to me if I tell them something. They know.
Taji is a sweet dog who has been saved by his inherent loveliness. Bad training almost ruined him. It is to his credit, dear boy, that he turned around. We just had to have a few month’s patience, put up with a few bruises… but not everybody has that, I know.