My dog is aggressive - say it loud and proud!
What? Is she mad? Admit that my dog is aggressive, and let everyone know about it!
Bear with me and read further. I have not gone mad, and there is a relevant and important theory behind my suggestion. There are a huge number of dog owners out there who are feeling isolated. The reason being that they have a reactive dog. This makes it hard for them to walk their dog, and therefore makes the whole prospect of taking their dog for a walk a stressful and embarrassing one. The owners of these dogs tend to find locations where they are less likely to come across another dog and owner to avoid the stress and embarrassment.
Due to the embarrassment and stress, an incident can have on an owner has created us to try and hide, cover up, and play down our dog's behaviour. I feel the reason owners of reactive dogs do this is because there is so much pressure on us as dog owners to have the well behaved perfect pooch, which will adapt to any situation and encounter. However, this is extremely unrealistic. That peer pressure has made the whole subject of admitting you have a reactive and therefore possibly aggressive dog a taboo subject.
Let me play out a scenario for you. Owner one has a Labrador aged 7 years. He has always been happy to stay close to his owner's side even whilst in the woods for a walk and does not stray far from her. He is not phased by other dogs and carries on about his business as if they are not there. The owner has lovely relaxing walks with this dog and has never had any "bad" behaviours which she has had to work hard to eradicate or get under control.
Owner two has a 3-year-old mixed terrier, which has always been a live wire. The owner has attended many training classes but still finds the dog difficult to train. They attended puppy and socialisation classes, know the dog's history very well and have dedicated a lot of time to him in order to make life easier. However, this dog has amongst all of its behaviour traits, one which makes the owners feel isolated. He is nervous of dogs bigger than himself. In order to cope with this, he lets out a very high pitched bark and lunges at the end of the lead until the threat has gone.
These two owners and dogs meet one morning. Owner one with the lab is in a world of her own enjoying the pleasantries a woodland walk has to offer.
Owner two with the terrier mix has spotted Labrador and owner in distance and instantly becomes anxious, with lots of thoughts running through her head, 'how is this going to go? will this owner look at me funny? will they comment on my dog's behaviour?'
Now the terrier has spotted the dog and starts to react. Owner one is still approaching despite the terrier clearly being uncomfortable. Owner of the terrier is now completely in melt-down and is fighting to get the dog to the side and out of the way of the oncoming Labrador and owner. The Labrador owner looks at the terrier owner and says 'Oh dear, what a noise!'.
Owner with lab continues to walk by. Even after Labrador has disappeared from view, owner two is still trying to calm her reactive terrier who is still barking and strangling himself at the end of the lead. Mixed in with this she now has the overwhelming feeling of isolation and the fact that she has just been judged as a dog owner. That little comment and even the look itself from the other owner has made the terrier's owner feel extremely bad and isolated.
Next time the terrier owner is out and a similar scenario takes place, she jumps in with a statement in order to make herself feel better and to hopefully avoid judgement. The comment resembles something like this "it's ok, he's just very excited".
Deep down she knows this is not true, and she is still being judged by the other owner despite her attempt to avoid this. So now she not only has the horrible feeling of being judged, but also the feeling of guilt for covering up her dog's behaviour.
The scenario played out above could have gone a lot better. And despite misconceptions, and previous thoughts, the owner of the reactive dog can be made to feel much better by her own actions. she needs to do the following:
1) Admit to herself that she has a reactive dog-and accept it. Dogs can be reactive for many different reasons, it is not necessarily something the owner has or hasn't done which has caused this.
2) Acquire the help of a professional behaviourist-who can explain to her why her dog is reactive, and work alongside her, supporting her in training and rehabilitation of the dog.
3)Let others know- her dog is not comfy with them in close range. Don't be scared of asking approaching dog owner to put their dog on a lead and to give you space because you have a reactive dog, which is undergoing training. Most dog owners appreciate the heads-up and instead of judging you applaud you for admitting your dog has an issue and that you are a dedicated owner willing to work on getting it under control.
4) Feel better - now you have help and support, and are not afraid to admit your dog has a problem which you are now in control of. Get rid of all those previous thoughts. Unfortunately yes there will still be the odd owner who judges, however you can hold your head up high, knowing that you are doing the best you can to help your dog. You are not alone.
Dogs can be reactive for an array of reason. Let's all support each other and help those who are struggling with a reactive dog. You never know, one day it might be you with the reactive dog.