Guilt, Isolation, embaressment: these are the main things we feel when living with a reactive dog.
Every day you dread taking your dog for his walk, you only do it because you have to! Walking your dog takes careful planning. You need to avoid busy periods, choosing locations where you have places to move out the way, change direction or even hide behind a large bush or tree should you come across another dog owner. The whole time you are out on the walk you are on high alert dreading that moment when an off lead dog comes happily bounding up to your reactive pooch, and there is no owner in sight! The ritual you need to undergo to take your dog for a walk is stressful. Most walks leave you highly stressed and resenting your dog, you have had thoughts of re-homing them, life used be so much easier before. No one understands, and you've had enough of those stares from other dog owners who judge you.
The stress of living with your reactive dog causes family arguments, in severe cases, it has caused relationship break-ups. Life sucks with a reactive dog.
But you shouldn't feel like this? Are you a terrible owner for even thinking of re-homing or calling them several explicit things during one walk? NO, YOUR HUMAN! And it's ok.
My beloved Rocky suffered from Fear Aggression. The cause of this stemmed from his start in life. He was a 9-month-old rescue when we got him and had had no social experience or training during the core stages of his puppy life. I worked hard with Rocky and done the best I could at the time with the knowledge I had. Knowing what I know today I can see that some of the choices I made could have enhanced the problem and there are so many more things I know and understand about reactivity now that could have possibly helped him more. However, i did what I could at the time with the tools I had. And that is what you are doing now. We can only help our dogs as much as we know. I used to plan walks strategically, fear meeting someone, and what the heck is it (really
trying not to swear) with dog owners allowing their happy pooch to run up to your dog saying "its ok, mines friendly". GREAT! Mine isn't; please get your bloody dog! Apparently, somewhere dog owners have been informed that their happy go lucky dog will cure all reactive dogs by running up to them and forcing interaction. Mmm... I've not seen good results from this, I must say.
Rocky's behaviour would cause arguments between my husband and me. We would argue over how we couldn't take rocky to places we wanted, we would argue about different training or management techniques, we would argue if either one of us had walked him and he had reacted badly. It was constant. Many of my walk with Rocky ended up with me feeling embarrassed, helpless and ashamed. I would cry when I got home from most of my walks with Rocky.
I look back now and realise I should have shouted it from the rooftops that my dog was reactive. Making everyone aware of my reactive dog and not being ashamed of shouting to other owners "please get your dog on a lead, mines reactive". Because that's what it takes to protect your reactive dog. Having worked with many reactive dog owners over the last few years, I have come to find the most crucial part of the dog's rehabilitation is the owner's rehabilitation. Starting with the other end of the lead, empowering owners that they should not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Be empowered by the knowledge that you know you have sought help, your dog is undergoing rehab, and you as his guardian are doing everything you can to protect them which is the basis of your dog's rehabilitation. If that means shouting at people to get their dog on a lead, then you do it!
The worst thing you can do is suffer in silence and continue to keep coming up with creative excuses to another dog owner as to why your dog has behaved the way it has. Reactive dogs are not a lost cause, and a reactive dog is not necessarily a bad dog. Take my Rocky, for example, he was a fantastic family dog, and you could do anything with him, he just didn't like other dogs, but hey, do you like every human?
My clients fully benefit from the support and knowledge they gain from my long term behaviour therapy packages. The rehabilitation for our reactive dog is a long and constant road, but life can be better.
If you have read this and would like to know more about how I can help you and your reactive dog then get in touch.
I look forward to helping you and your pooch.
Thanks for reading,
Gemma O'Leary BSc ABW