Living with a dog reactive dog

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Anyone who knows me has heard several if not hundreds of stories about Sunny. Sunny is my warm hearted, kind and gentle pitty mix. Sunny came to us with serious fear challenges. It took near a year for him to slowly come out of his shell. As he gained more confidence in his everyday life we began to see how truly uncomfortable he was when approached by other dogs while on leash. He felt so trapped that he resorted to snapping at other dogs, which in hindsight is my fault for putting him in such compromising situations.

What is a dog reactive dog you ask? Reactivity is a normal trait in dogs, in fact a lot of breeds were bred for their reactive nature specifically. A dog reacts to normal stimulus like it should, noticing other dogs, people, squirrels and so on. When I say reactive I mean “over reactive”. Giving too much attention to other dogs, people and squirrels. In Sunny’s case he was over reacting to other dogs, while on leash mainly.

At first I was so mad at other dog owners for not giving us the space we needed to be successful. After lots of frustration on walks I began to check myself. It’s not any other dog owner’s fault that Sunny doesn’t like other dogs right in his face. While I feel over all society could really improve in its awareness of other dogs while on leash, all that I can control is myself and Sunny. So our journey began. I needed to teach Sunny that instead of feeling frustrated, over whelmed, and nervous around other dogs, he could feel good and relaxed about seeing other dogs on leash. Greeting dogs on leash was not a priority. All I wanted was to be able to do is walk by another dog, on leash, on the same side of the street and not have Sunny lunge, bark, growl or try and nip at the other dog. So we started with leash manners.

I had to teach him how to walk nicely on a leash and then tackle his insecurity around other dogs. We worked on walking nicely on a leash in lots of easy places. The backyard, the drive way, streets at off hours. Once we got good in easy situations we started walking during more peak hours, but not on the same side of the street as other dogs. Before my heart would sink when we saw another dog. “Oh god, here we go again.” Now I was viewing every dog we saw on walks as an awesome training opportunity. We worked up to walking during busy hours, and then slowly but surely walking on the same side of the street. It was not a quick process we worked over a year on it and we are always maintaining.

We still have struggles but they never seem so bad because I love Sunny for who he is, even if sometimes it’s a little awkward when your pitty mix is growling at a friendly puppy. Sunny is entitled to space, and respect. Some dog owner’s let there out of control dogs jump and harass dogs who are too nice to say anything about it. Sunny is not a dog who will stand for over the top or rude behavior from any dog and I have to say I respect that.

I never would have imagined 7 years ago how far Sunny would come. We compete in dog agility which is an off leash sports with a wealth of fired up barking dogs as distractions. Sunny is so calm at competitions, a dog can bark at him and he calmly checks in with me to see what he should do. The feeling I get when he looks to me for guidance is close to the most joy I have ever felt. It’s not to say that Sunny is good with every single dog but what dog is. I am the trainer I am today because of Sunny and for that I will always be eternally grateful. Our possibilities are endless and I can’t wait for the future! I hope this inspires you to spend more time teaching your dog what you do want instead of focusing on what you don’t want.

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