Dog trains man

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It Could Have Been My Dog

Once you had a reactive dog, you'll never see things the same.

I can see around corners, have a set of eyes in my back, and are constantly on my toes. Ready to step in front of my dog at any moment. I rent a holiday-place as isolated as possible, avoid other dogs, and scout the paths I want to hike for escape routes. The best moment of a walk is when we made it home safe and nothing bad happened. I am misunderstood, get blamed, and called names, and couldn't care less about it.

It took a while for me to realize after Viva passed away, some of the changes we made in our routines and habits, were not necessary anymore. Simple things mostly, like it wasn't necessary anymore with only Kenzo to cross the street when a - calm - dog approached, or basically, avoid a street in the first place. But old habits die hard, and there are many of them.

After Tilde joined the family we took her for strolls through shopping streets and drank cold beverages in outdoor establishments to test her social skills. She passed with flying colors. Obviously there is no more need to act like a reactive dog parent.

Now what?

It is remarkable how our own behavior has gotten so hardwired. A long time ago, we changed them in the blink of an eye, for Viva. Now, we find it hard to return to our former state. I never expected it to be that difficult, but I guess, it feels a lot like letting your guard down and give away some control - the ultimate fail for a reactive dog parent - is what is holding me back.

But that filter through which I see things will never leave. And while we were strolling the shopping streets and crashing the ice-cream stand I noticed that terrified King Charles Cavalier, that panicked over each dog that passed her, despite the owner's attempts to caress her into feeling safe.

Everybody noticed, but didn't know, or didn't care, what was going on with that poor soul. I was the only one that crossed the street for her, to pass by.

And then there was the retriever we met on our way out of the shopping area through an empty side-street, that froze at the sight of Kenzo and Tilde. As his owner tried to pull him passed us with the leash, I knew it was up to me to solve it, and walked back, where we could step aside to give him the space he needed to pass. They slipped around the corner, into the shopping street and out of sight, when just seconds later a dog skirmish broke out judging the angry growls and barks of two dogs.

Saddest part of it was probably, these people didn't know they had a fearful dog at all, or were at a loss of what to do about it. I remember very well how that felt like, too. "It could have been my dog" is all I can say to them in support, while we pass by.



  1. So right! I wonder about this with any future dogs ... whether I'll constantly scan the environment and use my body to block other dogs (out of instinct).

    1. It feels like a 6th sense that always will be there, and I don't think it will disappear anytime soon indeed!

  2. I can so relate to this post.

    My first 3 dogs were reactive. Now with Honey the socialized super dog, I don't have to be as vigilant. But, as you pointed out, the high state of awareness of my surroundings has helped me recognize other dogs and people that need me to give them space.

    I remember how frustrating it was when someone walking a dog toward me could clearly see that my dogs were agitated and I was having trouble keeping them calm but they insisted on passing right by us on a narrow city sidewalk.

    Now that memory reminds me to move to the other side of the street or step behind a parked car to give a stressed dog and his person the room they need to cope.

    I know you'll keep the kindness that results from your vigilance with Viva while letting go of the stress that accompanied it.

    1. A good reminder to let go of the stress. We are not there yet, but I do start catching myself questioning what it was I worried about after we passed the yet another dog uneventful. Time will heal this I am sure.

  3. I loved this! I can so relate. I'm glad that you are still scanning and have empathy for other dog owners who have reactive dogs. When I walk a dog that has no issues, I still have the reactions you did in this post... it's hard to break the habits, but such a relief not to have to always be on guard.

    1. It suprised me too how hardwired it has become. I wish I could do more for other dog owners who have reactive dogs, but it is difficult to approach them for obvious reasons. Hopefully we can make a real difference for one of them one day.


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