To Anyone That’s Had a Bad Day With Their Reactive Dog
Laika is reactive, yet I don’t write about it much.
It’s partly because in the back of my mind I’m worried about adding to the stigma that surrounds shelter dogs. I realize it should be a non issue. I’m pretty sure that anyone who reads this blog knows that dogs are dogs, regardless of where they came from.
But mostly I don’t write about it because managing Laika’s reactivity is an ongoing process. There’s nothing quick or easy about it. Other issues? No problem. She doesn’t resource guard anymore (99% of the time at least), yet when it comes to reactivity we still have a lot of ups and downs.
Training a reactive dog is not simple, and there is no magic cure. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with when it comes to Laika. It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with when it comes to any of my dogs, period. What works one week can spell disaster the next.
I’m not discouraged by Laika’s progress, but I am discouraged to write about it. But maybe I shouldn’t be. When I read about other people’s reactive dogs I feel a bit better, and maybe my own tales could do the same for others. The articles I link to at the end of this post are some of my favorite dog articles of all time, and the one thing they all have in common is that they’re all brutally honest about reactivity.
I enjoy writing about solution and/or fact based stuff (or at least things that have worked consistently), but when it comes to reactivity I can’t say I have either. So while I don’t have straight up advice to offer I do have a few words of encouragement. The next time you have a bad day with your reactive dog keep these three things in mind.
You Can’t Control Everything
When you have a reactive dog you live in a smaller world. You walk at certain times, you go to the same places over & over that you’ve deemed ‘safe,’ and you do your best to control your dogs environment at all times. You do your best to keep your dog calm, but sometimes shit happens.
You can’t control everything. You can’t control dumb ass dog owners (DADOs as they’re commonly referred to by one of my favorite bloggers) that have their dogs off leash, and you can’t control all the crap you’re going to run into on your daily walk or trip to the park.
Although you try your best to keep your dog in their comfort zone shit is going to happen. Don’t blame yourself. We can’t control everything, and when it comes to other people being stupid it’s not your fault. We don’t have the luxury of being oblivious to our surroundings, but many people do.
When your dog reacts to something you didn’t plan for try not to get too discouraged. It’s tough I know, but bad stuff is going to happen no matter how much you plan ahead. The little world you’ve created for you & your dog will never be fully impenetrable.
Don’t Compare Your Dog to Other Dogs
My previous dog Carter was the least reactive dog in the world. When meeting a new dog he didn’t have a care in the world. He pretty much ignored them. He was cordial I suppose, but it seemed as if he just turned up his nose at every dog he met. Laika on the other hand, well she doesn’t even posess 1% of Carter’s calm nature when meeting other dogs.
So when I got Laika and started seeing what reactivity was all about I was in complete shock. I’d never dealt with anything like that before. What in the world is this crap? A dog that doesn’t know how to greet others? A dog that lunges towards everything that moves? A dog that barks at every single dog we pass?
I realized pretty quickly that she was nothing like Carter (or any other dog I’ve had). I had to stop comparing Laika to Carter, and I had to stop wondering why she couldn’t just snap out of it and be more easygoing. I had to deal with the issues at hand, and manage the dog in front of me.
I still need to remind myself that not all dogs are the same, not even the reactive ones. What sets one dog off is not the same for another, and those reactions vary. I’ve read a few stories of dogs overcoming their reactivity, but those aren’t the stories I relate to. I relate to the stories about the struggles, guilt & frustration of owning a reactive dog.
My dog probably won’t get to go to the dog park, compete in a sport, or have a puppy party; and I’ve come to accept that.
I celebrate our accomplishments, even if they’re “small.” Laika can now walk by bicycles without a problem, and I’m thrilled. Small dogs, well those are still a problem, but we’re working on it.
She doesn’t seem to mind horses that much anymore, but the donkey down the street? Well he’s still a problem. She’s doing well around the neighbors ducks; the chickens are another story.
Each dog is an individual, and their progress will vary. While some owners seem to have found a ‘cure’ for their dogs reactivity that’s not the case for us. I’ve come to accept that for Laika’s reactivity will require life-long management. I’m committed to her, and I’ll do everything in my power to keep her comfortable, safe and happy. We’ll continue to make progress, and rather than hoping for a magic cure we’re going to keep chugging along at our own pace.
You Are Not Alone
Managing a reactive dog can be a lonely place. Avoiding the park, walking at 4am, having to walk away in the middle of a conversation because you see another dog approaching in the distance. It’s an isolating feeling, and it’s easy to get jealous when everyone else looks so carefree.
You see everyone else having fun at the park, enjoying their afternoon walk & engaging in long conversations with neighbors as their dogs hang out. But you? Well you’re at home trying to keep your dog busy indoors while preparing for your 11pm walk.
It’s normal to feel isolated when you have to micro-manage your environment. Having to prepare that much for every excursion with your dog is exhausting and stressful.
But trust me on this – you are not alone. There are a lot of reactive dog owners out there – you just don’t see them because rather than walking at 4 in the afternoon like most dog owners they’re out there walking at 4 in the morning like me.
Recommended Reading for All Reactive Dog Owners
If you have a reactive dog I highly recommend checking out these awesome articles (or bookmark them for later, seriously you need to read them). They’ll help reinforce the fact that you are certainly not alone when it comes to your reactive dog.
- Five Phases of Reactive Dog Ownership
- Why Managing & Training Your Reactive Dog is so Important
- Reactivity is Not a Four Letter Word
- How to Live With a Reactive Dog & Not Lose Your Shit: An (Im)practical Guide
- Confessions of a Dog Trainer: I Have a Reactive Dog
- Reactivity is a Spectrum
Lauren Miller says
Thank you for sharing your story! It definitely sucks blogging about reactivity but I do it because I want people to feel less alone. Having a reactive dog can be so isolating.
Just so you know, if you’re are interested in competing in sports nosework and treibball are both set up for reactive dogs. I have several friends with reactive dogs who compete very successfully in nosework. <3
Jen Gabbard says
The feeling of isolation is the worst, I agree.
I really should look into sports nosework, I think Laika would love stepping up her game from just finding carrots in the living room 🙂
I just wanted to say, first, THANK YOU. I am still recovering from a really bad “bad day” walk (in which my reactive PyreDane met his nemesis, and the only one who suffered was me (several bites — ow). We haven’t had a bad walk like this in a long, long time, and I am trying not to feel utterly alone, and like I have utterly failed. Our big reactive boy is normally just a moosh, and many people comment on what a big sweet boy he is — and then, he’ll see the couple of dogs who trigger him and, like other people have said, Cujo. Just straight up Cujo.
I felt utterly alone until I found this blog — so thank you thank you thank you.
Also think I have to look into nosework.
Myra Dougherty says
Thank you! Someone who understands!
My last GSD was wonderful. This one oh lordy! I used to take her everywhere. I feel so bad because he dows not get to go out and enjoy being a dog. Weve had numerous trainers. The most recent he almost puuled the guy down. 400.00 and I never called them back because i was afraid of the guy getting hurt or letting go of the leash. Help!
I have a reactive dog, too, but I rarely blog about reactivity anymore because we have made so much progress that there’s not much new to report. She’s definitely not “cured” (and I don’t think that she can be) and can only be off-leash with three other dogs, but I’ve learned how to manage it enough that we rarely have new challenges. Occasionally, new things pop up–we’re getting ready to start training related to the neighbor’s dogs on the other side of the fence–but mostly now we’re at the point where we can celebrate successes: nobody ended up in her mouth in agility class, she didn’t snap at the bike that came a little too close, she sat calmly while I chatted (aka yelled) with a neighbor and her dog who were on the other side of the road.
Even though you can’t control everything, I’m a firm believer that you can have a plan for how to handle everything and that reduces the instances of problems–every time we leave the house, I have a clear plan for what we’ll do if we see an off-leash dog, what we’ll do if we see an on-leash dog, what we’ll do if a kid starts coming our way, what we’ll do if an agility classmate zones out and comes a little too close with their dog. Then we have backup plans for what to do when the original plans fail (or when more than one trigger appears at the same time). Having a plan reduces my anxiety about not being able to control everything and that makes Barley more relaxed.
I’m glad to hear that Laika’s making progress! It sounds like you’re doing great work together.
Jen Gabbard says
I’m glad to hear about your progress. I don’t like to use the word cure when it comes to resource guarding either, because if I slack off for a bit with training it can start to pop up again.
The planning I agree with completely. It’s ridiculous the amount of energy I spend before I even leave the house sometimes, trying to think of everything and have stuff on hand just in case. And yes, when we’re less anxious it does seem to have a real positive effect on our dogs as well.
This made me cry. I’ve had so many issues and have always thought it was my fault and feel very alone in this endeavor. Thank you for posting this. I now know I’m not the crazy one. -Tanya
Jen Gabbard says
You are definitely not alone, and I highly suggest checking out those links at the end of the article; they’re all very well written and honest. They’ve made me feel much better about my own progress – the good and the bad. It’s an ongoing process, and knowing that others are going through it as well gives me comfort.
This also made me cry! Today was a really bad day for Blu and I sat here not really understanding what’s going on with her, but this post was so reassuring and comforting. Thank you so much
I have cried so many times over my girls reactivity to strangers and this morning was no different. Our 5 am pee turned into my girl looking like she wanted to KILL our neighbour who happened to be out at the same time. It’s sooo hard only because I feel like other people judge and deem her a BAD dog and me a stupid dog owner.
Thank you for sharing your experience about it, it helps so much <3
I feel the same way. I only just found this blog today, and I feel a little less alone, and a little less stressed out — knowing that other people share our experience. With you in spirit!
Hi ,You are not alone .I’m feeling exactly like you do .We have uk be strong !
Kimberly Morris Gauthier says
This is a great post. I’m raising an reactive dog and his shadow. One thing that helped me was to start following my own gut instead of allowing other well meaning people to make me feel ashamed of not doing a good job with my dog.
I created a training plan that worked great for me, Rodrigo, and his shadow (aka Zoey). It was amazing how quickly things turned around. Rodrigo will always be reactive; this is who he is, but I feel more confident with him. And I don’t put him in situations that will spark his reactivity (i.e. walking on popular biking trails).
Thank you for this post.
Jodi Jarvis-Therrian says
Great article!! I will share. Thank you for writing this . We too have come so far and bonded so much in the process.But a great tool for crowded areas and DADO ( I love your phrase ) is a cheap tool I found on etsy that snaps to the dogs leash … It is bright yellow and says I NEED SPACE. Doggie kisses for this article.
Rebekah Cyphus says
I have a harness that has velcro labels and it says nervous stay back in luminous colours. It is hard I have anxiety and walking my reactive dog makes me panic. This is reassuring that me and my sister are not alone
Riya Roberts says
This is my problem as well , I have anxiety as well and I was having panic attacks about just honking about taking my reactive dog out , not that my husband and I have started a new game plan as we as new tools. Things have got better but neither my anxiety and or my dogs reactivness will ever go away fully!
Jay C says
“My dog probably won’t get to go to the dog park, compete in a sport, or have a puppy party; and I’ve come to accept that.”
Exactly how I feel about my reactive dog who just decided at 6/7 months that every unknown dog was his worst enemy, and started chasing them aggressively and pining them down with a mouth on their ear. No physical damage done, but I’ve had dog owners screaming at me and trying to hit my dog.
Fast forward a year and we’ve stopped going to parks and social doggy events, and work everyday on his impulse control. We do U-turns when we see dogs pulling their leash down the aisle to get to us, and the owner goes, ‘Don’t worry. My dog’s friendly’. They don’t get it.
But you and the other commenters here do. Thanks for sharing!
Jen Gabbard says
Thank you for sharing. It’s still a struggle, but it is comforting to know that I’m not alone in this. There are a lot of people like us out there.
Theresa Kuipers says
DADOs! I hate that phrase “Don’t worry my dog is friendly.” For one thing you can never trust that one day your friendly dog may not be so friendly, because they meet one they don’t like. People just look at you like … well their dog is friendly so my dog shouldn’t be scared. I had one who keep repeating it, like I did not understand english. It is a lonely small world for us! That makes me cry,
Thank you so much for sharing this! I am the dog mom to a very sweet Boxer/Pit rescue who is absolutely terrified of other dogs, which leads to a lot of leash reactivity. It breaks my heart every time she has a stress reaction and another dog owner gives us “the pit bull look”. Living in a big city, it is extremely challenging to control the environment around us during our walks. Every day is so different. It is great to know we are not alone. And love the reference to DADO, it can be so frustrating dealing with them and their lack of sensitivity towards our scared girl.
Although our dog will never be social or be able to come to dog-friendly events in the city with us, we are very determined to work with her to make her more comfortable on walks and help her be the best/happiest dog she can be. It is a never ending process, but I have found that we have built a really special bond with her through it.
Jen Gabbard says
Thanks so much, and your determination to work with her is the perfect attitude to have.
I thank you for posting this, this makes me cry because I often think that he would be better maybe in another home with others owners. He is so sweet but when we go out it’s a different story and I felt so lonely thinking that I was the only one, me too, I feel jealous walking by the dog park seeing everybody having fun and thinking that maybe we wouldn’t be able to do that ever, but like you said we don’t have to compare with others it’s a different story for everyone. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your insight!!! Sometimes you need others to show you how your dog has become less reactive and more comfortable in the world. Thanks to blogs like yours, i team up with the veterinarians that care for my reactive dog to help her have less stress and more success with her medical care. In addition, I’ve learned to advocate for my dog in the world of dog walking, which can anticipate that dogs enjoy companionship with other dogs.
Thank you so much for this! We rescued our retrieve X about 8 months ago and noticed very quickly he was reactive on leash. We spent so much money on a trainer that ended up being useless and decided to take measures into our own hands. Working with a friend and her very calm border collie both on and off leash we have found huge improvements… To the point where we could take our dog to an off leash sports field where he may meet a few dogs and does very well. This week while walking him we came across a German that barked at him… I decided to create some space as I know barking is a cute that my dog will not do well with. Unfortanely my gentle leader broke when he pulled and he ran across the street towards the other dog and starting fighting. I quickly pulled him off, got him home and just cried while telling my partner the story. I was so embarrassed as I thought we had come so far. Your article reminded me that I’m not alone in this as I often feel and that this was an unfortunate experience that was out of my control. Overall I should be proud of our improvements in such a difficult area of training with dogs. Thankfully no one was hurt, I bought a new very strong harness that will not break and will continue to work with our dog in making him more comfortable on walks.
Thank you for sharing ❤️
Jen Gabbard says
So glad your friend has a dog that can help — that does make a huge difference. And I’m glad to hear about all the progress you’re making; it sounds like your dog is in excellent hands 🙂 Thank you for sharing.
Jen, Thank you a thousand times for writing this post. I want to give you a hug and by you coffee. 2.5 months ago we adopted a reactive dog. When we adopted her, we were told she loves dogs, cats, and humans. We quickly learned that this was not the complete picture. She has MANY behavorial issues. MANY. One of which, is leash reactivity. When we put her on a leash the day after she came into our lives, and started walking her around the neighborhood … my husband and I were BLOWN AWAY. She turned into a blood-thirsty cujo at the other end of the leash. Anytime another dog walked by it was like WWII guns and ammo were drawn. I had never known of or experienced leash reactivity. We have another, resident dog, who is the politest, sweetest little guy. So the leash reactivity we had witnessed catapulted my world into a new reality. My stomach fell to the ground and I wanted to drop the leash and run away from her as fast as I could. Since that first day, we have hired a private trainer to help us work with her. I have quit my job so I can walk her during quiet times of the day and tend to her other behavioral issues. We also walk the pre-dawn hours (though she is also afraid of the dark, so we have that to contend with). We know there is no cure for her reactivity. I have cried many, many times, argued with my husband, and lost my appetite for food and for life. I have gotten angry at the world. She is only 8-months old; when I think of the next 15 – 17 years of our life with her, I feel hopeless, exhausted, angry, sad. But she has come to trust us. I can see it in her eyes. I can see some confidence growing in her on our walks. How can I abandon her? It will be a very long, painful road for us. Everyday I feel alone and isolated. But your post has helped me. For today. Thank you.
Jen Gabbard says
Thank you so much for your comment. The only reason I don’t feel so isolated when it comes to Laika’s reactivity is this blog; I’ve gotten so many comments from people telling me they’re dealing with similar situations. If it weren’t for comments like yours I’d have no clue that so many of us are going through the same thing — so thank you for sharing. It’s not great that we’re all struggling with it, but it is nice to know we’re not alone.
Thanks for reply Jen! Have you ever thought of giving Laika Canine Cannabis, Prozac or Xanax? I am thinking about it, but am really hesitant. There are so many pros, but so many cons with each.
Also, do you or have you used a clicker when you work with Laika on dog-dog reactivity? I am reading the book “Click to Calm” by Emma Parsons, she recommends clicker training. I employ the word “yes”. But the Parsons book, and some other web leads I’ve read cite that use of the clicker is scientifically proven to be a better motivator for dogs that verbal cues. Any thoughts on that from your experience with Laika?
PS. Argh. I wrote in my first comment I wanted to “by” you a cup of coffee. That’s me on exhaustion from managing my reactive dog, Joanie. Brain is out the window. Hahaha. Laughing and crying at the same time.
Amy Trethewey says
This sounds so familiar. I lost my old (17.5 yrs) love of my life in Dec. She was a very, very, very reactive American Eskimo. She was the love of my life, and we have an amazing relationship, but we avoided public places, drivethrus, visitors to the house for all of our 10.5 years together. It was isolating, and I felt like she missed out on so much. 3 weeks after I had to put my dear Shaynie down, I adopted Tillie. She’s 3-4 yrs old and an English Setter/lab/golden/boxer mix. Like you, I was told that she was great with dogs and people. Well, she’s amazing with people, and horrible with dogs. I had imagined taking her to concerts in the park, running on the lakewalk, giving her all of the amazing experiences that Shaynie coudn’t have. I’m not giving up. She’s young, and I have confidence that we can make some progress. But, it does stink.
I am so happy I’ve found your blog. My reactive border collie turned 2 yesterday and we’ve had him since he was 7 months old. He’s a wonderful, perfect dog as long as he doesn’t have to deal with dogs, people or cars. I’ve been working with a reactive dog specialist for a year and it has helped tremendously but I’m coming to believe that he will never overcome these triggers completely. Every morning we wait in our driveway for the neighbor to return from her dog walk and I give treats as they pass. Works ok and we have moved closer to the end of the driveway over 4 months. We do traffic training at the intersection as it’s perfect unless a car turns down our street then he turns into a monster growling, lunging, barking and pulling. Same with people. As long as all triggers are at least 40 feet away everything is alright. No one comes to the house and most people don’t walk their dog to the end of the street where I live. My street has 20 houses and 17 dogs. I have almost given up going down the street to walk him. I go to the golf course where I have to worry about maintenance carts and dogs but it’s easier than the street. It’s been exhausting but he’s such a wonderful dog otherwise. People have told me to put him down, give him to a shelter, etc. They all have opinions. The sad thing is that no one can see how great he is; they just see this mad dog. He learns quickly and can do all kinds of tricks. I love him dearly but have been in tears many times. Thanks for letting me vent.
Lost puppet owner says
Thank you for you comment. I have a border collie/lab mix that has the same triggers. It helps that I’m not alone. We live in an apartment complex and the comments of our neighbors are heartbreaking. He is a wonderful dog to those he loves. We have tried everything. He has gotten better but if someone enters his territory he loses it or if someone delivers a package the same. We have signs on our door saying we have a reactive dog and not to knock or ring the bell. We get made fun of by neighbors who see the signs. I just want to cry.
I began fostering a reactive dog a little over a week ago. I’m more than a little annoyed at the rescue since they claimed he was good with adults and kids and only had some issues with male dogs. That’s not my experience at all. He lunged at my roommate’s mom when she tried to pet him, so we let him settle in and then tried with a couple who’s fostered before. After a solid 5 minutes of barking and us ignoring he finally calmed down to where they could come into the kitchen and pet him and give him treats. We thought being outside would be better, so when someone wanted to see about adopting him today, we met outside. Again, lunging when being petted the first time. Didn’t bite, but jumped directly toward her face/neck. Calmed down after a bit but I just don’t know. He’s starting reactivity training but after this blog I’m not as optimistic as I was. But he was the same way with the cats and got over that in less than a week with lots of treats and a slow introduction.
Anyway, long story I’m just depressed b/c he’s otherwise a very sweet dog once he’s used to someone and he deserves a forever home. In a lot of ways it just seems like over-excitement (except the lunging). And it makes me sad b/c I think (though don’t know for sure) that he probably spent the first 3 years of his life crated, with little interaction with people or other dogs.
Jen Gabbard says
It sounds like you’re doing absolutely everything right with your foster dog, and I don’t doubt that things will continue to improve with him. I didn’t mean to be discouraging, I just wanted to point out that you’ll have bad days/experiences when dealing with reactivity. I see so many people just blame themselves for those bad days and get completely discouraged, and it’s a feeling I know all to well. What helped for me was realizing that there are a lot of things that we can’t control (such as coming across an off leash dog while on a walk), and as such things aren’t going to go perfectly every single day. That’s what helps keep me going with Laika’s training. You’re doing a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that with continued training your foster dog will continue to improve.
Hello, I have a small terrier mix who is leash reactive. In the year I have owned her she has improved, and the biggest step made was when I joined a weekly walking group that a local trainer hosts for reactive dogs. The walk is free and we meet in a different park each week. We walk together, as a group, and it’s amazing how the dogs will settle down when they walk together in the same direction. The walk is almost a march, to keep the attention forward! At the end we space out in a line and one at a time practise weaving around each other. Over the months I’ve taken my girl she has improved so much and it’s also a chance to solicialize with others who are in the same boat. Hopefully the idea of a weekly pack walk will spread to where some of the other readers live too!
Jen Gabbard says
I love that idea, and I think that trainer is great for holding those walks.
C Pennisson says
Thank you for sharing this! I am someone who also relates and so happy I am not alone. I have a reactive great dane mix and I used to be so scared to go outside with mine. We didn’t walk. I took him out to potty as fast as I could to avoid reactive events.
I had him really training with a trainer for about two weeks on leash walking and other basic commands. He was doing great with the trainer and a week that I worked with him. I am still learning myself what I can do and unfortunately had a huge setback this week. He wanted to react to every dog we saw but I tried and stuck to my commands. We had one situation completely out of my control due to another dog breaking free of his collar and making a bee-line straight for us unfortunately. Everything that I have learned, I was told I did correct in the moment when i reflected back on it. The ONLY thing that was recommended to me was to remain calm. I was the reactive one in that situation and it caused him to be reactive. I think that is something extremely important for all of us reactive dog owners to remember when it happens 🙂 I agree with you that we should not be discouraged, so I am going to keep on trekking through it for both me and my dog! 🙂
Another thank you!! Our mini schnauzer passes away six months ago and she was so social. Trips to pet stores, drive thrus and walks were great. Paulie girl never met a soul she didn’t like. Six month later we rescued a mini schnauzer, Sofie who was almost a year old. Oh my!!! She is reactive. Plus, she went into heat the week before her spayed procedure was scheduled so it been very trying at times.
We’ve gotten some training and are celebrating the tiny progress we’re seeing but know there is still a long road in front of us. Sofie is such a sweet soul and it’s sad to see her get so worked up. But we’re trying. And some days are definitely easier than others.
You put into words so many things I’ve been feeling. Thank you. We’ve had Sofie for almost four months and at the end of the day I’m glad we have each other.
A. W. says
Oh my. We adopted a mini schnauzer in December. He was so calm at the adoption event. We walked him around. There were other people and dogs and we noticed no issues with him. Nobody running the event seemed to know a thing about him. There was a little tag description attached to his crate. It said he was around 2 years old, good with people and kids. After we signed the papers one of the ladies come to me and tells me he had issues with grooming. “And by the way,” she says, “Do you have other pets at home?” We didn’t and don’t. I asked why and she explained he sometimes got reactive with other dogs but they had him playing as a group and he seemed fine at their place. I tried asking more questions. She said she helped with him for a couple of weeks and he was a sweet dog. Some of you may say I should have seen the red flags right then and there. But, this was the first time having a dog. And he is such a beautiful dog! My daughter feel in love with him. So we bring Ollie home.
Initially, he’s shy and stays quiet the entire time. The next morning I’m so excited to walk him. I don’t make around the corner before he goes nuts over two other dogs who are also out for a walk. I get a dirty look from the guy walking them… It was confusing to me. Especially because I had invisioned a complete different scenario. First of all, I don’t think anyone ever walked him before. He didn’t know how to walk on a leash. Now he does. He has made some progress since we adopted him. I have read 4 dog books and have tried to follow some of the ideas and tips of trainers like the Lucky Dog guy and the Dog Whisperer. Ollie is super fun. He’s house trained to perfection. We have yet to have an accident. But he’s still reactive to people at first encounter, and all animals. He wants to chase everything. He loves to go out for jogs with me, he can run as long as 6 miles at 8.5-minute pace and not complain to stop. I think he might be mixed with some other terrier. He is a little bigger then most minis I have seen, weighing around 21 lbs. But he looks very schnauzer.
I can’t have people over. He scares people. The few people not afraid, when they get to know him they like him. My parents came for a week and after the first 15 minutes of growling and barking, after he finally calmed down, they became friends. My mom thinks he’s the sweetest. He’s loyal to our family. But if you’re a visitor it’s very scary. Recently he tried to bite a teenage girl who came by to study with my daughter. Since then, I don’t allow him to meet new people. I was cautious before, now I don’teven let him near new people. I have cried. I have considered taking him back. Some days I feel very discouraged, but when I look back and think of his mild improvement I think he deserves a chance. He’s a great dog to us, but a monster to any outsider. Considering paying $800 to a trainer. Ollie is intelligent. He didn’t seem to in now commands when we got him. Now he does, but he can’t follow them when he’s in reactive mode.
I come back to this post every time we’ve had a rough walk. She’s the best little doggie at daycare, but put her on a leash and OH NOES. I wish more dog owners would be patient and helpful, rather than make it worse by coming closer or letting their dog off leash. Ugh.
Thank you, thank you for your post!
Thank you. Just thank you. I’ve had such a terrible day with Bubby, our two year old lab cross. It’s the first time he’s ever drawn blood. I’m upset because I was with two other dog owners (who’s dogs he gets on with) at the time who made me feel like a fool for how cautious I was being, telling me to let Bubby sort it out with the dog he had the issue with and I even felt the need to apologize for the precautions I was taking. So, THAT happened, then on the way home, while lunging at yet another dog Bubby tripped me and continued to pull as I was on the ground. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t control my dog!
It’s my dream to some day go camping with him and feel confident that he won’t cause any problems. Maybe someday!
Thanks for this article. I have a reactive standard poodle. Have had poodles many times before, always well balanced, trainable and so loving.
This guy is different. I got him from a breeder at 9 months and at about 1 year started noticing
very odd behavior. He is now 5. I have worked with a qualified trainer for 4 years, put him on meds(which helped a lot) spent thousands on him, and I could cry.
Honestly, I am at the point where I don’t think I even like him any more, I know that is TERRIBLE, but nothing ever changes. No matter how much training he gets, its the same old story. I would NEVER give him up, I know what his outcome would be, but it is no longer enjoyable for me to have a dog.
Aw Karen, how are you? Is he still with you? I am an extremely emotional person and walking my reactive pup takes a huge toll on me mentally. I lash out at my mother when whatever is happening is not her fault. I get upset and humiliated about not having control over my dog. Today I was sandwiched by dogs when on my walk and oh boy was it exhausting. I gave up in the end, feeling absolutely and utterly defeated, and let her sniff/pull me all the way home. I might have a bruise from her leash on my hand. It’s so difficult and at this point I don’t even know if I can trust my trainer. It is all much easier said than done, no? I’m so eternally grateful that I found this blog. I swear every dog I see in my neighborhood is walking at their owner’s heel without a care for the world. If only my beloved could be that easy to walk. If only, if only. Going out on walks are supposed to be calming and zen or whatever, but its just pain and work at the moment. Maybe someday we’ll have a better experience. I highly recommend that you check out sniffspots if you are interested in taking your dog on an off-leash adventure. You can rent out explore spots without the constant paranoia and fear of meeting a dog/person/whatever. Much love to you.
I am so glad that I saw this article. My Aussie rescue is a wonderful boy and loves his dog sister and all people. But he hates any dog on a leash, bicyclists and any vehicle with a diesel engine. He was found wandering on a rural highway and we have no idea what kinds of things frightened him. He is slowly outgrowing all bad habits except reactivity on walks. I have decided to do my best and love him just the way he is. He will never be a dog park kind of guy, and that is ok. Just glad to read of others that share my acceptance. This doesn’t mean that I will stop trying, but I will not let myself feel like a failure if he does not outgrow this. I HAVE found that a ThunderShirt and CBD oil works wonders during our Oklahoma thunderstorms.
Riya Roberts says
This article really was a need to read for me. I have a reactive border collie/husky mix. We adopted him from a shelter a year ago. He was one year old at the time , his name is Oliver. He’s the sweetest thing ever. But he’s reactive. We think it may have been from his previous owners who the shelter said “didn’t speak any English to tell them about him”. At the time my husband and I didn’t realize exactly what we had walked into so blindly. The shelter had said he’s good with dogs, good with people and other animals. Well come to find out that’s not exactly true.
Oliver comes to find out was not potty trained, probably had little to no interaction with other dogs and maybe barley any people. Our Theroy is he may have been put on a chain in a backyard and left there.
Over the year we have had him, we have had ups and downs. He doesn’t pee when people look at him or talk to him a certain way anymore. But he still barks and lunges at other dogs. He’s doesn’t have accidents in the house as much. But he still has issues holding his bladder. He knew no commands when we got him but he know knows many and obeys them well!
He has such a long way to go, but I refuse to give up on him. I just wish other dog owners where more understanding and didn’t see a reactive dog and immediately think they’re going to be attacked. I get embarrassed of him at times and I have anxiety which can make it hard to keep going. Luckily I have an amazing husband who helps as well.
Anyways thank you for writing this article, it feels good to know I’m not alone and I hope for the future that all my hard work will pay off for my doggo in the future !
Shit, I’m crying while reading this. It feels so fucking lonely and overwhelming. Wishing he was different is not helping, but I cannot always avoid it and that makes me feel guilty…. Anyway, I’m just happy I’m not alone on this, thak you for sharing!
Reading through these stories today, I guess I can see that I am not alone in my situation, except…that I am ready to throw in the towel. And I seem to be pretty alone in that regard.
7 months ago I adopted a dog from a rescue, that has turned out to be very very reactive. Leash reactive to dogs, people, kids, strollers, bikes…strong prey drive also. And in any new environment like the vet’s office or visiting relatives, like a hyperactive kid on a massive sugar buzz. He has to be sedated or managed every minute.
The rescue had him for three months prior to my adoption, so I find it hard to believe they didn’t know. His profile sounded like exactly what I wanted: a buddy for long park walks, hiking, trips anywhere that’s dog friendly, etc. They said he was good playing with certain dogs. I wanted a companion to help reduce my isolation and give me the courage to get out more in the world. I ended up with the opposite. Not only does he react out in the world, but anytime people come to the house – especially men. There’s no letting in a repair guy without putting him outside.
I’m exhausted. I have spent these months trying every positive training technique, supplements and prescription drugs. Walked at night until the weather got better, and now walking in my neighborhood is pretty much impossible due to dogs and people and triggers everywhere. He’s a sweetheart to me, not one bit of aggression, but he anxious if I’m gone for more than a couple of hours, and I am losing my mind being stuck here. Oh, and there’s storm phobia also. I don’t have anyone else to help me with him. I’m not rich, and can’t afford expensive trainer sessions for months on end. I need to be travelling at least once a month to help my senior mom. If he were a normal dog he would go with me; she loves dogs. But his behavior there on one trip made it clear that’s not a good option. He is not aggressive to her, but his behavior could be dangerous for her, since she’s weak and too easily injured. He’s too manic. So he would have to be boarded and probably sedated every time I travel.
The rescue has agreed to take him back. Now I’m having to deal with guilt, and I expect some bashing, over my decision to return him to the rescue. I don’t have the skills for this, and without help, I will end up isolated and sad for the next 12 or so years because of his behavior.
I am exhausted and grieving as much as I did when I lost my last dog to cancer.
You’re the only one that was willing to write that ‘out loud’.
I’m on year three having plowed through 8 trainers, 2 schools, the SPCA (classes and private), 1 behaviorist (that was the worst) and many bottles of wine.
I too wanted a dog to get out and explore. I got IED missions instead.
I too am nearing a breaking point.
I’m fed up with non-answers. I’m fed up with writing astronomically large checks to folks that can’t/won’t be honest on what’s possible.
I’m tired of giving every other ‘normal’ dog I see nicely walking on a leash the ‘double bird’ and just when I want most to turn her into a rug (sarcasm), she does some incredibly fearless thing.
I taught my dog to ‘paws up’ and ‘over’ (jump over this) and ‘balance beam’ (walk on this) to make walks more interactive and fun (for me, mostly). She lastly saved her hide (sarcasm) by instead of jumping over the brick-width wall she jumped ON the brick-width wall and proceeded to walk on said brick-width wall for about eight feet.
Or she does something mind blowing. We’re were almost home and in front of us a lady got out of her car (uh-oh) and then proceeded to pull out a puff-ball white dog (Oh Sh**). Treats in hand I kept feeding her (a lot) to get to the house and she calmly walked up to the puff-ball, sniffed, laid down, and let said puff-ball sniff her and play with her.
She’s a 60lb black dog with a large fur coat.
Unreal. So we go back to the drawing board and try to figure out how to rewire that brain.
But I’m still near a breaking point.
Thanks for the validation. It was a bit nerve-wracking to write that post. I don’t take back one single bit of it, nor do I regret my decision. At some point, I had to remember that my former dog’s well-being was not the only thing to be considered. My sanity had to be a factor in the equation too. Given my situation, for me, I could no longer accept the risk of his reactivity.
I truly hope that dog found the perfect, experienced owner and home.
Hi, just wanted to say that also that you are not the only one. I so badly wanted to dog that would be my buddy and I could take him traveling. Instead I got a highly reactive pup who is the sweetest to people but a maniac in new environments and around dogs, cats, trams, trains, and in cars. I wanna give almost every day. I promised to myself and to him that I won’t but I absolutely understand why you chose your sanity over training and caring for him. Just curious: have you considered giving him to a family/another owner, not back to a shelter? Or was there a specific reason to take him back there?
Just saw your post. Answer: He came from a rescue that had the requirement he be returned to them if he could not stay with me.
A year later, reading back through my journal, I know I made the right decision. The one sad point is that I don’t much trust rescues anymore. Twice now I have tried to adopt and had to return the animal, because of behavior issues. Both times I was told the animal would be great for my situation, and both times it was definitely “inaccurate.”
I’m glad I stumbled across this blog post. It made me feel more normal. We adopted our sweet pit mix about 4-5 months ago. Honestly one of the gentlest dogs. Super sweet to everyone and everything except other dogs. Not an aggressive bone in his body until we meet another dog on our walk. I try explaining to other owners who think it’s ok to allow their dogs to just walk up, that he had trauma at his previous home and we are working through that but I still feel like a fool or like I’m a horrible owner because of how aggressive he gets.
We can walk at the park, but I just have to turn the other direction or shorten his leash when another dog approaches. I can usually keep his attention but occasionally he slips and lunges. The worse part is the looks from other owners. The judging “typical Pitt” stereotype that follows him.
It’s good to know I’m not alone on this. I may try getting him a vest. That way I don’t have to keep explaining and feeling embarrassed while doing so. He is such a sweetheart and it’s not fair some days!!
I have just read his after a bad a day, I just want to say thank you! I am the only person I know that has a reactive dog, it so lonely and you feel like such a failure, even though we have come so far with our training there are still tough day , when you think what is the point. But you are so right, screw those DADOs and enjoy my dog for who she is and the achievements she makes with her condition!! Just a big thank you for writing this!!
I had a bad day with my reactive 1 y.o Australian Shepherd mix. She has leash reactivity around dogs (although she is the friendliest most playful dog off leash) and is highly reactive towards cars and buses.
It’s so frustrating when I walk her because she is barking and lunging at every dog she sees while she is on the leash. And if there are dogs off leash in the area but she is still on the lead other dog owners accuse her of being aggressive and run to gather their dogs , I try to explain that their chaotic behaviour is only going to make her more anxious but I feel like they look down on me as a dog owner, even though I try my best to calm her
I have read that it is quite common for owners to have this problem with dogs only being dog friendly meeting off leash, but never met someone else with the problem.
I have a reactive Vizsla. I love him to pieces but have realized as much as I wanted a dog that could sit with me at the coffee shop and go into Home Depot with me, that is just not going to happen. And I’m going to be ok with that. It makes me sad but I think about how with children (and yes I treat him like my child) they do not always come out perfect and we love them anyway. We just recently spent over $2,000 for a training program that promised he would be “cured” after 4 all day sessions. He learned a lot but is still the same lovable reactive dog. Shame on them!
I really relate to this blog!! We rehomed a year old lab/German shepherd mix 6 months ago after he was advertised as ‘free to a good home’. He is reactive to other dogs, strangers, small animals, vehicles and machinery!
We got our pup with the plan to take him everywhere! Instead we micro manage and limit everywhere he goes!!! He has bit someone, pulled both me and my partner over lunging at dogs, cut and bruised us both lunging when we have been in the way. We spend our days making sure he can’t get near the cat and walking him for 2.5-3 hours everyday to keep him on a level! We walk in the most obscure places in the middle of nowhere and totally get DADOs!!! Like the ones who insist it is ok for their dog to bound up to him as ‘they are ok’, or who insist on trying to stoke him because ‘they are good with dogs’, or that ‘he doesn’t look that bad’ to need a muzzle/caution lead, ooooor who stand blocking foot paths with their dog while they meander along or stop and chat!!!! Wow didn’t know all that was in there!!! Breathe!
I feel lucky as we are seeing small signs of improvement although what works one day doesn’t the next! We have had days where we have had the discussion in bed about not being able to keep him. We have spent hundreds on behaviourist/training too. It really is so hard and something I don’t think you can comprehend unless you have lived with a reactive dog!
I needed this! Just went on what I thought would be a lovely long isolated walk across the local fields with my 13 year old cross breed medium size non dog friendly dog. She is always on leash as I’ve learned she no longer has a good recall and has a real issue with black hounds. I took her from her previous owner because a pumped up grey hound made her life hell by running her down on every walk and the owner blamed her for everything. She was a nervous wreck. Anyway I tell people she isn’t sociable and ask them to shout their dogs if they are stupid and think all dogs are cuddly bears and most of the time it is manageable. Today I walked through a field and a man came on the other end with a bouncy black lab and other mixed looking dog the same size, they came straight over to her. I asked him to shout them. He decided to walk towards me instead as I’m shouting to his dogs to get back as mine is barking at them. Then he tells me to let her off and she has to learn!!! What a massive DADO. I told him she is a 13 yr old rescue and he’s an idiot. Honestly it’s put me off going on the usually lovely walk. I came home and had a little cry. Then when I told my sister instead of just saying..what a wanker he was she said…stick with it you’ll be more confident next time!! I wish it was law to have them on a lead at all times unless they went in a designated space. I love my dog so much but the walks are not as pleasurable anymore at all.
Mille Stage says
The current study aimed to further clarify the general and daily relations among reactive temperament traits, ER strategies, and depressive symptoms in youth age 9 to 17 years using two different designs: a cross-sectional design and a 7-day daily diary design. Overall, the current study had three main findings pertaining to our aims. First, as predicted, NE and PE interacted in explaining baseline depressive symptoms in the cross-sectional study, as well as in explaining daily symptom levels in the daily diary study. Second, results confirm our hypothesis that NE and PE each predict baseline depressive symptoms through their unique effects on trait ER strategies in the cross-sectional study. Third, whereas NE and PE did not interact in explaining within-person changes in state ER strategies in the daily diary study, the exploratory analyses revealed that NE was significantly related to trajectories of state rumination. These results contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the relation between reactive temperament traits and depressive symptoms in youth as previously posited by biological-affective and cognitive-behavioral models of depression, suggesting that ER strategies may function as a mechanism through which reactive temperament traits increase vulnerability to depression.
Kimberly Watson says
Thank you so much for this. I love my reactive dog, but I also have spent thousands on training, diet, and supplements in addition to hours self learning anything I can to deal with reactivity and working with my pup.
It was so nice and comforting to hear I’m not alone.
Thank you so much for sharing this! I had a bad day with my dog today and wasn’t feeling so good. She was getting much better in the past few days, but today she started barking at a further distance than she used to. It felt like a huge set-back in our training but I know that I need to keep working on it and not give up. Sometimes, it does become somewhat of a “how come other dogs can walk normally” and “what did I do wrong” but then I see posts like this and I feel so much better. We are not alone. Thank you so much and keep up the effort in your training too!
I was puzzled by the same thing, some days a dog across the street doesn’t trigger him and other days at 5 times the distance he goes crazy (and I’m talking same type of dog, sometimes even the same dog on different occasions). A behaviorist explained that it could be trigger stacking. Basically the compounded effect of a bunch of small stressful incidents that will bring down the threshold.
I’ve also noticed that a bad tummy day can set him back on some days. If we encounter a trigger before his morning poop that usually forecasts a bad day.
When a really bad day happens, and because I can’t control everything, I try to give him a few days of “stress detox”, bring his cortisol levels down, it’s complicated because we’re city living and he needs to be walked 3 times a day at least for his business. We drastically shorten the walks, increase little indoor physical and especially mental activities to compensate for the lack of exercise and man do I hike up the treats on those walks, for any positive behaviour: Randomly looking at me, stopping at the curb before I ask him to, responding to basic and already well ingrained commands like “sit”…anything to just make the whole on-leash walking experience positive.
Sadly I’ve also let my guard down (and previous handlers failed to mention it had happened before) and he’s managed to nip a couple of people at their feet (he’s a small dog) so we’re muzzle training now and I think it’ll really help me relax when I can walk him with the muzzle on.
I totally relate to the “why my dog and not others” thought spiral, I worry I’m not equipped to manage him. I like to come back to this article on days when I’m brought to tears after a walk. It helps me to get back on track.
Anyways, good luck to us all!
STEVEN JOHNSON says
If I was to write an article about my Shih-Tzu, Daisy, this is exactly what it would’ve read like, word for word… It actually made me feel normal and some what better about how she is. I tend to walk Daisy around 9pm as I know not many people are around then, but I do occasionally find myself having to pass another dog walker. I don’t shy away, I try to remain calm as if nothing is about to happen, but Daisy has other ideas. Daisy isn’t aggressive, she just seems defensive when other dogs pass, but at the same time wagging her tail as if this her way of greeting, she can pass other people walking by them-selves without a blink or flinch, but if they stop and comment about how cute she looks, she reacts by barking at them. I find myself telling them “sorry, she’s not very friendly”.
I’m definitely going to check out those links.
Thanks for this post.
We just adopted a six year old Pom mix that is 21 lbs. He was very friendly at the shelter. It’s now been a little of two weeks and we know now he is reactive. He barks like crazy at other dogs and is completely out of control and is like that with some people. We started training this week and he responded very well to our trainer. That gives me hope. Tonight we went to the vet and he was barking non stop. Our vet gave us a trazadone for situational use along with positive reinforcement training. The trainer said she is encouraged as he didn’t react when she walked him and a dog was out. I’m hoping we can help him become less reactive and am trying to start positive but tonight was tough.
Thanks so much for posting this- I started crying when I read it.
I am older and have had MANY rescue dogs with a range of emotional and behavior problems during my life, but now I have Bella: a pit bull/boxer mix who is perfect in every way and gets along with other dogs wonderfully….except when on a leash.
It’s so embarrassing and frustrating to endure all of the looks and comments from young, carefree dog owners, who either look down their noses like I don’t know what I’m doing (while they’re either walking down the wrong side of the road, or else allowing their dog to be off leash, etc.), or worse yet, looking at us in fear, as though my dog is seconds away from tearing everybody to pieces.
Even some of the literature out there (I’m a college professor and I read TONS of literature) on dog reactivity is condescending and blames the owner, while other literature assures you that no problem- this method works every time. Bullshit.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve tried everything- and we were even in training before the pandemic started, but just our luck that the training class did not have any other dogs in it!
Giving up isn’t an option, and I’m always trying new methods and feel sure something will work eventually (I’ve had her for less than a year- what a year it’s been) but it was comforting to read somebody putting into words what I have been experiencing.
I feel you!!! All I can say from my experience is that it’s all easier said than done.
I’m venting after a difficult walk this morning.
Yeah, I love those sanctimonious strangers and “experts” that say the owner has to be the problem. I am a 64-year-old widow and my adopted chihuahua mix will either love another dog or go ballistic (usually the latter). She has a couple of friends but I can’t have her in the dog park or pass by a stranger without the whole pulling/growling/lunging thing.
I love my little girl dog but I am so jealous when I see the other owners standing around with their dogs at heel, laughing and talking. They always try to draw me in the conversation, which is lovely, but my dog is having a lunging fit at my side so I have to keep clear of the group with their lovely obedient dogs on retractable leashes let out to the max. Then I get the “looks” and the gossip as I walk away.
I live in a 55 and older complex choc-full of little dogs. And oh, the looks I get. I try everything and am always trying to improve my handling of her. When she gets in a temper it’s all I can do to hold onto a 10-year-old, 10-pound dog on a leash and she has almost tripped me at times. One time she jumped from a bench in the dog park to “scold” a dog that was digging in “her” spot. So we don’t do the community dog park anymore. She didn’t bite, she just lunged and gave it a good barking and was snarling, but of course the story was how my dog “attacked” hers. People thought from the exaggerated story that my dog drew blood. I apologized for the snarling on my dog’s part and I thought we were cool, but she told everyone about “the attack”. The other woman has a hyper dog but friendly who once scratched up my legs so bloody it took a week to heal, but her dog is “nice” so she is blameless. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, dogs are dogs.
I’ve had my rescue for two years but she’s a handful. I can’t help feeling envious. She is so attached to me and I to her that I can’t give her away, so I walk her at odd hours, pray a lot and feel quite lonely and sad sometimes. I am insolated and embarrassed.
So I’m (embarrassing) sitting here crying as I just put our new foster to adopt pitbull cross (2 yrs old) in her crate as she has had 3 major reactive moments today. All based on noise.
We’ve had her for two weeks, first week she decompressed from a long journey. Second week she started to be fun and playful with some nipping but we started working on that. She’s house trained already and picks up on commands super quick. She’s very food motivated. We were told she loves people and is good with dogs.
However, as soon as she hears a noise (like a car door slamming) she looses her mind and there is no containing or controlling her. Sometimes just the sound of me repositioning in my laz-y boy chair sets her off.
Additionally, we had a friend good with dogs over yesterday to see how she did and she lunged and was crazy reactive and aggressive. It took 3+ hours for her to allow them to pet her with treats involved for being quiet and good. Yet anytime said person moved move then an inch she lost herself. When she’s in a ‘frenzy’ commands don’t work and food doesn’t even work. 🙁
I work from home and we wanted her to keep me company and give me a reason to get up and walk, get food, etc. Creating a routine for me and her that was healthy. As well as my husband has wanted a dog for over a decade. While he is home during evenings and weekends to help its during the day when it’s just me that’s a total disaster. I need to be working; not dealing with a crazed dog every 20 mins.
I’m heartbroken that we might not be able to keep her. If I can’t get her under control to some degree I’ll eventually be in situation where I have to choose between her and the job that pays the mortgage. Hearing your stories about it taking years and some never actually being trained out of their reactiveness breaks my heart as it tells me I shouldn’t keep this wonderfully cuddly girl, she’s so affectionate when she feels safe, if I’m not prepared for it to be a never ending fight.
On one hand I want to give her a chance to learn, but I also can’t have a dog that is stronger than me that attacks me or other people when she gets triggered.
thx for your honest story and to those in the comments. It at least prepares me to be realistic as we decide what to do with this sweet pitty.
Juno’s pet mom says
I can so relate to all of you. My latest rescue was apprehended by a Humane Society from her owners at approx 1 yr. Damage done was horrendous. Starved and abused. Had to start at square one and move forward. Took 5 wks to be able to touch her. She wore a thunder shirt for weeks on end. Reactive to everything. Vehicles, people, noise, touch, men in baseball caps and sunglasses, umbrellas, strollers, ……. There is hope. Patience and consistency is key. I have 3 adult children still at home so 5 adults taking turns lots of exercise,(good dog is a tired dog), walks, treats (food motivated works or hunts for them) & doggy day care a Blessing so we get a break and she socializes with other dogs and other people. Her bio said never to take her to a dog park yet she has gone for the past year. Also we take a squeak toy on walks to redirect if nothing else works. Is she still reactive. Yes once today. None in the past week. Only walk residential so we can cross a street. Work in progress. Do not give up they need you all to help them to face, avoid or overcome what they cannot on their own.
Thank you for writing this blog. Today was not a good day with my reactive dog. A dog ran away from its owner and approached us, and Kiko my dog lost it. He was growling and was making all these horrible noises. All I feel is guilt, because he is not even from a shelter. I just wish he was friendly.
Thank you for this. I’m reading it as I lay in bed crying over our hard day. Luna chased down an older couple down a road and I feel defeated. I feel like nothing works and I’m so tired of the unexpected.
Becka I feel your pain. Our Border Collie Frankie is super-reactive and goes for toddlers in strollers, old people on mobility scooters, kids on skateboards, you name it! It’s a constant struggle isn’t it. We’ve just found we have to appreciate and celebrate the good days and not dwell too much on the bad ones.
Thank you so very much for this article, I really needed it. I adopted my new pup Zoey a 10 year old Great Dane Basset Hound. She is a complete dream other than dog reactivity. We are working on it, but have our good and bad days. My previous dog had no issues and we went everywhere, family parties, trails, stores, festivals, etc. I am gearing up for living a different life than imagined with Zoey but I am ok with that.
Add me to the list of people crying while reading this article and comments section.
Almost two months ago I adopted a shepherd cross, age 2-4 years old (based on the estimate of the rescue society.) Most of the time she is very calm, docile, clever and (reasonably) obedient. She has a great temperament, is wonderful with people, and has made one or two dog friends after slow introductions. 95% of the time she is one of the most lovable dogs I have ever known. On leash, however, she is a challenge (to say the least.)
Her trigger point (where she becomes completely fixated on an approaching dog and cannot be distracted by verbal cues, treats, gentle leash pressure etc.) seems to be at such a great distance sometimes that I don’t have time to alter our path to avoid the other dog. To make matters worse, when she spots another dog, she tends to freeze, and will sometimes even sit down and refuse to move. She is a big dog, so I can’t drag her to a distance where I can regain her focus. Once the other dog is close enough, the pulling and barking and lunging starts.
I found this article after coming back from a particularly frustrating walk. I was able to successfully veer my dog into a field, and away from an oncoming dog, only to have the owner of the dog I was trying to avoid turn in the same direction. Instead of just continuing walking, the other owner started doing some training with his dog. Because the field is enclosed, I didn’t have any other choice but to go back the way I came. Walking past this well-trained, calm, obedient dog while dragging my hyper-fixated, non-listening one added insult to injury. It was embarrassing. There were also several other instances on the walk where dogs well behind us or across the street caused her to pull/lunge or stubbornly refuse to move.
I feel so defeated. I had visions of nice long walks (or maybe even a jog) where I could bond with my dog, but instead walks are a source of stress and a chore that I wish I could avoid. Like many of you, I am so jealous when I see other people out leisurely walking their dogs, instead of constantly scanning and dodging. I feel like I’m being judged for having a “bad dog” that I cannot keep under control. I feel like I am failing my dog and myself. And the guilt! I feel guilty that I am starting to hate walking my dog, and that sometimes my frustration with her behavior on-leash bleeds into how I see her at other times.
I’ve started reaching out and asking for advice, and looking up training tips, etc., but it’s a real struggle. It’s hard to find a fairly controlled environment required at the beginning of most methods.
Anyway, I just want to thank all of you for sharing your stories. Even just knowing that I’m not alone in this and it’s not necessarily due to a massive failure on my part makes me feel a lot better.
I have a year-old labrador mix who I adopted at 6 months. The first month he was amazing and able to sit with me at restaurants and never barked with another dog barked at him. At a year old he lunges snarls, growls, and barks at any dog that he meets on a walk and he can not be in close spaces with any dogs (like in a backyard). I have completely stopped taking him with me to crowded parks or trying to introduce him to friends dogs. No more sitting down at a restaurant or beach days. I get his energy out by walking him alone on less crowded streets at odd times of the day because we do not have a backyard in our apartment. But it has been very isolating. He is a horrible resource guarder as well and it’s starting to scare my roommates. It’s just the nature of the home I share to have lots of people coming and going. I have already taken him to 3 dog training schools. He gets private lessons at a doggie daycare that specializes in reactive dog training. I am now working with a private professional trainer as well who says I need to treat him like the dog he is. The first real advice I’ve received. That means working below his threshold constantly. This means I am living my life below his threshold and leaving him home when I believe there is a chance he will react aggressively to the situation. My concern is that his needs are completely taking over my life, as I am doing it alone. Not only financially but emotionally now as well. He is a wonderful friend when it is just us two and I have seen him be successful in some situations depending on the other dog and the introduction, but it is so difficult to control when you live in a crowded apartment in a crowded city. Not to mention I’m honestly scared to have friends witness his reactionary side, or what the long-term effects will be on me if I continue to live just below his threshold? I just want to ask in case anyone has a success story or any advice? I want us both to live a great life side-by-side going on adventures and sharing happy memories but right now we’re stuck in a cycle of traumatic episodes followed by back to square one. I am not sure how long I can continue this cycle for my sanity and his. At this point, I am scared the cons outweigh the pros for both of us? And wondering if he is truly happy with me?
So I wasn’t alone. I just lost my sweet (but very reactive) furry daughter to an accute illness at 10 years of age and, much like it was when she was alive still, I struggle with so much guilt and shame because “there Are no bad dogs, only bad owners”. and for not giving her the full life so many other dogs get to have. I relate to what everyone Are saying here. Our world became small indeed. I’d cry on our walks if there was some incident that made people misunderstand both her and myself. Despite her deep barks and lunges, that dog wouldnt hurt a fly and it killed me when people assumed she was a vicious monster. I had people yell and call me an animal abuser, said I needed to put her down, etc. My heart would sink in my chest and my knees would shake if something sprang on us by surprise. I began avoiding those kinds of situations more and more and tried to make “our little world” as comfy as possible. She was such a sweetheart otherwise. Well mannered, loved doing tricks and very affectionate. Not to mention funny. But strangers and other girl dogs, bicycles… Oh boy. Didn’t matter how many times she was exposed to these things or how much I tried to distract her with treats. Despite all the hardship and isolation though, I miss her very much.
I really desire to get a new puppy, a different breed this time (she was a rottweiler/boxer mix). I’m pretty sure I’ve landed on the whippet. However, I feel like i might be unfit to be a dog owner now, i’m terrified of the same things happening all over again. I just want to walk my dog in peace without drama, to be able to walk straight past people or things or dogs without having to cross the street or turn and walk in the opposite direction. Hearing how it is all my fault gets to me, like maybe I’d make every dog like that. I lost her just last month and I think I need some time to get rid of that sense of dread associated with dog training before I throw myself out there again. It is very strange to be able to walk everywhere now. Just makes little sense to do it at all when i have no four legged companion. Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing, good to know I was not alone.
Seriously I feel like crying knowing how much I can relate..
My dog is reactive, even pulls very hard. My biggest fear is that he will bite our neighbor’s dog & his owners/ family members. He totaly hates them to death & recognize their scents from far.. He is complely monster to them l. Also he has his own preference & unpredictable.. I’m very afraid to walk him cuz I have huge anxiety that something might happen & I’m not that strong enough to control such situation.. So I don’t walk him.He often escape from home & my anxiety goes up like rocket. My parents also have no control over him in outside.. I’m so jealous of my all neighbor’s obedient dogs . I feel so upset, I often get mad at him & want to give him away. I have mixed feelings & dont know what to do
I needed this today, encountered an off leash dog on our normally “safe” route and the other dog was on us before I noticed. The interaction wasn’t actually that bad and I wasn’t feeling too badly about it. I noticed he was licking his lips and wincing a bit. Came home, checked him out, and found that he had a broken tooth. I’m not sure how it happened but I just feel awful. Keep running through what I could have done better or differently. He’s resting comfortably with some drugs from the vet and has a dental appointment Thursday morning. Tough day.
Thanks for writing this. Yesterday, I was told it is so simple to keep a dog from being reactive. Just feed them treats. I tried that in the past, sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. I told her to go, since she had a dog. The lady told me I was not doing anything. Lol, I told her I was holding my dog back on the leash. If a dog walks by too close, my dog barks and lunges wanting to say hi to the other dog.
To make matters worse, the lady came back around the circle and starts to tell another lady that she is a dog trainer. Also to watch out for me and my dog, as my dog is not being reactive this time around.
Makes me feel so much better that others with reactive dogs do not find it as simple as the lady “dog trainer” implied it is.