Friday, 20 March 2015

Living the reactive life

A few months ago I remember a lady commenting on a forum that she had never owned a reactive dog but she had been to enough seminars and read enough books that she was confident that in no time any dog of hers would no longer be reactive.

The science can make it sound nice and easy

But one thing that tends to be glossed over is the effect on the human of living with a reactive dog.

For a while at least its not just your dog who is reactive, your stress levels become sky high.
When you are out and about you need 6 pairs of eyes.
Gone are the happy chilled walks in the country, now you are scanning the horizon in all directions looking for 'triggers'
Is that fallen log over there actually a dog waiting to pounce?
Does that person have a dog with them or is it just a carrier bag?
and at the same time you are constantly scanning your dog and trying to see what they are spotting, trying to get your plans into motion when they spot a trigger
And freaking out that even that giant empty field you have drove out into the middle of the country to find might have a random person suddenly appear from behind a hedge with no warning - and a barky GSD on a short lead (yup it happened)

You dont just HAVE a reactive dog, you feel like a reactive dog!

And other people are so helpful!
Some people seem to assume that a dog is reactive because you are not a strong enough leader (sheesh, I wonder which telly entertainer they got that gem of behavioural (non) science from), they either give you looks of scorn or (better yet) start yelling at you!
Suddenly everyone is an expert. When I first got Mia I was inundated by people offering me help from teaching me to time my corrections properly to some kind (!) person offering to lock Mia in their garden with their dog so they could 'sort out who was the boss'!!

And there is the other wonderful well meaning advice that at the moment you just cant follow - like when you have messed up and your dog isnt coping with something and has charged to the end of the lead on their back legs screaming at something and someone tells you you should keep the lead loose

Or you turn a corner to get away from an oncoming dog and find a horse and rider - and someone tells you you shouldnt pick up a dog

Sometimes you have to break the rules to get out of a situation.

Sometimes I forget how far I have come with Mia, when we are walking in the park, playing, having fun and I realise I am not scanning the horizon. I am not horribly stressed

I try and not forget what it was like tho so I can try and not judge people who are living with it just now.
All the theory in the world is all well and good, and there are some great methods out there that can and do help dogs all the time. As you can see from the photographs, Mia is a pretty happy dog most of the time, she has canine friends and can play offlead. It is possible to improve things (she will always be reactive, but she wont always be reacting)
Nothing can actually prepare you for what it is actually like to really live it at the time.
I hope I will never judge someone or condemn them if they realise they cant cope with a reactive dog. If you can in the long run it is really rewarding, but no shame if you own up that you cannot cope.


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