I have spent countless nights wondering if I failed my dog. I questioned what could I have done differently…or better. I’d sit and look at him cuddled up to me, sleeping soundly and wonder why the rest of the world was unable to see him for who he truly is.
It’s not fair.
It breaks my heart knowing that he does not feel safe around strangers and other dogs. I did everything “correct”…Didn’t I? He’s incredibly obedient? Even when he’s scared or upset he’ll still listen to my commands…while barking constantly…of course. I took him to training classes and regular vet appointments…Is it maybe due to the few bad experiences or genetics? In fact I have been advised it can be both!
“It is not your fault.” Something I have been told over and over again…whether or not you agree with it you do need to remember, to look after yourself during the journey in helping your poor pup. Another thing to remember is that not all reactive dogs are aggressive, reactive dogs can just be, well…reactive? Which simply means they “react” to certain situations and or stimulus.
While I believe that reactive dogs can of course have aggressive tendencies and situations can of course escalate, I do also believe that a reactive dog can just be fearful. Unfortunately, one of my dogs has been very close to escalating, I have been in situations and had moments where I believe if I did not intervene there could have been a risk of injury. I am however, able to control my dog and take him out of situations where a person, other dog or himself, is in danger.
I think the main reason why he reacts the way he does and from what I have been told by professionals is he is simply fearful and sensitive. We went through vigorous training and socialisation with him as a puppy in which he was not afraid but simply not “phased” by strangers or other dogs. He certainly wasn’t thrilled about them but he would just walk away or avoid approaching them entirely. Sadly as a puppy he was in a situation where we had no control with what happened.
We have also had many positive situations especially in vet practices/pet friendly shops where he has been fine, wagging his tail and taking treats from everyone. However, when he had his vaccines he got very…VERY sick which meant he had to go back to the vets and endure a very bad experience with them. Since then he’s never felt safe, we would bring him in to simply get treats from the nurses and people around but he was having none of it.
The above chart is fab! One of the things I have learnt about having a reactive dog is it is so so important to learn how to understand your dog, their triggers and body language. I’ve gotten pretty good identifying when he needs a break and I am happy with his limits. Unfortunately there is a point of no return and my dog has shown me this on a few occasions where I have not been able to refocus him, this is fine, its no ones fault.
Reactivity in dogs is so common and you probably just don’t notice it in mild case. However, it is highly stressful dealing with the extreme cases but there are ways to help and slowly get past this together with your dog, which we are currently working on and looking into.
The best thing you can do is just be there for your dog, comfort and care for them especially if they’re not feeling themselves. I wouldn’t trade my dog for anything. I hope that one day I and my family/friends can help him feel safe and confident to be himself.