Living - and Moving - with a Reactive Dog

Beskow with KongOne of the benefits to me as a trainer, that helps me really empathize with many of my clients, is that have an insane dog.  She’s completely and utterly bonkers, but also loving, cuddly, and smart as a whip. Along with her general anxiety about everything the world has to offer, Beskow is especially concerned about other dogs.  Big dogs, little dogs, black dogs, white dogs, barky dogs, quiet dogs, staring dogs, ignoring-her-dogs… it really doesn’t matter.  If it’s a dog, it needs to be told to take a hike. Four years ago, about six months after I rescued her, we got to the point where the jingle of a collar around a corner, 50 feet away was enough to set off a complete fit of lunging, barking, screaming, hackling, etc… The sight of a dog 100 yards in the distance had the same effect.  Getting to where we are now- where she can walk down the streets with me, with a child on my back, another in a stroller, and two dogs on leash in one hand, has been quite a training challenge, but it has worked.  Most people don’t realize how crazy she is, which is a point of pride for me, but I still know that even though we have changed her behaviors, she’s still my little “crazy-on-the-inside” dog. Why do I bring this up now?  Because we’re moving.  Suddenly, all kinds of behaviors I haven’t seen in ages are really starting to crop up.  This week we moved out of our apartment for a week so it could be shown and are living in my parent’s apartment on Beacon Hill.  On the fifth floor.  Of a dog-friendly building.  This is not a good situation for poor old Beskow.

On top of the fact that dogs are EVERYWHERE on Beacon Hill and we don’t have comfortable walking routes, her whole world has been turned upside down.  She has to pee and poop in a new place with new smells and new sounds.  Her crate is the same but in a new place.  She has to ride an elevator (if I don’t feel like braving the stairs), and there are all these new people that want to meet her.  While she has never had an issue with elevators, people, or being in her crate, all of this newness has built up a level of anxiety in her that has made the dog issue really resurface for the first time in years.

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While I sit here thinking about it, I guess we have only had a few full-on reactions in the last few days, but given the absence of them for the last couple of years they have really sent me for a loop.  Like many of you who I work with to help your reactive dogs, every instance is embarrassing, heart breaking, and makes it feel like I have wasted my time on training her.  Yes, even I, who teach all this information and training, love it to bits, and have seen first hand over and over how successful it is… even I get filled with all the same doubts and heartache now as I did four years ago when Beskow and I were first starting our journey.

Four days in, we’re doing much better.  After the first day, I knocked some sense into myself and started being diligent with my clicker – to help Beskow deal with this new and very stressful situation.  And today, when the pack of six dogs with a dog walker jingled up the street earlier and starting barking at her, Beskow did a fabulous job looking at them and working with me without anything more than a whine.  It was really good to see it.  Setbacks happen, but training works.  Recognizing this as an issue with generalizing her behavior to this new setting helped me understand how to help her and that’s what this type of training is all about.  It’s understanding your dog and knowing how to work with them when things do slip up.  We’re now eight hours into today, two long walks in, and no reaction.  It’s been a good day; I think we both get a smiley face on the chart, so far.  And sometimes, that’s what I have to refocus on when my little “crazy-on-the-inside” dog decides to let some of it show again.

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