Why I'm glad I ended up with a reactive dog
Today I took Duke to the local fish store to pick up some crickets for my bearded dragon. Duke sat patiently next to me while the employee got the crickets, he didnt flinch when the man walking by bumped into him. When a young girl walked up to him, he wagged his tail and licked her hand- and when she asked her mom if it was okay to give him a treat- he gently took it from her palm. Duke didnt flinch as we walked by the group of people looking at the shark tank and as the employee rushed past him as we waited in line to check out he simply sat there.
If you had tried to tell me two years ago that we would one day be able to walk into a store I would have given you a look of horror and perhaps break out in hysterical laughter. Owning a reactive dog is no laughing matter unfortunantly but it has been quite a journey none the less, and in retrospect Im glad Duke found his way into my life.
Little background as it has been awhile since I've really had a major issue with it but I got Duke from a BYB- yes bad me- I have no excuse, I was ignorant and really didnt think anything of it. From the get go he did not really act how I would have expected a puppy to act. He was very reserved- and shyed away from strangers who came over to meet him. I always had them sit down and scatter treats around them- none the less it took many of these meetings for him to become accustomed to an individual and the skill never really seemed to generalize despite enlisting as many people as I could to come over and meet him. On walks he was no more eager to meet anyone, anyone I could enlist would give him a treat but if they tried to pet him he would back away. I didn't think much of it. Fast forward to 5 months old- by this point Duke had been through two levels of Obidience yet, randomly on walks some people with or without dogs would trigger a full out bout of lunging/ growling/ snarling and barking. All from my tiny 5 month old puppy. The instructor was very concerned and recomended private consultation. By 6 month's old it had gotten so severe I agreed- a little bit worried I had gotten over my head.
What followed was quite an experince- I had already found Chaz and had been learning tons- I of course at that point had realized I should have done this months before getting a puppy- but I hadn't and I certainly couldnt turn back time at that point.
I searched out every book I could by the big name trainers- I bought Fisty Fido, Don't Shoot the dog as well as picking up every issue of DogFancy I could find. Despite how much I read however I still felt completely overwhelemed and really started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Members on Chaz gave me tons of useful advice, but the process was painstakingly slow and for every 5 steps forward we would suddenly take 30 backwards and be back at sqaure one.
Fast Forward two years. After 18 months of Counter Conditioning and Gradually Desensitization working hard to keep him under threashold I had gotten him reliable 90% of the time in public, he wore a head halter at all times to be safe and when company came over he was never left unsupervised. By this point my search to help Duke to cope with his reactivity had taken me to Ottawa to attend the Canadian Association of Proffessional Pet Dog Trainers Conference as well as signing up for more obidience classes and a Rally O class. In the meantime I started discovering something deep within myself that was getting hooked- at the conference I had walked by a booth advertising the Karen Pryor Academy. Having read Don't Shoot the Dog several months earlier I shuddered remembering how much my head hurt after suddenly realizing my grasp on the english langauge was not nearly as solid as I had previously thought. Still I couldn't get it off my mind, and after contemplating it for awhile I decided to check out the start dates. By fluke the next group was starting in only a few months and the deadline to apply was coming to a close in a few weeks. Figuring I had already come this far and was now hooked with the bug of searching out every bit of information I could find I decided to take the final plunge.
I am now two months away from graduation and really feel like I have found what I was ment to do- more imporantly the skills I have since gained have helped Duke to take the final plunge- he hasnt worn his head halter in 4 months- and he hasn't needed it since.
The journey was often frustrating, overwheleming but it also humbled me, expanded my mind, taught me patience, made me dare to hope and dream and in the end an understanding of myself, commitment and unconditional love- and for that I am happy I ended up with a reactive dog.
Recently our journey has brought us to the world of competitive Obidience and Rally O, something I thought would be door which would never open for us.
Live. Laugh. Throw a Ball
Duke- 8 & a half year old awesome man (Shep Cross)
Maverick- 5 year old Border Collie *Exercise Maniac*
Odie- 5 year old Elkhound *Ball of Cute*
Teeka- 10 month old Long Haired German Shepherd- Mavericks new best friend