Many moons ago when I envisioned owning a dog I dreamed of taking my fictional dog to offleash parks for endless romps, lots of play-dates and generally a lot of problem and stress free dog-dog interactions. Then I got Jersey and this view abruptly changed. Offleash parks are not a part of my life and I honestly don’t even want to know what goes on in them. Every dog-dog greeting is carefully managed and controlled. I meticulously plan my walking routes based on likelihood of running into other dogs and ability to escape. I completely avoid any areas where offleash dogs congregate (meaning any piece of grass in Toronto) even if it means I am walking next to roaring traffic.Jersey has made some great strides in her behavior around dogs but it is still a work in progress
I won’t lie my life can be more difficult and complicated because of Jersey’s reactivity with other dogs. I have both cried in anger and despair and spent many hours worrying over her. But I would not change it for the world. NEVER. Jersey has forced me to become a far better dog owner than I would have been otherwise. In my attempts to help Jersey I have been forced to educate myself on not only aggression but dog behavior in general and get involved in training. To put things in perspective, if not for Jersey I might just be that person with their dog on an endless 100ft flexi lead cruising around the neighborhood and judging everyone with reactive dogs while simultaneously letting my dog get in there dogs grill. Plus I happen to think Jersey is absolutely fabulous.
I am not going to outline a practical guide on how to deal with your dog’s reactivy as I will leave that up to the expert dog trainers. For that you can check out Grisha Stewart’s “Behavioral Adjustment Therapy”, anything by Jean Donaldson (“Fight” is her one specifically on dog aggression) or Emma Parson’s book “Click to calm”. Oh and it goes without saying that if you find yourself dealing with dog-dog reactivy (or any other serious issue) get yourselves into the hands of a qualified trainer. I am beyond serious. Do it.
What I am going to provide you with are my top ten tips on how to live with a dog-reactive dog and maintain some sanity (mostly through laughter).
How to survive dog-reactive dog ownership and keep your sanity
1.Embrace sunrises. I have experienced countless sunrises and moments of serenity and peace in a busy city by getting up to walk/run Jersey at the crack of dawn before other dog owners awake. If I weren’t for Jersey’s dog rectivity I would be pressing snooze and out dodging all the other 9 to 5’ers walking their dogs pre-work. Wow I should write for hallmark.
2. Pretend you are a ninja. Leaving my apartment is an elaborate operation. Put Jersey behind me. Peer out peep hole. Open door a crack and crane neck to make sure dog next door is contained in the apartment. Emerge. Beat a hasty retreat to building exit. Now a decision on which door to exit by. Peer out front door and make sure french bulldog is not out….etc etc. On my walks I scan for Jersey’s arch enemies the reactive German Shepherd and the staring Akita. I can sense their presence even at a distance and without seeing them. My reflexes and 6th sense are better than ever. I am a dog-aggression-avoiding ninja. All of this is less stressful when you imagine yourself as a stealthy ninja. Try it.
3. Cry but don’t hit. It is not okay to hit your dog for being reactive but it is okay to cry, ask whhhhyyyy and point your hands skyward in the general direction of some type of god. Don’t lie. You have done it.
4. Laugh at all the awkward moments. The other day I was talking to a gentleman from my neighborhood while out with Jersey. A dog appeared around the corner and I literally just darted away mid sentence without another word to the man. I have not seen this man since.
5. Get used to the smell of liver/your treat of choice. Carry them everywhere you go with your dog.They are your new best friend. Embrace them.There will be emergency situations where these treats will save your ass. Make sure to treat yourself to.Chocolate and alcohol generally do the trick (make sure you wash your hands first though)
6. Find other people with reactive dogs. Get together.Without your reactive rovers of course. RANT about how ridiculous dog owners in your neighborhood are. Laugh. Laugh more. Swap stories on dog reactivity.Reactive dog ownership can be a lonely world find others who understand
7. Think of all the funny places you end up in trying to avoid triggers. I have dove inside a bush, found myself far up somebody’s private driveway practically on their front step, hidden behind a pillar and crouched behind a low wall-all to avoid running into dogs.. Where have you ended up hidding from oncoming canines?
8. Sing to your dog. I have a neighbor with a very reactive dog who screams and spins like a top (the dog not the man).It never stops and I swear he is stalking me because I can never seem to escape him on walks. When I am becoming twitchy and irritated by him I sing a variety of songs to Jersey. The other day I sang “that’s alright..that’s okay..she’s gonna pump your gas someday” through clenched teeth and a forced smile.It helped. Dance parties in the living room are also a great way to unwind from a stressful walk (solo or in partnership with your dog).
9. Love and acceptance. Love your dog when they progress and love them still when they turn into snarling whiling dervishes. Never ever take any positive dog interactions for granted and savor (and reward) these moments. Accept your dog for who they are and set realistic goals.Jersey will never be a social butterfly but she is learning to make better choices when she see’s dogs on the street rather than lunging or barking.
10. When all else fails=whipped cream. Right out of the can. Repeat again and again as needed.