How to live with a dog-reactive dog and not lose your shit: An (im)practical guide

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

Jersey says “leash your damn dog”

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.

Jersey get’s serious about dealing with her dog-dog reactivity

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.


Bing the British Columbian

Ladies and gentlemen Bing the pit bull has left the building, the city and the PROVINCE of Ontario to begin his new life.

I’ve known since the day I began fostering him that I could not keep Bing. I reminded myself over and over again for the entire 6 months he stayed with me that Ontario’s Breed Specific Legislation prohibited him from being here and that I was just a temporary pit stop before he continued on to a new (and legal) life in a new province. When he snuggled in my bed with his head on my pillow, when he sprawled out next to me on the couch and when he lay on his dog bed next to Jersey on hers like he had always been here and this was his home, I reminded him that this was temporary.

I told people that even if he could stay I would not keep him. When people asked me how I could ever let him leave I brushed them off and acted all tough like I gave up amazing pit bull’s all the time and this was no biggie. But as the day for him to fly out to BC approached I realized that I was not the progeny of Chuck Norris and had indeed fallen head over heels in love with Bing and that if there was no law prohibiting him he probably would have stayed. Lucky for Bing’s new family the only illegal thing I do is jaywalk.

As I came to terms with the fact that Bing was going to the west coast I decided that I needed to stop crying in the corner over his departure and instead launch into action to prepare him for his upcoming journey to British Columbia.

I made sure to acclimatize him to a rain jacket and even rushed out to walk him (much to Mr. Delicate’s HORROR) when I saw it was raining to get him used to the weather in British Columbia

Bing getting ready for the rainy weather in British Columbia

Bing gets ready for the ESPECIALLY rainy weather in BC by putting the hood up

I sat him down for a serious chat and explained that things would be changing and that even though I loved him very very much he couldn’t stay with me and was going to go on an exciting plane ride and when he landed he would have a new foster home where he would not need to wear his muzzle.

Bing listening intently to my lecture

Bing landed in British Columbia on Sunday and from all reports all of his travels to and from the airport and during his flight were vomit free (guess he just saved that for me and the back of my parents car?). He is now in a wonderful foster home with the pit bull rescue group HugABull based in BC

I will let you be the judge of how he is settling in to his new foster home (thank you to his new foster mamma Tiffany for the pictures)

Bing’s new foster takes better quality pics than I did 🙂

Wow he is looking SUPER miserable in his new foster home right? 😉

If there is a bed to lay on Bing will find it..whether in Ontario or BC

Bing is enduring a lot of hardship’s in his new foster having a picture taken when he is CLEARLY taking a nap

Yep Bing is living the hard life in BC

Cheers to you Mr. Fat Head Bing you are so very missed. Please remember all the manner’s and obedience you’ve learned and enjoy the beautiful West Coast. Whoever is lucky enough to adopt you has hit the jackpot because you are one special guy.

P.S: Just because Bing is gone don’t think the blog is too…a new “bull in the city” will be featured soon!

Bull in a new city

This week Bing has been on VACATION visiting my parents and sister. He is in heaven here but he was not feeling too heavenly on the five-hour drive to my parents. Lucky me BOTH dogs are nervous in the car and want to sit on me for comfort

Bing and Jersey on my lap= so MUCH fun

Oh look an EMPTY seat right next to me and the two dogs on my knee. I am sure the car was tilting to one side with all three of us huddled on one side

WOW an empty seat

While Bing shows no fear on the subway, streetcar and bus he gets very nervous in the car and shakes, drools and looks very queasy so before we left on the long drive I gave him a gravol and withheld food. The good news is that Bing finally got off my lap.

Look Bing you can have your own SEAT and WINDOW

And Jersey looked very smug indeed at having won the ultimate prize-my lap

Jersey enjoying the view from my lap

I will save you the details but let’s just say that I am thankful we put a blanket down to cover the back seat. Poor Bing! Lesson learned always bring extra towels and paper towels when travelling with dogs.

After surviving the traumatic car ride Bing has been having the time of his life visiting my parents. He has been running from room to room astonished at all the beds, couches and chairs to curl up in (quite a change from my tiny apartment) and trying out every single one of them. He loves sniffing around the postage stamp sized backyard and trying to lick the BBQ (just to see if there are any left overs) on the deck. But his favorite part of my parent’s house is the big bay window

Bing in his bay window

One thing learned from observing Bing sitting in the window surveying the neighborhood is that Bing is NOT a guard dog. The other day I watched him see the mailman walk up our driveway and on to our step and drop the mail in the box with a clang and Bing did NOTHING. Not a growl or bark, no concerned looks and barely a raised eyebrow. He just sits there all day watching the world pass by.

Lest you think Bing-a-ling has spent his vacation lounging around in his bay window eating bon bon’s he has also put in lots of time pounding the pavement visiting various pet establishments. He made an appearance at the neighborhood dog-friendly cafe Wag and received lots of treats and attention. Later in the day he headed over to Critter Jungle pet store to pick up a snazzy new rain coat (complete with hood) and some treats. Today he headed over to Global Pet Foods on Wellington for a nail trim and some treats and got some more attention and treats from people working at and visiting the store (liver this time!). Sneaky Bing managed to slip a more expensive chew in his muzzle (how I don’t know) and started nibbling on it so he got a treat I hadn’t planned on buying. How could I get mad at him when he looked so proud of himself for nabbing a chew with his muzzle on?

In other news tomorrow is my last day with Bing before he leaves me to fly to British Columbia, Canada (after a brief stop over with some lovely BIN ladies) stay tuned for more details on this…