Owning and Loving a Reactive Dog


29 Nov
About 3 years ago I met Dobby. He was in a foster home and I was transporting him from that foster home, to his new one. When I met him, he was very defensive with me. He put on a big show. He was barking and lunging and carrying on at me. Regardless of this, he got in his kennel and I carried him out to my car. Little did I know; this dog was my new best friend. When I arrived at the new home, I saw it was a very large apartment building downtown. There would have been heavy traffic of people – which is what Dobby’s biggest trigger is. There would have been a huge chance he would have been stuck in close proximity with the thing he was most fearful of, in elevators, stairwells, tight hallways etc. I couldn’t let that happen. Not only for everyone safety, but also for Dobby’s well being. Reactive dogs need to be set up to have success. Putting them in situations they can’t handle isn’t fair to the dog, or the public. So, Dobby came home with me. When I first got him home, I let everyone in the house know to ignore him, and I let him out. He was given to me with a soft muzzle, so I had put that on him. He came out of his kennel and warmed up to all four of us, who were present. We removed the muzzle and from that day on he had bonded with the people he first met when coming home with me. This is when I realized this dog had the most fun, goofy, adorable personality. He loved the other dogs in the home, and once he bonded with us. He was stuck to us like glue. He is so affectionate and has the sweetest personality. Now the fun started. I took dobby for his first walk, and we saw a person from yards away. He lost it. At this point I had been training dogs for a few years, so I knew exactly how to handle him acting this way. We got distance, I sat him down and I started trying to get him to take treats. No dice. The boy was so stressed he had gone over his threshold (what he can handle). We had to head straight home and calm him down. This is when I realized, he is reactive on his leash to strangers. He was meeting people off leash okay at that point though. So, I had allowed people to come over to meet him. That’s when the first nip on someone’s ankle happened. This is when I realized this dog was terrified. This is when I realized I needed to modify my lifestyle and his lifestyle to one where he was able to get success. I started to keep him in his own safe area when people came over. They would give him treats under the door or toss them in his kennel. When Dobby first came to me, he was not fully out of his shell. Once he came out of that shell, I saw the work we needed to do. We have been doing that work ever since. Dobby has met over 10 people off leash in the last three years, with minimal reactions if we set the situation up right. I’ve made mistakes and put him in situations he can’t handle, and every time I have done that; I have learned that I’ve pushed him too far and that I need to take a step back. He has made significant progress with his reaction on leash as well. Don’t get me wrong, he is still reactive, and he is still limited in what he can handle, but I’ve made it so my life accommodates that for him. That way we can work at his pace and he can get true success in learning that strangers aren't a danger to him. He has his good days and his bad days, but I would never change it for the world. Dobby is my best friend and he teaches me to be a better dog trainer and human everyday. He has taught me patience and compassion and how to love a living being unconditionally. Its not easy owning a reactive dog, but I can completely confirm it is rewarding and more worth it then you would ever think. 
- Nadia Ansari, DCBC
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