Owning a ‘reactive’ dog is a rollercoaster: one day you’re euphoric, the next you’re despairing. One day it seems your furry companion has conquered all of their fears and frustrations, the next it can feel like you’re right back at square one.
But that’s training!
Despite common misconception, training of any animal is not a smooth line that just goes up and up, but more of a canyon-esque landscape with holes and pitfalls throughout until you finally reach the endpoint. It’s a process of trial and error, working out what works for you, working out what works for your furry companion, all whilst juggling an ever-changing and unpredictable environment.
Going through this process can be gruelling, and some days you may just want to throw in the towel. Occasionally, those ‘good days’ are enough to get you through the bad. More often, you also need a good support system to remind you just why you’re putting yourself through it.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a great team around me whilst I go through my own journey, and now I want to offer support (and maybe the odd giggle) to those traversing their own one. So, sit tight, buckle up, and brace yourselves for the story of Dougal.
Me and my pup have known each other for just over a year now. He came to me when he was 18 months old, having had a bit of a rocky start to life. He has a bite history, and when we first took him home it was apparent his attitude was “teeth first, think later”! This was in response to anything he found scary which, as we soon found out, was pretty much everything.
He was definitely a handful, and our lives together had a bit of a baptism of fire. Even on the relatively calm, peaceful local walks, he was permanently on tenterhooks – a little coiled spring ready to snap at anything novel. I started a list of ‘triggers’ so I could try to work out what trends there were, if any, to his fears and soon found out what his big weakness was.
Not exactly what I had in mind, given his bite history was exclusive to humans and he’d previously lived supposedly harmoniously with other dogs. It also wasn’t helpful when I’m surrounded by dogs on a regular basis – I work with them, my family has them, most of my friends have them, and we live right next to popular dog park. But, he was a part of my family now, so we were going to get through this together.
I’ll say now that I was utterly and completely unprepared for the torrent of emotions about to ensue. I’m a dog trainer/behaviourist by trade and I’ve helped dog-reactive dogs before, but never before had I had such a high level of emotional investment in a dog. My objectivity over any situation had gone, and it became easier than ever to blame myself for every little thing that went wrong. There were tears and there was laughter; moments of complete self-doubt and moments of triumph. It was, and still is, a difficult journey, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It is, after all, our journey, and what has brought us so close together.
Author: Alyssa Ralph, Your Dog’s Club Guru