For the most part, Mr. N is a polite little dog. He does not steal food off the table or your hand. He says hi to strangers nicely. He will stop in the midst of chasing a squirrel the majority of the time when you call him. But when he sees another dog walking down the street, he becomes a shrieking banshee. Or he used to anyway.
These days with lots and lots and lots of training, careful management and heightened dog radar, his over-threshold episodes are few and usually due to blind corners or me not being on the other end of the leash. He can go to dog shows and trials and classes without too much trouble. It’s walks where there’s a heightened chance of dogs running amok or on flexi-leashes or screaming at him from behind a fence that causes problems.
With Mr. N, it’s not a case of being fearful or aggressive. It’s frustration based. He really really wants to say hi to that other dog. If your dog has to be reactive, It’s probably the best form of reactivity to have because at least you don’t have to worry about your dog being frightened or attacking someone. But it also means it’s immensely frustrating because you think if only your dog had some more impulse control, walks wouldn’t be a loud and stressful experience. I am much more sympathetic about his separation anxiety which stems from fear.
A dog trainer asked me what I wanted to achieve in regards to his reactivity. And I said I just wanted him to be able to walk calmly past another dog on the same sidewalk. He does not need to be able to greet dogs calmly on leash because I don’t let him greet dogs on leash anyway. Nor do I want him to. I want there to be a clear delineation between play time and walk/work time.
Until recently, we were still stuck on the opposite sidewalk. It’s kind of a hard gap to bridge as otherwise we would have to be walking in the middle of the street regularly to reduce his threshold distance.
Well this weekend, Mr. N walked past three separate dogs in close quarters. Without barking or lunging and barely a huff. One on a crowded patio and two on wide-ish trails. I was so proud. It was a Holy Grail moment. Mr. N knows how to do a lot of things. He can play the piano. He can clean up his toys and put them in the toy box. He can do a handstand. Nothing. And I mean nothing has come close to the amount of time and effort put towards curbing his leash reactivity. We’ve probably gone through a hundred pounds of treats in his lifetime just on this.
We still have more work to do. It helped that none of the dogs he walked past by were particularly interested in meeting him or barking. And it will be harder in our neighborhood as well as he knows all the spots with dogs that charge the fence when he walks by. But we will get there.
People often think reactive dogs are “bad.” Mr. N tries very hard to be good. And he is a good boy. But now people will see that all the time.