Our beagle Cricket has her issues with off leash dogs and the occasional stranger, and Sheba has some mild fears, but Luke is our first dog that I really consider reactive. Reactive dogs are dogs that respond to their fears with an abnormal level of intensity. Since we raised Luke from a puppy, we know there was no abuse in his background or reason for him to have these fears. We could have socialized him a little better, but for the most part I believe his issues are genetic and would have come about no matter how we had raised him. He started to show his first fears around 4 months old and we got him to obedience school immediately and have worked with him ever since.
He has other personality quirks as well. Despite constant handling of his paws, ears, and mouth from the time he came home with us at 8 weeks old, one day he decided he didn’t want us touching him in any way that wasn’t just petting or affectionate. If he has a tick on him, we have to use ninja maneuvers to trick him into letting us get it off. Nail trimming is a project that requires a plate brushed with peanut butter, and that took a lot of time to come about.
He hasn’t improved much as he’s gotten older, not yet anyway, but we keep trying. I’ve said it before; he is the most loving, affectionate, and sweet dog with us, and we wouldn’t trade him for the world. We just wish he would love everyone as much as he loves us. What we took for granted with our other dogs can be a challenge with Luke. Even though we’re new to this, I have a feeling anyone with a reactive dog gets excited about every little breakthrough that happens.
We’ve had three recently, so of course I’m busting to share about them. They might not seem like much to anyone who has “normal” dogs, but I think any pet parent can understand pride over their pets’ achievements, and other reactive pet families will understand even more.
#1: A few weeks ago I wrote about the nice elderly gentleman in our neighborhood who drives around visiting, and will pull over to dispense a treat if he sees someone with a dog. The first time he pulled over when I had Luke, I worried Luke would bark at him. But he never really saw the man so sat down and behaved perfectly. The next time we saw him recently, we were on the other side of the road and I had to cross over to get the treat. This time Luke could clearly see and hear the man. I kept Luke just behind me and gave him treats as we walked over there. Luke did briefly let out a low growl but that was it! He happily took the treat I handed to him from the man. That went better than I expected.
#2: If anyone remembers that post about the first encounter, they remember I avoided our neighbor’s house after that because I didn’t want to ruin my pleasure at how that went. The next time my neighbor was in the yard, I made sure Luke saw her. We did cross to the other side of the road to get some distance. Luke saw her and started to react, but I stuck a treat in his face and told him to heel…and…he stopped and took the treat, and then continued walking! That was another win and I think it’s promising in the long term. It’s helped me to the point where I’m seeking out these encounters now instead of trying to avoid them, though we’ll continue to take it slow and keep distance.
#3: This was a little different and what inspired me to write this post. We received a Chi for Dogs Soft Grip Massage Brush when we were at BlogPaws from Fetch4Pets. Last weekend both Luke and Cricket had baths, and Sheba went to the groomer a couple days later. Surprisingly, baths are one thing Luke is good about (knock wood). I had been using that brush on Sheba some, and she seemed to like how it felt. It didn’t work for getting out her undercoat so well (it loosened but didn’t quite remove it), but it worked quite well on Cricket’s shorter fur. I was brushing Cricket with it out on our deck Saturday when Luke came over to bother us. Now, thank goodness Luke is a short haired dog, because brushing is another thing he’s never let me do to him. He does shed and I’d like to brush him some but it’s not something I worried about much with so many other issues to work on.
But when he approached me on the deck I couldn’t resist trying to use the brush on him, and to my astonishment, he let me brush him! I started out slowly and softly, sitting next to him and talking nicely. He must have decided he liked it because he let me brush him for 5-10 minutes! I praised him quietly and was just so thrilled. I don’t know why – whether it was that nice massaging brush, the fact that I was sitting down (instead of standing over him like I normally would have tried), or if the Relaxation Protocol we’ve been doing is helping. I was almost afraid to try again, because maybe he was just having a moment. But he let me brush him again so my hubby could take some photos.
Yes, these are small things in this long and bumpy reactive road we’re on, and I know there will be ups and downs. But I am going to take each win for what it’s worth – and to us, it’s worth a lot.
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