Reactive Dog Victory!

Tonks is a pup who is the sweetest of sweet to us, to guests in our house, to people on the street, to cats, and to kids.  She is a lover and only wants to be petted.  When it comes to other dogs, though, we’ve struggled just about since we’ve gotten her to curb her reactivity to other dogs while on the leash.  The on the leash part is important because she actually does fine with most other dogs in houses (like her BFFAE, Sasha, a great pyr/border collie mix that lives with our neighbors, or her “pup-uncle” of pee rug fame) and goes to a doggie boarding place while we’re gone and hangs out very happily with other dogs there.  On the leash, though, she can be crazy and scary.  She’s so big and has such a big bark that if she has a reaction to another dog, it’s a WAY bigger deal than it would be if the pup-in-law reacted to other dogs, which he does actually.  People give us scared looks or looks like, “Why can’t you control her?  Is she going to chomp my face off?”  She’s also so distinctive looking that now people recognize us in the neighborhood and go the other way.

We have worked REALLY hard since we got her and realized that she has this issue to address it.  We’ve done a private consultation and three dog classes with a really awesome animal behaviorist.  Tonks is now a Canine Good Citizen and soon we’re going to do an evaluation to see if she can become a therapy dog.  She has come a really long way, but it can still be overwhelming and stressful to see another dog and have the possibility that she will have a bad reaction.  How we normally handle these situations is to avoid them at all costs.  Example:  if a dog is coming  straight at us on the sidewalk, we cross the street or u-turn and go the other way.  This plan of action means that Hubs and I are super vigilant on walks in order to not put Tonks in situations that would lead to bad reactions, thereby reinforcing negative behavior. Our trainer taught us that the problem behavior is Tonks’ way of addressing a scary situation:  she sees another dog and the unknown of the other dog’s behavior is overwhelming to her, so she lashes out with movement toward the dog, barking and growling (a.k.a. “fire-fighting”) to show the other dog that if she was even thinking of trying anything, she had better think again because Tonks MEANS BUSINESS.  Often, when we do the u-turn once Tonks has seen the other dog and tell her, “We’re not meeting that dog,” she does just fine, which demonstrates to me that the trainer is right and Tonks is just worried.  By removing her from the situation, we greatly reduce the problem behavior.

Yesterday, though, we were in a situation that normally would be double plus bad.   We had just started our walk on the busy street on which we live, came out of our walled townhouse complex, and turned left to see a neighbor jogging with her dog that Tonks sort of knows but has reacted to in a mixed way in the past.  They were coming straight at us and we were faced with extremely busy road on our right and wall to the complex on our left.   No chance to cross the street or go up into a yard to give the other dog a very wide berth.  In certain cases, Tonks refuses to do a u-turn and put her back to the other dog (too scary?) and this occasion was one of those.  So I basically went for my only option and positioned Tonks and me on the little piece of grass between the road and the sidewalk.  I squatted down beside her and scratched her chest and said in a silly (though not babyish) voice, “We’re not gonna meet that doggy.  No way!”  And she licked her nose and flicked her tongue (two dog calming signals; read about them in this book) and didn’t growl or bark or even go toward the dog.  They passed us in a quick minute and then we kept walking.  Tonks shook it off almost right away (another calming signal!), and I was so proud.

Happy one year and one week Complete Family Day, Tonks!

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