As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I had dreams of adopting a dog that would be everyone and every dog’s best friend. Maybe, just maybe, it’d even become a therapy dog and make the world a better place just by virtue of being present. (I’m looking at you, Norman.)
After discovering Knox’s reactivity to dogs, I’ve dedicated myself to not only never give up, but to become as informed as possible about managing and improving his outlook on life. If I was the type of person to believe in fate, then I’d completely agree that “we get the dog who can teach us the most.” And Knox has certainly taught me a lot.
We avoid dog parks and areas where dogs could be off-leash even if they shouldn’t be. Super high value treats are always in my pocket when we use the elevator in case the untrained reactive pug, corgi, or bichon tries to rush in (they always try to rush in). I make a loud fool of myself while waiting at the elevator to let other dog owners know that we’re waiting here, not wanting trouble.
Despite all the tears, feelings of despair and anxiety, Knox has made some great strides in his overall behaviour. Today marks 6-months since we’ve welcomed his crazy seal-shark brain into our lives, and really, it’s all about that wigglebutt.
Further inspired by Bull In The City’s How to live with a dog reactive dog and not lose your shit: an impractical guide, here are a few things we’ve picked up on since we got Knox.
Relish in your dog’s introversion. Just like how we don’t say hi to every single person we know while walking on the street, your dog doesn’t need to say hi or even like every dog on the street. Thank god, because all the small talk would be tiresome and frankly, most of the dogs (little dogs, might I add!) and dog owners in our area are assholes anyway.
Realizing Knox and I share a common love. We both live for food. If you feed me, I will love you forever.
Really appreciate other reactive dog owners that actually give a shit. Because we’re so used to owners that don’t care or are oblivious to their dog’s reactivity (“My dog is super friendly, I swear!”– sound familiar?) I almost ran to hug this owner we walked past, that had started treating and doing focus activities with his GSD as I started treating and doing focus activities with Knox. Even if I don’t know you, I want you to know that I love you.
You notice awesome behaviours more. In learning to deal with his reactivity, I’m extra aware of Knox’s every ear twitch and body movement while we’re together. This also means I’m hyperaware of whenever he does something good (re: clicker training & catching behaviours!) that I want repeated. Sitting at the crosswalk? CLICK & TREAT! Checking in while walking on a loose leash even when there are birds? CLICK & TREAT! Not reacting to barking? YOU GET ALL THE TREATS.
You celebrate all the little victories. Because every unexpected good behaviour he offers is a little victory. Knox automatically sits on his mat while I’m filling his Kong Wobbler. Or while waiting for a walk. Or when we’re cooking. He also doesn’t understand doors and doesn’t push through with his face. And he doesn’t beg for food, even if we’re eating right next to his face.
Reactivity makes you more proactive. If you’ve ever been a shitty plan ahead type of person, a reactive dog walk will train you into looking ahead and planning for every situation in no time. We don’t go for a walk without 1) a bait bag of low-value treats for those great loose-leash trots and check ins, 2) mid-level treats for mid-level triggers (birds! skateboards!), 3) super high-value treats for the elevator and dogs while on leash. Oh, and you’ll never be that guy who runs out of poop bags because you have to be prepared to scoop and run in case another dog comes by while your dog is mid-poop.
Every positive interaction is a celebration. Did he walk by a dog without breaking focus from me? Yes? POP THE CHAMPAGNE.
Love his love for all people, big and small. Babies and toddlers that squeal? He just sits and licks their hands. People that smile at him? Wigglebutts, happy tail wags and keeping attention on me? BONUS! When you can see his little brain turning and stopping himself from jumping on new exciting people = the best moment in the world.
Judgey people get judged right back. Fuck you too, buddy. Yeah, my dog is a little reactive but at least we’re working on it. What about you? Yeah, that’s right. If owning a pitbull means I need thick skin, then owning a leash-reactive pitbull means my skin is now made of fucking mithril.
I’ll be the first to admit that he’s not perfect, but who is? I’m sure not. With every kujo moment, Knox has an equally happy and derpy moment. Every time we encounter a new challenge, you can see that all the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears have paid off. You see the little cogs in his head turning and trying to make the right decision on his own.
It can honestly feel daunting and lonely to be that dog owner because Knox is so much bigger and stronger than almost every other dog in the neighbourhood. His reactivity is seemingly more difficult to manage than the reactive smaller dogs who always get a pass for their reactivity.
But knowing that there are people out there that are dealing with the same have been an inspiration and solace: I’m not the only one jumping into bushes to avoid oncoming dogs! Or yelling at people to “can you give us a minute?!”