Life is a series of events and our reaction to them. We can react positively or negatively, appropriately or inappropriately. As humans most of us try to be better than we were the day before. There are always going to be times when we regret how we reacted, because in the end none of us are perfect. I try to remember this when I’m working with highly reactive dogs at the shelter. These are the dogs that people often just walk by. They walk by because the dogs are usually jumping and barking in their kennels and creating a ruckus. Please don’t cast these dogs aside. They are often energetic animals full of personality that just cannot be contained by their current circumstances.
If you know me by now, then you know when I was a teacher I found myself drawn to the “problem children”, and nothing has changed. I like a challenge and I liked being able to reveal the amazing student that was inside. It’s the same for the dogs I train. I know there is a great dog in there, they just need help getting over whatever seems to be setting off their reactive behavior. In a shelter environment there are so many different reasons that a dog reacts in an exaggerated manner. Shelter’s are loud, there are constantly people walking by and stopping to look, dogs get bored, they want attention, there are so many smells. The hard part is narrowing it down. In order to do so you really just have to spend time with them. This is where patience comes in. I’m going to be honest with you, when I volunteer I go straight from work, no break, and sometimes I’m exhausted. I usually push through and find my second wind. When I look at a dog barking its head off at me, I take a deep breath and wonder if I can do this tonight. You know what? I think I always end up going into that kennel.
At the end of 2018 I featured a Pit Bull terrier named Allegra that took months and months to get adopted. She was a barker, jumper, and at first hated being leashed up to get walked (but also loved walking). She also has serious arthritis that she was dealing with that scared some potential adopters away. Some volunteers told me that she made them uncomfortable and nervous. I ended up going into her kennel the first time to help someone else put on her harness to go for a walk. She was not having it. I ended up just sitting with her for a while and after about 10 minutes of her eyeing me up, she quietly came over, laid down and rolled on her back. She just stared at me as if to say “Well, what are you waiting for? Rub my belly!” Had I not been patient I would not have known the sweet girl that was hiding behind all of that boisterousness. Then I got the harness and slipped it on and we had a wonderfully long walk and even played in the play yard. She was there week after week and even though I wanted her to be adopted, I secretly couldn’t wait to spend time with her. Her reactivness was mostly from a little bit of fear (that harness going over her head just freaked the girl out), and boredom. She was an extremely smart and active dog. She probably could have stayed outside running around all day and been perfectly content, but we had to monitor her arthritis. She would run even though she was in pain. So we practiced with the harness until she was comfortable with it. We started giving her toys in her kennel that required her to think while she was playing. She was finally adopted after about 4 months. Her behavior had really turned around and people were noticing her more. She finally found an owner that was willing to care for her even though she had arthritis at a young age. The main take away from this story is it takes time and patience with reactive dogs, but they can end up being the most joyous fun loving animals to be around.
You know it wouldn’t be the Single Dog Mom Blog without me writing about my own little one, Teddy. I talked about him a lot in my last blog about fearful dogs. But believe it or not, my nervous little Nelly can be a bit of a loud mouth if he wants to. You might be thinking- jeez this dog is a hot mess , he’s fearful, he’s reactive,- but I promise he isn’t! Teddy never really barks at home, only if if the doorbell rings (normal)and if he sees something out the window that alarms him (also normal). Also, he is my partner in crime, my copilot. He is pretty much in the car with me every day. When he is in the car and sees another dog, all bets are off. He is a maniac. He jumps around (no need to worry, remember he always has his seat belt on) he growls and barks and bares his teeth. I have put some training into place, where I distract him with treats and he doesn’t get them until he is calm and quiet. It is still a work it progress. For some reason seeing a dog from the car really sets him off. I don’t know if he feels threatened, or he just knows the other dogs can’t do anything about it at that moment and its his chance to be tough. Usually the owners walking their dogs either laugh or just stare like “what is that dog’s problem..” They don’t know that in actuality Teddy is an amazing dog.
So don’t judge a book by it’s cover, or a dog by its barking. Most of the time the are just trying to get your attention because after all they know they are awesome. They just need you to see it. With patience and training any reactive dog can become the greatest pet. Soon they will be barking less and wagging more as they enjoy their beautiful new life!
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Pup of the week:
There were so many cute dogs this week it was hard to choose the pup of the week. I chose Duncan because he has been at the shelter the longest at this point, almost 2 months. He is a sweet older guy with an amazing personality, that is constantly wagging his tail!
I am happy to report that Lex the bulldog mix was adopted along with almost every dog that was at the shelter before the Fourth of July holiday!