Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Patience with reactive dogs

Patience is the key which solves all problems. -Sudanese proverb

      This applies to all aspects of life , however I think we need to especially remember this when it comes to our animal friends. They have memories and fears just like we do. Sadly they do not understand English and we need to be patient. We need to particularly remember this when it comes to reactive dogs.
     What is a reactive dog?  Sara Reusche, CPDT-KA, CVT, ANWI  states, "Simply put, reactivity can be defined as an overreaction to external stimuli."  Personally living with a semi-reactive dog, I believe just like autism, it is not a disease, but just a handicap that we can work with. We do not turn our backs if a child is autistic or has learning disabilities. We find ways to make that light bulb come on over their heads and we don't set them up for failure . The same principles should be applied to our canine friends. We have to celebrate making it over the hurdles and celebrate the accomplishments, not punish their downfalls.
     In my case and in many others I have seen, reactive dogs are highly intelligent. It is so important to give those pets jobs, structure, and positive activities to celebrate that intelligence.
     There are many tools available for reactive dogs, and also for basic obedience for that matter. In my opinion, there should never be force,violence or hitting in training. Structure and positive reinforcement are the key.  One method that is highly effective in working with a dog, is to not free feed, but make your dog earn their dinner by watching  you , and performing basic obedience such as sit , stay , down, etc.  There are fun ways that will keep them thinking and earn  food. You can purchase puzzle and treat toys and hide their food around the house and teach them to "find".  Rally and agility are excellent activities that allow your dog to bond with you and teach them to pay attention and look to you with trust and joy for commands.

      Please make sure you take all proper precautions with a reactive dog, you want to protect your dog at all cost. If you know there are going to be small children or other dogs at an event and your dog is reactive to them , PLEASE DO NOT take your dog or take the proper precautions, such as bringing a kennel.
 Your dog would much rather feel safe in a kennel than to be thrown in a situation they cannot handle. Do not be afraid to be bold or even rude to protect your dog. If someone bends down to stick their face in my dog's face,  I have no problem telling them, "back off, he cannot handle that". When I teach kids bite prevention, I stick my face one inch from their nose and asking them if it makes them uncomfortable. We need to give dogs that personal space and not be afraid to tell others too. I suggest hanging a small sign on your door that says something like, "please be advised my dog needs space, please give it to him." You are your dogs voice and you need to speak for them.
     Some helpful tools to help you with your reactive dog are handouts and literature from Dr. Sophia Yin A gentle leader is a great tool to take a reactive dog into public. To make sure people are not rude and give your dog the space they need, I found a great snap on leash sleeve in bright yellow that says, "I need space". This reminds people to ask before they pet, so you can instruct them the polite way to approach a fearful or reactive dog. You can find these on this site
     I suggest contacting a kind, reputable trainer in your area that specializes in your problems. DON'T be afraid to ask for multiple references. If a trainer is rough, cruel, or in any way makes you uncomfortable, speak up for your dog and don't allow it. Force will only make matters worse and don't let any trainer convince you otherwise. There are so many positive activities now for reactive dogs. They can now even compete without being exposed to other dogs or people that they may fear in cyber rally and agility.
     If you are in West MI and want a trainer who specializes in reactive dogs and who can assist you with cyber competitions, I highly recommend Dog Blessed LLC. 616-430-0297.
Odin and I wish your pets a joyous stress free life.
 Please feel free to read the first chapter of my book and more articles at www. furryphilosophy.blogspot.

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