The day you learn that you have a reactive dog is also the day when you realise that you will now have to explain it to people around you.
And this is the moment when you can feel like an utter idiot. A very miserable and frustrated idiot who tries to converse with a brick wall.
It is true that people love dogs – and know about dogs. It is also very true that many people who call themselves dog lovers don’t actually understand dogs that well. They see a wagging tail and assume that the dog is “nice”… They see a dog who isn’t sure about approaching them and decide that “something is wrong” with that pup or worse – still insist on reaching out to stroke him, often without even asking you first.
If they see a dog who isn’t comfortable about physical contact with strangers, barks at other dogs or reacts in any other way that is not considered “normal”, people label your dog “naughty” or “aggressive”.
There are also people who let their unleashed dog run towards your pup on a lead because their dog is “friendly”. They either ignore your polite requests to put the dog on a lead or end up yelling…
Normally, none of these events would affect us much. They happen and they pass without making any particular impact on my life. However, this time every single occasion could make an impact on my little boy, so I had to do something to prevent them.
First things first, we changed our walks schedule and locations to avoid any unpleasant dogs.
Secondly, I started working with Fred on feeling relaxed and comfortable when we do end up bumping into other dogs. And since this part required certain exercises, setting up safe (threshold) distance to desensitise him, I had to occasionally walk away from people we knew. Upsetting them was most definitely not in my rule book.
They all loved and knew my boys, many had dogs, but not all of them understood reactivity or Fred’s emotions, so I decided to become my pup’s interpreter.
I went and spoke to everyone I cared about. If I couldn’t talk to people, I’d leave a card with a story, explanation and “I am so sorry” message.
In other words, I became Fred’s interpreter.
And even though some people still didn’t quite get it, others showed me support and encouragement and did their best to help if they saw us walking down the street. Some cheered me up (very quietly and gently) whenever they noticed any improvements – and it meant the world!
Not only it helped Fred to chill and relax, it made me more comfortable and relaxed, too. It suddenly felt like we were getting somewhere, making progress… re-activating happiness.
Photo source: Fred photographed by me