So I growl, bark and lunge at other dogs when I am out on walks. What's the big deal? Corgis have been excellent guard dogs for centuries and I am simply carrying on the tradition. Bethany says she doesn't like it when I growl, bark, lunge and snap. She says I am "leash reactive." I don't understand what that means but she prefers that I not bark so I am trying to cut back. But WOOF Support? C'mon! I don't need any Working Out Our Fears help. I am afraid of absolutely nothing. Seriously. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.
Well, maybe I am afraid whenever Bethany is... She gets very worried when she sees an off-leash dog. Bethany is afraid Wilhelm, Huxley or I will get attacked. I guess it happens a lot. It happened to my friend Oz! But it has never happened to me. I wouldn't let it because I growl, bark, lunge and snap, looking and sounding very mean. I have never bitten anyone, of course. I don't think I ever would. But I would never have to because I make such a big showy "stay-away-from-me" scene! Like I said, I am a guard dog. And a very good one if I don't say so myself.
Sometimes I bark at other dogs because I want to say "hello!" I actually like most other dogs. I want to visit and play! Maybe I am afraid of not being noticed... Bethany says she is afraid other dogs will misinterpret my exuberant greeting. She says I have to be quieter and calmer and that I need something called "self-control." Do they have that at the pet store where everything else I need comes from? And does it come on fish flavor?
I am fine off my leash. Maybe I just don't like my leash. I am very good at "heel" and I always come when I am called so why do I need this leash on anyways?! I do also bark pretty loudly off my leash too. But I don't growl or lunge. So maybe Bethany is right and I am "leash reactive" but I still don't understand why I need help.
Bethany gives me a lot of treats on walks when I listen to her say "with me." This means I have to look at and stay near her and ignore other dogs. It's really hard though... I want them to notice me! I also want to be able to travel, go camping and go to the pub but Bethany says dogs that are so noisy can't do as many things. She says she doesn't need me to always guard her and our pack so I try to guard in a stealthier way. Corgis can be pretty sneaky!
I don't like walks when Bethany isn't focused on the task at hand and paying attention to me. I can sort of understand that she likes to enjoy the view or take pictures since I like to sniff and mark. But when she isn't concentrating on Wilhelm, Huxley and I, someone needs to make sure we are safe and the best someone for the job is me! Bethany has done a much better job of staying aware and keeping alert on our walks for quite a while now. And she gives me a lot of treats and praise for taking some off-duty time when we are out walking. I am getting used to it... but not too used to it if any of you dogs out there think that means you can come near without permission!
So if "leash reactive"means guarding your family and being theatrically friendly, then I guess I am. And if getting help for my leash reactivity means that I can keep going to wonderful places and doing fun things, then I'll do it. But most of all, if being quiet and staying next to Bethany when another dog is near makes her happy, then that is the best reason of all for me to try and try and try.
Brychwyn came to live with me at ten and a half weeks old. In these last three years, he has never been attacked, bitten or even overly dominated by another dog. When Brychwyn was with his dam, grand dam and litter mates, he was properly socialized and carefully exposed to new experiences as well as other dogs. Yet even way back in his first puppy kindergarten class, Brychwyn snapped and lunged at the other well-meaning puppies. Looking back at those early symptoms, I wonder if I had treated Brychwyn's reactivity differently, then maybe it wouldn't have worsened. Jason and I believed he just needed morepositive socialization. So did our team of trainers and behaviorists. But the problem just got worse. I began to dread our walks because if we saw any other dogs Brychwyn got so loud and crazy. I thought he was just a puppy and we'd keep training and he'd be fine. But when Brychwyn was just a little less than a year old, he lunged and snapped at a friends lab puppy during a play date. I knew he had a serious problem. I didn't know what his problem was or how to deal with it but that didn't matter. I needed to help my corgi.
I have been a hobby dog trainer since I was a teenager but I had never heard of "leash reactivity" before. And I can honestly say I still wish I hadn't. I have dealt with a slew of canine behavior problems but a leash reactive dog, the growling, the snapping, the lunging and the out of control barking involved, is the most difficult. In Brychwyn's case the worst part is that there is no specific incident that explains why he is this way. So I blame myself. I must have failed him somehow. And I will spend the rest of his life making it up to him. Everything I have learned about leash reactivity and how to deal with it has made me a better trainer and companion to my dogs. Not only do Brychwyn, Wilhelm and Huxley reap the benefits of me expanding my dog training knowledge but I will be a better partner to future canines I hope to be lucky enough to share my time with.
The first thing I did in beginning the long, gradual, ongoing process of easing Brychwyn's leash reactivity was learning his threshold. I very simply observed what it took to make him react- a dog walking across the street, a loose dog running about, a dog behind a fence a block a way, etc. Then I got familiar with the physical signals that Brychwyn was going to react- ears pulled back, whiskers jutted forward, increased breathing, tail positioning, etc. Having been walking a leash reactive dog for quite a while (though unaware of the name of the problem) I had already become very alert to any other dogs around. But in learning about Brychwyn's threshold and the signs he gave about how he was going to react, I was able to begin the painfully slow, everlasting process of helping him.
Like any dog training, timing is everything. I had to be very careful not to reward Brychwyn for reacting but instead for not reacting. The only way to do this was to reward and praise before the reactivity threshold was crossed. And, in the beginning, we avoided any situations where Brychwyn's threshold was threatened. Because Brychwyn's leash reactivity had no rhyme or reason, this was (and still is) very difficult. Certain other dogs can walk on the same block with us while some can't be within a mile. This is where getting to know Brychwyn's physical signals helped. If I would see the other dog first, I could watch Brychwyn carefully for any of his about to growl, bark, lunge or snap signals, praising him if he remained calm and quiet and making sure his threshold was not crossed. If Brychwyn noticed the dog first, I would have to act quickly to keep Brychwyn from crossing his threshold. Again, observing his physical signals and praising and rewarding extensively. And, most importantly, not allowing Brychwyn to cross his threshold into growling, barking, lunging or snapping. Should I fail and allow Brychwyn's threshold to be crossed, I simply ignore his tantrum, however embarrassing it may be. Sadly, each time any reactive dogs threshold is crossed, training is set back. And so it went on, and still does, with Brychwyn.
Staying in the program
Once a reactive dog, always a reactive dog. I know this. I am fine with it. I celebrate the baby-step (or puppy-step) successes we have had so far. We have gone from not being able to share a city block with any other dog, to being able to walk on the same side of the street with other dogs. We can even cross paths with certain dogs. Brychwyn can be tied in front of businesses on the sidewalk as long as I am always watching carefully for his reactivity signs (I never take my eyes off the dogs when they are tied!) We can also go inside of dog-friendly establishments as long as I am constantly alert to anything that might cause Brychwyn to react.
All in all, Brychwyn's reactivity ebbs and flows. Sometimes we will have an entire walk where I could easily forget that he is a reactive dog. Other times, Brychwyn gets set off by something before we even leave our yard and I have to just soldier on with tears in my eyes and treats in my pocket. I don't know what made Brychwyn a leash reactive dog but if it is the same thing that also made him so handsome, expressive, funny, cuddly, intelligent, hard working and eager to please then I'm fine with it. We all have a dark side... Brychwyn's is just louder than most. But I love him. And I wouldn't want him any other way.
Thanks so much to Oz the Terrier, Roxy The Traveling Dog and Wag 'n Woof Pets for hosting the WOOF Support Blog Hop, where reactive dogs and their owners can come together to share similar experiences. Are you a reactive/fearful dog or its owner? Then please join us and share your story. Cascadian Nomads Brychwyn and Bethany have both been wanting to blog about this sensitive subject and we are really happy that this hop encouraged us to share our stories.