If you've read any of my previous blogs, specifically the letter I wrote to Rico Suavé, you may get the sense that not only is he my baby dog, he is my dog that requires behavior adjustment! What this means is that he has behavioral issues, mainly reactivity associated with fear of strange dogs and sometimes people. Because I've known (although not "owned") him since he was 6 weeks old, I've always seen a shy fearful dog in him. If only I knew then what I know now, I would have made a much stronger effort to socialize him to the world. Regardless of his past, I fall into a category that many dog parents do. We have dogs that:
-are unreliable or unpredictable in others' care,
-can't be off leash around strangers as they may lunge or flee,
-barky dogs that we are embarrassed to take into public areas,
-and the list goes on.
You may fall into this group of doggie parents if you had a shy dog who was under-socialized as a puppy such as Rico but you may also have inherited or adopted a dog from a shelter that came home with reactivity issues. Regardless, we can't change the past and instead can only look forward to a brighter future. Every time I meet a reactive dog my heart melts for them. When I first meet these dogs, they may bark or growl at me, run away or sit shivering in fear, but I immediately love each and everyone of them. If you take a moment to look past the symptoms, dogs that are categorized as reactive are some of the sweetest and most loving dogs of all. They are committed to their family, and work well with praise and attention as rewards. These dogs truly want to please, but for whatever reason they see the rest of the world as a massive threat.
In my Taco's case, once he gets to know someone well, and feels he can trust said person, they become great friends. He will whine and get excited if you mention that persons name, (i.e. "Grandma" is his favorite person to visit). He used to be so scared of my niece and nephew but now he is excited when they come to visit and he could play and cuddle with them all day! His favorite strangers are the ones that want nothing to do with him and that's because they don't approach him (he loves to sneak sniffs when no one is looking though). I am this dog's mommy! He loves to cuddle with me (as long as his "scary" sister isn't around to sneak attack him, -she never does but he has an irrational fear that she is out to get him) he loves to play ball with me, but ultimately he is just happy as long as we are in the same room together. This puppy has followed me around -like a lost puppy- ever since I decided to make him mine. This bond is extremely common in reactive dogs.
I have yet to meet a pup-parent that doesn't love their nervous dog to pieces. Because these dogs are so fearful of the real world, they look to their family for security, and are often extremely affectionate to the ones that care for them. This obviously makes them very easy to love, but it doesn't mean it's a fun experience. In fact caring for a reactive dog can often be very frustrating. You want to trust them and give them chances to grow and change but if they mess up it can have very serious consequences (i.e. injury to your own dog, other dogs, other people, potential euthanasia :0( ), and this then turns us into fearful owners.
Being an anxious owner of a fear reactive dog turns into disaster when our emotions rub off on a dog that we are trying to teach to relax. Scientific studies have concluded that dogs can sense fear in humans, unfortunately the reason they sense it from us is not yet determined. This means we can't fake feeling secure in ourselves, our dogs will know. It will take training our inner selves to relax when our dog may begin acting reactive, and not having a negative reaction that will only worsen our dogs' current state of mind.
Like I said I love these dogs to pieces! I love the parents who love their reactive dogs! Because of this I am working on developing a growly dog class for the new year. This may seem like a long way off but it's coming fast. This class will be low-cost to cover supplies and encourage people to join. However because of the low cost I will be accepting participants via an application process and first come, first serve basis. I will update with more info ASAP but don't hesitate to get your foot in first!
Thank you all for loving dogs as much as I do and I look forward to hearing from you all soon!
Summer is finally here in the U.P. I'm practically melting as I type this blog in a room with little air movement, and an exterior temperature of at least 82- did I mention how humid it is? Okay enough whining but really, summer has come along and brought with it a desire for us humans to invite new furry friends into our lives. I'm talking about puppies! Who can resist snuggling and playing with a little thing that has features too big for the rest of it's body? I know I can't! But in all seriousness I'm writing this out because I want all puppies to have a positive start in their new lives.
First point of the day- Never "dominate" your puppy!
It does no one good to physically assault a dog of any age. Despite popular belief dominance is also not a solution for dogs, why? Because for one thing we aren't dogs, and dogs do in fact recognize that we are not just 2 legged dogs (see article here). "Bites" on the neck and back from humans do not mimic other dogs. Dominance in general is a lifelong battle, where whenever the "lead" gets old and tired out, the new "leader" breaks him/her down and takes over. This is not practical for us to always be on top of things. It is best to properly train a dog to behave on their own with out constantly instructing them, and instead interacting with them in fun and positive ways! This doesn't mean we have no way to punish puppy, but we only do so by taking away things they may like (such as a toy they were demolishing).
Make training part of your routine and lifestyle!
When puppy comes home, (or preferably before) sit down with your family and/or friends to set a list of rules. These should be things like whether or not puppy is allowed on furniture, if table scraps are acceptable (side note: any table scraps should not be given from the table, should be safe for your dog to consume, and consist of less than 10% of your dogs daily food intake), what types of rewards you will use, etc. It's also important to remember that some activities (although seemingly cute) shouldn't be considered cute if they won't be acceptable when your dog is full grown, i.e. jumping on people, whining, toe nibbling. It's easy to avoid these behaviors becoming habit, simply ignore your puppy and/or walk away to signal to them that you didn't like what they did so you are leaving. In addition if your puppy offers behaviors you do like to see, harness them and mark them with praise and rewards. Make every interaction with your puppy a mini-training session and you'll have a well rounded adult dog in no time (seriously, they get big fast!).
Socialize, socialize, socialize. Oh by the way did I mention socialization?
Exposing your puppy to all sorts of things is the most important thing you can do for their development. Take them everywhere they can safely go (Like I said-it is summer, don't leave dogs in hot cars). Let them meet all walks of people, dogs, other animals. Have them listen to sounds they will hear throughout their lives and play audio of it if it's not readily available (fireworks, snowplows, birds, chipmunks, cars) meanwhile creating a positive association by offering treats or toys. Start with muffled or quiet sounds and slowly increase their volume. Now with all that said, in a social situation it is important to not force greetings. Do not hold your puppy to another person/or dogs face if they are trying to wriggle away. It is important for your dog to learn that if something scares them, they can walk away and leave the situation. If they feel forced to face situations they aren't comfortable with you may not like their reaction, this often leads to fear aggression in dogs.
All in all raising a puppy can be a fun and rewarding experience, and we'd really love if you joined our TacoMo family. Summer puppy private sessions are now only $10 for dogs 4 months and younger!