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Bit of background: My dog used to be very reactive. Back in the shelter where he lived for 7 years, he would spin, growl, and bang against the kennel doors whenever another dog goes past and lunge on leash when another dog appears on his daily walk. At one point, he even broke down one of the kennel doors and the shelter had to replace it! He actually scared some of the dogs there and they were afraid of going for their walks because they were afraid to go past his kennel.
I adopted him last year and we worked on his reactivity through loads of counter-conditioning & desensitisation, and allowing him the choice to run away. So I just pretty much stuff his face everytime he watches a dog goes past and I'll say happy things like "aww isn't that a cute doggy!", "it's just a little puppy!", etc. I also did my best to consciously keep the leash loose whenever dogs walk past And I also provided him with lots of enrichment at home and allowed him to sniff as much as wants on walks to help him to decompress. In a couple of months, he became so good and is able to have brief meetings and quick sniffs with other dogs. However, if the dog was of a breed he didn't like (usually bigger breeds or brachycephalic breeds so I've learnt to avoid them now anyway), or if the other dog keeps following him trying to play with him, or if there's more than 1 dog approaching him, he will do a little growl. And to me, that's completely fair. He's letting the other dogs know he's uncomfortable, and they always go away when he does that. I also understand that he may likely never play with another dog or have an actual dog friend, and that again, to me, is completely fine. He just likes being an introvert.
So the other day, we were on our usual walk. It's quite a quiet walk, and we go there often. I walk him off leash there but will leash him the moment I see another dog at a distance, and generally other owners will do the same when they see me leash my dog. However, we ran into this one woman with 10 dogs off leash and I don't think she even had a leash on her, I'm not sure. It was chaotic. About 3-4 of them were jumping on me and my partner trying to get our treats, and I saw 3 dogs sniff my dog all at one time. So I was doing my best to try to get me and my dog away from all of this, while this person kept yelling "they're friendly!!!" and "they're not reactive! these ones are rescues too!" and I kept telling her "he's not comfortable with this". Ugh. But my boy did not react at all even with the 3 dogs following him and sniffing him all at once. It could have been that he's smart enough to know that aggressing when there are so many against him would be a bad idea, and it could be that he's just much better now and more resilient. I know he was still uncomfortable though as he was displacement sniffing right after and pretending that the final dog following us was invisible. But he didn't seem overly stressed or impacted by it all. Rewarded him with a load of awesome treats immediately after the final dog of that group went back to the owner.
I just wanted to share this incident because I'm really proud of my dog and how far he's come. I also hope it would be inspiring to anyone having dog reactivity issues to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂
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