It is funny. Every time I come here to write or post on my FB about the issues I have with reactivity training in dogs, I know there are a million people who must think I'm just high maintenance, a drama queen, or a worry wart. Some probably think "It's a dog, and that's what dogs do." Some think I must not have gone to the right training people, and some must think I'm doing something else wrong.
It's like most other things I read about, I imagine.....until you've walked a mile in these shoes, you truly have no idea. I've come to understand I'm not crazy when I read about other reactive dogs on blogs, what other smart, persistent people have tried, and the anger that comes from these people in describing their attempts to give their dog a normal life. So in the name of education, assuming you don't fall into the categories of people described above....here are a few of the things that cause emotional reactions in me, when dealing with reactivity.
1) The utter pang of fear in my gut when I spot an off leash dog looking at us. (Why? Partially because of the embarrassment that will ensue when my dog becomes Cujo, and you don't know the 3 years of consistent training I've done to try to change it, but mostly because I worry about the damage to my dog, and mostly for yours. If my dog bites yours, mine gets the blame, and possibly worse.
2) Reading accounts of how "long" it takes a reactive dog to see results with training, and see them describe the length of time in months.
3) Having people tell me that "tension travels down the leash." Brilliant advice. It doesn't matter if I do or don't tense the leash. At some point, your dog tenses the leash itself and you have to haul the dog away.
4) Having people get pissy when you ask them to leash their dog. There is a leash law. I have a right to be there, too...and have my dog safe.
5) Having people make excuses for my dog. (Oh, but that other dog was doing this...oh, but this was a new place....oh, but.... there was a wall next to him). I don't want any more sunshine.
6) Having to tell people not to come pet my dog. Boy, you feel like such a bad guy.
7) Having to REALLY plan, EVERY SINGLE TIME you take your dog out of the house. Where can I park? Where can I duck behind a bush? Where can I find a quiet place to let my dog potty? Where are there blind curves? Where are there likely to be uncontrolled dogs? Where are there likely to be kids? Truly exhausting.
8) Having to make sure another adult is with us (AKA Ross) on most of our excursions out of the house. Seriously, two people to handle one dog? If there is an off leash dog around, I need Ross to be able to run interference.
9) Having to carry dog fight spray with me everywhere I go.
10) Having to cross the street to avoid a perfectly calm dog and owner walking toward you on the sidewalk. (They really think you have problems).
11) Knowing that most people don't get to see how truly sweet your dog is when he isn't stressed out.
12) Having to watch arriving cars closely at the park to make sure they aren't going to let their dog out of the car, unleashed, while they get situated.
13) Having successfully avoided an off leash dog playing in an on leash park, and spending the rest of your walk worrying where they will go next.
14) Seeing a young child being walked by his/her dog. Make my heart palpitate.
15) Rehearsing what you will say to a dog owner if their off leash dog comes up to yours and causes a dog fight. Rehearsing shifting blame back to their dog.
16) Never being able to let your guard down and just WALK.
If you think any of these are unnecessary/overvigilant, you've never owned a dog like this. Not only are you trying to ensure their training, and that they stay under threshold, but you're also imminently aware of the physical danger to your dog and others getting into a dog fight, but also the much larger repercussions of someone else deciding to report your dog as dangerous.
I should say: Sagan has NEVER bitten another dog or gotten into a true dog fight, though he has argued (instigating and responding) to other dogs. I'm convinced the only reason why is that I have to be a complete b@#$% in public. It isn't pleasant, but I'm just protecting Sagan.
Sagan will be three in December. He backslid a bit this past week, after we went to an outdoor agility trial. I would still say we are heavily managed, with my physically handling him by covering his face or shoving his face between my legs is the solution about 30-40% of the time. This is with about a year of obedience, 5 sessions of Control Unleashed, 2 behaviorists, a board and train, BAT protocols, and concerted outings to practice. If you have a reactive dog, you're in for a BIIIIIG commitment.