WHAT THE DOGS HAVE TAUGHT ME
WHY I STOPPED WORKING ON MY DOGS REACTIVITY AND STARTED WORKING ON MY OWN
It’s not an uncommon situation, you do everything right, you treat at the right times, you provide choices, you keep everything consistent. But your dog remains reactive.
As a trainer it was incredibly disheartening to still have a dog that exploded on the sight of his triggers. Mostly men. I felt like I wouldn’t be respected as a trainer if I couldn’t fix my own dog. I knew he would never be perfect, no dog is. But I felt I was stuck one step away from my goal with no way of moving forward.
So where was I going wrong? It was like a lot of reactive dog owners. The reactivity had become a cycle. After years of him reacting, making me jump, embarrassing me, beating myself up for taking a busier route. I had become more reactive than him.
Wondering if you’re reactive? Just take a walk without your dog and observe what happens when you pass their trigger. What does your body do? Do you tense up? Do your shoulders jump to your ears? Jaw tightens? So if we are reacting and we know how sensitive to our emotions our dogs are, of course our dogs are going to continue to react.
I was the same when working in rescue. The majority of dogs I would handle were reactive or aggressive in some way. It’s incredibly hard to remain soft in your own body when always being on high alert and often pumped with adrenaline. But it’s doesn’t set the dogs up for success.
Just look at horse riding. I once had a horse that would react very badly at cyclists. I often fell off as a result. Most of the horses I rode after this horse spooked at cyclists, only with me. Because no matter how much I told myself to be calm, I had been conditioned to tense up and the horses picked up on this. It was actually quite amazing, although I didn’t think so at the time!
So I stopped working with my dog. Instead I just let him be at the end of the lead. Sniffing or doing free work. I started to work on myself.
Previously a yoga teacher, I started to go back to my calming breaths, to my relaxed meditations. I observed my body reacting and I started to replace that feeling with calm. I slowed my walks down. I started to enjoy them again, I listened to the sounds around us. If we saw a trigger, we simply created distance together, without panic, speed or judgment.
It’s no quick fix. No training is as we know. But by accepting that you might be part of the problem. It becomes easier to work on the solution. You and your dog really are in this together. And if you need to be guided through. Set up some free work. Clip on your lead. Switch on my walking meditation for reactive owners video.