It is very easy to look at dogs in the park interacting with everyone and having a good time and secretly thinking to yourself ‘I wish my dog was like that’.
But do you really? Every dog is an individual, and even the ‘social butterflies’ have their insecurities, just like us humans. We all have good days, and not so good days, dependent on what else is happening in our lives. Even simple things like not enough sleep, a headache, an aching limb, it all matters and makes a difference, to us and our dogs, and yes, they can suffer from headaches too.
Also, how do you know if the dogs you see out playing with other dogs are really happy? They might look like they are having fun, but actually many are not. Sadly, I have witnessed many groups of dogs and people standing around, having a chat whilst their dogs play, lots of them, and it’s not always good. There are the bullies of the group who play roughly and frighten others, warnings are given which are ignored, and then a scrap breaks out and everyone says ‘they’re just dog’s, let them sort it out’. Would you do that with your children? Wait until the fight starts and then intervene … no.
I have seen plenty of dogs who are desperately trying to communicate that they would rather move away and be given their own space, either from other dogs, strangers, other stressful triggers, but their feelings go unnoticed. And how many times does this happen, once a month, once a week, once a day? Once a week means that ‘social’ dog is experiencing 52 traumas a year. Once a day, over ten years, that is 3,650.
When you have a reactive dog, be it towards other unknown dogs, people, traffic, whatever the trigger, you become their advocate, their security blanket, you understand them better than anyone else, and you protect them, every single day.
You observe your dog, you observe the environment, you try your best to be one step ahead to protect them from their fears, and you beat yourself up when you get it wrong.
Remember the ‘social butterfly’, the dog that doesn’t actually exist, they don’t have an advocate, they are left to get on with it and deal with whatever life experiences come their way. But your ‘reactive’ dog does, they have you, and your relationship is stronger, because they learn to trust you as you will be there for them, and help them to navigate through the scary times.
Be proud of your reactive dog. They are the life changing dogs. They have taught you so much … because you have listened.
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