Dog Care, Q&A, Tips for Dog Owners

Q&A with Dog-Mom Maddy: Experience Training a Reactive Dog

The Pets I’ve Met Team sat down with Maddy to learn about her experience with her rescue pup, Rosie. Maddy is a wildlife biologist who works with endangered reptiles and amphibians. Rosie is a rescue pup who found Maddy when she was 2 or 3 years old. Maddy and Rosie have been living and learning together for just over three years. They live in Texas and you can follow their journey and successes on instagram @RosiePosiePit 
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PIM: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. To start, tell us a little bit about Rosie and how she came into your life.

M: Definitely! So, Rosie was living with the roommate of one of my very good friends. While she lived there, she noticed Rosie’s care and health both declining, and reached out to me to ask for advice. I told her to tell Rosie’s owner to fix himself and what he is doing to Rosie, or find her a new home.  He admitted his faults and Rosie’s care improved for a couple months. My friend then moved out of the house, but ended up visiting the house later and Rosie was back to being subjected to living in a crate for days at a time, no food or water, no bathroom breaks, and of course no love or attention. She reached out to me again and at that point I said I was coming to get Rosie, and he could let me have her or I would call the police. When I went to get her, she was of course in her crate covered in her own excrement and the guy had left town. I knew I couldn’t leave her there, but I was a grad student making almost no money, so I figured I would take her and get her fixed, get her healthy, and find her a new home.  She was with me less than a week when I knew she was exactly where she needed to be! All my friends say they knew that’s exactly what was going to happen as soon as I said I was going to get her.

PIM: Oh my goodness! Rosie is so lucky!  Did you have experience working with reactive dogs before Rosie?

M: None, whatsoever! Rosie is the first dog I’ve had as an adult.

PIM: So was it really a “hit the ground running” kind of thing?

M: Not exactly. We used to go to the dog park (I realize my mistakes, now) all the time and she was the life of the party. She loved all the dogs and all the dogs loved her! Until one dog didn’t love her and attacked her.

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PIM: I think a lot of first time-dog parents can sympathize with that. You look back and think “ah yes…that was mistake, sorry pup.”M: Absolutely. It’s a learning process. However, she definitely didn’t receive much, if any, socialization as a puppy or young dog, so I imagine that that one bad experience with a strange dog scarred her pretty badly.

PIM: I think that’s fair. Do you feel like after that experience her behaviors started to increase or was it kind of a piling on effect for her? After that bad experience she was hypervigilant?   

M: She definitely started showing signs of her reactivity after that, but I felt so alone and I had no idea what was going on with her, so I didn’t reach out for professional training until the behavior had set in and been reinforced by me freaking out every time she reacted! I remember I would cry EVERY time she reacted on a walk. I felt so sad for her and so helpless and alone.

PIM: Oh boy, and I’m sure by that time you and Rosie had formed a strong bond so she didn’t really know how to react to that.

M: I think that dogs read into our emotions far more than most people think. She could probably feel my stress, which only caused her to feel more stressed in a situation where she already felt unsafe.

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PIM: Completely agree. After coming onto the other side of that, what do you feel made the biggest difference for you and Rosie in your training together?

M: Finding the right trainer. I believe so very strongly in positive reinforcement training, so finding a trainer that used force and pain free, positive reinforcement methods was top priority, but beyond that we needed to find one that clicked with both of us. We saw about four different trainers before we found the one we work with now.

PIM: What a commitment. That’s awesome! What advice would you give to any of our readers learning to work with a reactive dog?

M: One thing: BE PATIENT! First, patient with your dog. This is a very scary thing for them and your dog can have bad days, just like we do. Second, be patient with yourself. This is not a fast process…in fact, it’s very…very…very…slooowww. But, you owe it to yourself to give you and your dog the time to be happy and healthy! The bond that you will create with your dog is so much more than it will ever be because you are overcoming huge obstacles together!

Also, don’t be afraid to speak up for your dog. They can’t speak for themselves, so you need to be their voice. Don’t put them in a uncomfortable situation to please a stranger. Advocate for your dog and what is best for you and your dog.

PIM: Love that. So true! Dog training is just as much about training the humans as the dog. What do you wish people knew about Rosie?M: I wish that people knew that she is not a bad dog. She is not aggressive.  She is struggling. She is scared and doesn’t know how to channel it. We are working together to fix it, but allowing your dog to approach mine or to stare at mine (rude in doggy language!) may cause her to react. This is likely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with because it BREAKS my heart to see my dog having such a hard time, while dealing with nasty looks from other people. Please be aware of your dog and how its behavior could affect another dog’s behavior. Just because your dog is friendly, doesn’t mean mine is, and just because mine is reactive, doesn’t mean she’s not a good dog!

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Rosie with her human grandpa, she loves him

PIM: You hit that right on the nose. What would you tell people about approaching a dog on a walk or out and about if they aren’t sure if they are reactive or not?M: Ask! and please don’t be offended if you are told “Please get your dog. Mine isn’t friendly.” or “No, sorry, you can’t pet her.” They aren’t saying that to be mean. They are keeping their dog and you (and your dog) safe. Please respect that dogs have dislikes and fears just like humans. The person knows their dog best, so don’t challenge that and try to get the dog to approach you or let your dog go up to theirs.

PIM: Great advice. Is there anything else you wish “the world” knew about Rosie and pups like her?

M: They are worth it! They’re worth the hard work and heartbreak having a reactive dog brings. Seeing them improve has to be one of the happiest, proudest moments ever.

PIM: What is your favorite thing about Rosie?

M: Oh gosh…everything. I love her so so much. I would take away her fears if I could, but I wouldn’t change anything else about her. She’s perfect to me.

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