Am I More Reactive Than My Dog - podcast version
Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast
Hey Friends and welcome back to the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast. I'm Cass, your host and I'm dog mom to my girl Rey, a reactive bully breed who is dog selective and leash reactive. She's a very friendly girl, but does not love chaos, or off-leash dogs invading her space. Being aware of her needs and the situations that she does best in, I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated when I try to do what's best for her and other people work against me by not obeying leash laws.
I think we can all relate to this very well, after coming across the same obstacle time and time again, repeatedly yelling to leash their dog and being met with "Don't worry, they're friendly." We've grown tired and angry. My behavior during these instances, has me wondering, 'Am I more reactive than my dog?'. I'm going to take you through a few scenarios. (Too many, if you asked me) Where I was put in situations that simply should not have occurred, you will likely feel my rage. Or maybe thinking I'm crazy, but I don't think I'm alone in this! But also how I really had to work hard on my own reactivity in these situations in order to help my dogs overcome theirs. Pay attention because I start talking pretty fast in this one.
My first experience with a reactive dog was not with my rescue Reese, that was just when I actually knew what reactivity was. I realized that I've had so many encounters with reactive dogs. When I was a kid, we had our shitzu Charlie, we adopted a husky that was abused, I don't really remember him. And I used to dog sit a lot. There were two Yorkies who would lose their minds at the sight of other dogs or people. And I just thought it was small dog syndrome. And there were two separate GSD/Corgi mixes- adorable dogs- who were very reactive, one of them was a bite risk. And I just thought that maybe it was breed traits, or that they were just an untrained dog. But these are just a few of the dogs that I've encountered.
Not having that knowledge about what reactivity is, where it stems from, how to help the dogs, I just assumed that it was them. And it led me to be frustrated with the dogs or embarrassed, trying to avoid situations or fleeing situations just because I felt that I had troubled dogs. It wasn't until Reese that I truly understood reactivity and knew what it was called. And also when that reactivity is coming from a rescue dog with a traumatic past, it made more sense to me. Of course, I also now know that it's not just rescues or dogs that have been abused. It's not 'the other end of the leash' or 'all in how you raise them'. It can be the puppies, it can be a dog that you don't even know why it's reactive, but it can be genetics, no matter where it comes from dealing with your dog's reactivity is a difficult process and involves hard work and patience. And oftentimes running in the opposite direction to avoid triggers.
Having a reactive dog makes tasks such as walking around the block or going to the vet very stressful. You may avoid walks altogether or do walks when the rest of the world is still sleeping. First, I want to say that I applaud the work that you're doing and the effort that you're putting in to take care of your reactive dog. You're doing such a great job. I know it's frustrating. I know it's hard. Without the understanding of reactivity and only being with those dogs either as a child who didn't know any different, or for short side jobs. Again, I was just embarrassed of their behaviors and avoided their triggers so not to cause a scene. Getting Reese, knowing how fearful and lacking confidence he was, I knew he needed help; that it isn't his fault.
And even though I was still often embarrassed when he or Rey would react, I was and am more focused on what they need and how to help them. How a lot of people out there need to help us. Refer to my episode My Letter to the Friendly Dog. But the entire way that I viewed reactivity changed once I got Reese and I realized that they weren't just a bad dog. It wasn't just small dogs syndrome, it was reactivity, and you need to help those dogs. So bringing Reese home, my fearful, reactive, bully mix dog, opened my eyes to the reality of reactivity. And it also brought out the reactivity in me. Having Reese, knowing his past, bringing home a bully mix- I knew the looks that we were going to get. I knew that when he reacted towards a person or a dog what the strangers might be thinking. I wanted to do everything in my power to show him in a different light, or to at least proclaim that he's a rescue that he's afraid, he's not a bad dog. He's just scared but I also knew the risks.
Reese has already bitten my ex's dog, I knew that if he was put into that situation, he could bite. So I was very careful about where I took Reese, of course, not going to off leash areas, avoiding any place that a dog might come off leash, but that limited so many of our walks. We couldn't go to the on leash trails, because so many of them you will still find off leash dogs. And out of both fear and frustration I started being very reactive.
Like many of us, when you're walking your reactive dog, or just training your dog, and an off leash dog comes towards you, you are likely yelling at them to get their dog on a leash. And there is a right and a wrong way to do it, I guess. The issue is the "right way" is not very effective. You can sit there with your dog and politely say, "it would be really great if you could leash your dog, my dog is not comfortable". But even when you're screaming at them out of fear to leash their dog, you're not often met with "oh my goodness, I'm so sorry. Please let me do that for you". You are sometimes. But far too often, you're met with "my dogs friendly, don't worry about it". Or people even getting upset with us that our dogs should not be there if they're not friendly. In an off leash trail where we previously had control of our dogs.
The other issue is, sometimes it's hard to sit there with your dog quietly because your dog is already reacting. And now there's so much going on, it's hard to calmly ask somebody to leash their off leash dog, when you have every scenario running through your head of how this could go wrong. So that was definitely me. Even if I was walking Reese on leash, and there were on leash dogs that I could tell that they did not have control over, they were on a flexi lead and clearly we're about to enter my space, I would again be very reactive and telling them absolutely not, do not come near me, do not come near my dog.
There's actually another scenario that I was dog sitting, he was an absolutely beautiful bully breed. His name was Tiggs; I adored this dog and I took him to the Bedford waterfront which is an on leash area, and we are walking him and this is one of the most well behaved dogs I've ever met. As we're getting around to the condos. Somebody gets out of their car and their small little Maltese dog books it towards us, I put Tiggs into a sit. This dog is barreling towards us and all of a sudden the other owner is screaming at me to get my dog away from her dog.
First off, I can't, if I move in any direction, their dog was following. Their little dog was circling us. And I was getting a little nervous. Though this dog was really well behaved. I didn't actually know how it might do with an encounter. So I was trying to put space between the dogs, use myself as a barrier. Tiggs was an angel, he was an absolute dream, and she is still screaming, mind you not making any effort to retrieve her dog but just screaming at us to get that dog away from her dog. The way that she used 'that dog'. Now that set me off. I was there with my sister and her and I who were previously just like, you know, get your dog lady. When she said "get that dog away from my dog". Oh, we went off. Our dog is sitting here. Our dog is doing perfectly fine. Get your dog away. This is an on-leash area, we have every right to be here. Control your dog.
Her husband comes around and starts saying like "I'm so sorry, her dog has been attacked. She's nervous". Well, if your dog has previously been attacked, maybe don't let it run up to other dogs. But also don't you dare for a second look at my dog and then start freaking out. My dog who is sitting there perfectly fine, and then start screaming at me to control my dog. That was a very confusing situation. We got through it. Everything was totally fine. Tiggs in that situation was not the reactive dog. He was an absolute dream. But that was probably my first time yelling at another dog owner.
I also mentioned this in the Letter to the Friendly Dog Owner, when I was walking Reese in the same spot, which is actually a wonderful area to take your dogs when training. I know many people in the area do go there because it's an on leash area. And there are different areas with kids, there's dogs, you can get space. It's a great place to go and train. But funny enough, I had another situation there that I've brought up before where I'm walking Reese who, his reactivity when I first got him was so bad and we have come so far. But we came around a corner and there was this lady walking her dog. And all of a sudden Reese did burst and I quickly was able to regain his attention. Have him look at me, and when he looked at me I rewarded him and then this lady says to us, you don't reward bad behavior. And at that point I actually didn't say anything. But my friends they went off on her and that is what happens when you are trying to take care of your dog, you know their story, you know why they behave the way that they do. You get very protective. You're protective of your dog no matter if they have reactivity, but reactivity really brings something out in you.
I'll go back to when Reese bit my ex's dog. It was his first time biting a dog. We set him up for failure. We did everything wrong in that situation. When Reese grabbed onto Riley, he did not actually break the skin. But he was holding on to Riley and he wasn't letting go. And I was screaming. Understandably, I was very upset. I did not know this was gonna happen. The way that he had Riley, I didn't know the damage he was causing. I was absolutely screaming, bawling my eyes out. I lost control. I was not calm. I don't blame myself for that behavior. But it certainly didn't help anything. I knew that my behavior was not going to be helpful for Reese. I believe that the energy that I put out is what Reese is going to feel. If I'm feeling calm, if I'm feeling nervous, if I'm excited, whatever it is, I do think that Reese would feel that so I knew in those situations, if I'm screaming or if I'm feeling nervous about a dog he very well could feel those things too.
I had to learn how to not react like that when I see another dog. I have to think happy thoughts pretty much tell myself this is gonna be okay. Oh look, there's a dog I love dogs. Dogs are so great. Probably a fake it till you make it kind of feeling. But even after that I'm just distracting myself with those thoughts and then putting myself into a position where I can reward Reese as well. So I was crossing the street with Reese. We weren't in a position to pass dogs on the sidewalk. We didn't get there. I wasn't living in an apartment. I was in my house. And we were able to cross the street. We were able to get distance between dogs. So it was 'you see a dog you take a deep breath'. I was telling myself this is okay. We're doing great. And I would just give Reese some treat. And he was coming so far.
And near the end of Reese's life. He was really thriving. He was doing so well. I remember we were going down the street. I was walking with Reese, my ex was walking with Riley. And as we're passing this one house, we just hear the tippy taps. And we look and there's this English Bulldog barreling towards us down the driveway. His owners are coming like he got out- it was a mistake. And they're yelling, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. And David's first thought was to put Riley between so the dog will be distracted by Riley. But of course, he was a very friendly dog. But he wanted to see Reese and I just looked down at Reese. I said, "Alright, buddy, let's go for a run".
And I started running with Reese. And he was looking at me for guidance. He was running with me. We were having a good time. I would stop the dog would keep coming. I would just keep on running with Reese. He was focused on me. And I remained very calm in my head. It was just okay. Well, if we get away from this dog, we're going to be okay, we're going to be okay. And that was just it. Thankfully, that all did really work out. And that was probably the peak of where Reese did so well. He did not react. He looked at me. And it was also a pretty good spot for me. I remain very calm. I didn't yell at anybody. I just saw the situation, took control, ran off with Reese. And it was perfectly fine. We came out of that no problem. Reese wasn't freaked out at all. It was actually so good.
Fast forward to dealing with reactivity with Rey. It's a very different situation when your dog is actually quite friendly, but still reactive and also still a bully breed. I want to again, scream to the world "It's not the breed. It's not anything to do with that she's a happy girl. She's frustrated. She can be a little anxious and a little nervous. But she's good. She's just we're working through something". I wish more people understood reactivity. Very clearly I was also not understanding of reactivity - Small dog barking clearly is just a small dog that's untrained with little dog syndrome, right? I'm so glad that I know reactivity now. So I can offer empathy and support to other people in that situation. But I still wish that more people knew and understood what we're going through.
But Rey and I have come so far. We still have setbacks. We have bad days, but for the most part we can get through a day without reactivity. We are able to manage any run ins with dogs. If a dog does come off leash to her. We don't want to be in that situation, but it will normally be okay. She's just not happy with it. She can get upset. I know what she can handle. I know what she can't handle. There have been so many tears and frustration on our way to get here and we still have a long way to go. But I wasn't completely finished with dealing with my reactivity either because since Rey is a very different dog, I was taking her to the trails that I previously avoided with Reese. I still go to on leash trails, but I actually stopped doing that altogether with Reese. We did not go to the trails around our house because they were in the woods and people use them as off leash parks.
But I did take Rey there and I was actually walking Rey and Riley there. And at one point, we had this off leash Border Collie. I saw him from a little bit and I said, "Please leash your dog". And he responded with "Don't worry, he's friendly:. And though at the time Rey was a little bit reactive there, she was very protective of Riley. But Riley was also an 85 pound dog who was very hyper, he was my biggest struggle. I have this Border Collie, basically trying to herd us. He's running circles around me, I have Riley who's trying to engage in play. And then Rey who's trying to get space between Riley and this dog. I'm spinning around with two dogs. And this man is still not grabbing his dog or recalling his dog, his dog has no recall, you pull out the secret weapon. "My dog's not friendly".
You want them to understand the severity of the situation, though, I knew that Rey wasn't going to bite or anything. That situation still sucked. It was awful and just grab your dog! Also just feel bad for me. Even though my dogs are both two very friendly dogs. I'm clearly struggling to control them. I stopped walking them together after that but help me out! Grab your dog, please relieve me of this burden. And he just didn't. And I was very angry. I said, "this is an on leash area. I come here to take my dogs on leash because I know we're safe. You have to leash your dog". And he's like, "Oh, my dog's friendly". And I said, "Okay, but what if mine's not what if mine tried to bite" and he said, "Oh, well, he would just run away". He's putting his dog in such a bad situation. And I really hope that nothing bad happens to that dog. Because he had no recall, he did not listen. And he came flying in at two dogs that he did not know and came within their space that if one of my dogs wanted to bite him, they would have bit him.
I was walking with just Rey at the same trail and I came across the same dog. And as soon as he saw me, he went to leash his dog, but it was too late. His dog had already taken off like a rocket and I screamed at him this time "leash your dog, get your dog away from me". At this point, I would say Rey is probably feeling my frustration, she had gotten a little worse with her reactivity as well. I did not want that dog in her space. I'm trying to train her to just to be calm. I'm trying to teach her that dogs aren't scary, that you don't have to react that you can just remain calm. It's really hard to do that when you have off leash dogs coming towards you. Even if she does wants to play with them. I'm training my dog here. I don't want dogs coming into her space. He did not have any remarks for me. When we passed that time. I was just like, are you serious? Leash your dog. And he leashed his dog and he kept moving.
It's those situations that, especially if it's in public, and if there are witnesses, if my dog were to bite, I'm not really at fault there. It's an on leash area. He broke the bylaw. My dog bit, but I'm covered. But that is so not the point. Even though legally, it's their fault. They're the ones who caused the situation, I would have still had a dog who bit, I don't want that. I don't want my dog in that situation where they felt that they had to do that. So it's not even about who's at fault. That's not something that I want to have happen. And unfortunately, it's crossed my mind and like it's going to take that happening for some people like the Border Collie owner, to stop putting the dog in that situation. Two times I ran into him that he had no control over his dog and his dog just took off. What's it going to take for him to actually leash his dog? Does his dog have to actually get attacked? And that's the last thing that I want to have happen to that dog, but he's not taking care of his dog in those situations either.
So with Rey, I'm still working on my reactivity because I'm still scanning every which way looking for dogs and people. I'm gripping the leash when I see another dog coming towards us, heart pounding, just anticipating Rey having a reaction, it has been hard to break these habits, I'm still faking it till I make it trying to let Rey make her own decisions, not put tension on the leash, I'm going to do what it takes to advocate for my dog. So telling an owner to leash their dog when they're coming off leash, I'm still going to do that. But it's about the emotions behind it. I'm trying not to be panicked or anxious, not nearly as high strung as I used to be, I will still be yelling at them leash your dog, while I'm maintaining a calm composure, making sure that Rey is doing okay.
And still I offer grace to the owners (the first time) because people do not know about reactivity, they are frustratingly oblivious to the fact that there's dogs out there who are not as social as theirs. It's okay to have been that owner. It was also me but now advocating for my dog also means educating other people. And that's what we're all trying to do. We've all been trying to do it for a long time. There are still people out there. So we still have to yell at the off leash dogs coming towards us. We're still quite reactive. Nine times out of ten when you ask somebody to recall their dog, it doesn't work. So instead I put my attention on Rey and figure out how to help her in that situation. Get her attention on me, try to leave a situation, I will just remain completely silent, I might hold my breath. But my focus is on Rey or putting space between Rey and the other dog putting my foot out between them.
The biggest scenario that brought up my original post Am I More Reactive Than My Dog, was this situation. It has trumped every situation that has happened before and since. So I'm going to bring it up again. We were away and we took our two dogs. It was an absolutely beautiful on leash trail. We had both of our dogs leash, it was very quiet, it was almost completely perfect. You can guess what happened? Way, way, way off, we see a person and we see two dogs, definitely not on leash, we prepare ourselves for what will likely be a stressful encounter. I have Rey who is reactive. And my friend Courtney has Susie, who was a very lovely girl. But also the biggest issue here was us. It was the humans, we got super anxious before our dogs even realize what the situation was. But we still had hope. And that moment we had hoped that they would see us and leash their dogs. But that didn't happen. As soon as the dogs saw us, they started coming towards us. She maintains her relaxed pace. She's not making any effort.
One of them we think was a Malamute dog, quite old, and the other was a very young German Shepherd. But he seemed a little timid, his hackles were raised, which made us immediately nervous. We are now calling out like, "Are they friendly?", no response. I took a few steps back to put some space between Rey and Susie because Rey can be protective around other dogs especially if they're her friends. So Courtney maintains her route with Susie, the older dog comes up and sniff Susie, but then walks away. The GSD is now bouncing towards her. She's trying to stay calm and walk away. He's following her. We called out to get her dogs back. And she calls out to them very quietly, and obviously neither of them paid any attention.
The older dog approached me with Rey and I kept the leash as loose as possible because this dog was very slow. I kept praising her. We kept moving forward, the older dog sniffed her from head to toe and Rey kept her ears pinned back, just focused on moving forward. The younger dog was now bouncing towards us, which made me very nervous because Rey does not like the bouncy, puppy, playful, energy. I beg the owner to call her dogs. Rey was actually so calm. Despite everything was happening. Her eyes are really on Susie, that's who she wanted to get to. She wanted to leave the situation. I try to keep moving. The Malamute has moved on.
But the GSD is bouncing circles around us. I said "please get your dog", still trying to keep calm but now she's making me feel a little frustrated. I firmly said "can you please call your dog?" She says to me, "Well, I can call them but they won't come". So I responded. "Then can you train your dog?" I told her that Rey is afraid of strange dogs. And her only response was "well, mine aren't." Oh, okay. I'm getting frustrated just talking about it. I said, "but mine is" she looks me dead in the eyes and says, "Well, I've lived here longer than you." And at that I was filled with rage. The bouncy GSD continues around us, my heart's racing. But I wasn't going to win with this lady. So my focus had to be solely on Rey. Her tail was tucked right between her legs. Her ears were still pinned back. But her hackles weren't up. She wasn't making a single noise. She was focused on getting away from the situation, she was focused on Susie, she just wanted to get out of here.
Once the dogs were gone, it was quiet. We were able to move on, we let out the biggest sigh of frustration. We were so completely frustrated. We had to shake that off. We counted this as a win because our two dogs did amazing. Rey of the past would have been losing her mind. And I also would have been losing my mind. I'd have been screaming out in fear and anger, not having a clue how to handle the situation. But as we kept walking and our hearts are just pounding, our faces are flushed. We we can't shake it off as easily as our dogs did. And that's when we made the joke. Are we more reactive than our dogs? Our dogs who remained completely calm and we had our hackles up and we were lashing out. I think that it is totally reasonable that you might panic in that situation. You can be angry, you can react, there's no shame in that. I have been working so so hard on how I behave because I know that my reactions just don't help the situation.
It's one thing to ask somebody to leash their dog. It's another thing to be screaming and panicking. That's not going to help Rey. My entire goal is to keep Rey calm, to know that she can trust me, rely on me and have confidence in me to make sure that she's safe and to reward her when she makes those amazing choices like she did. My reactivity is not limited to me walking another reactive dog. When I had Riley my super goofy, friendly golden, who was overexcited and hyper all the time and I was trying to train him to be a calm boy and good in society. I was also reactive with other dogs coming into his space when we didn't want them there because I'm trying to train him to be calm.
I would walk Rey and Riley on leash together just around the block. I knew where the dogs lived. I knew I could cross the street, I could avoid situations. And I'm walking by this one house. And off in the lawn is this Boston Terrier. And I'm just praying that it's on a long line, or at least it's gonna stay in the yard. Yeah, it didn't. It did not stay in the yard. It comes running at me and Rey, and honestly, I'm not too sure if it's actually friendly. It was doing circles around us snapping in my dog's face. Riley is actually, he didn't like that. And he was actually trying to correct it to say get out of my space. Rey is being super protective. I'm getting all kinds of worked up. The guy is not doing anything. I'm yelling at him, "come get your dog". I'm struggling helped me out! My goodness. He slowly approaches he's laughing. I'm like, this is not funny. I'm near tears. I'm so frustrated. Get your dog.
I'm quite nervous, because now Riley is getting upset at this dog, Rey's upset at this dog. They're kind of upset at each other because their leashes are all tangled. And I'm just telling this guy, you cannot do that there are leash laws. And he's just saying, what are you going to do? What are you gonna do call the police. It's that kind of behavior that makes me even more reactive. Are you kidding me, that's the kind of attitude that you're gonna have right now. I dropped the dogs off at home, I take a breath. I get in my car, and I drive back there by myself. You can read about this as well, I did write another blog post specifically about this situation, I may be getting the details wrong talking about it over a year later. But I drive back to his house, he's just looking at me. I'm a very emotional person, I do have tears running down my face. And I'm really embarrassed about that I want to put on a tough show. I didn't, I'm crying. If I had have had my other dog, he would have bit your dog. And at that point, he just says "Well, good. Let your dog bite them." I don't even understand this man. I'm just so frustrated. And some people just have no sympathy. I just don't get it. And that is what makes me the most reactive when people are entitled and just plain rude.
The first thing that I'm going to do right now is to take a deep breath.
I'm mostly telling myself because reliving what I've been through and when I continue to go through, it is so frustrating and I'm sure that you've been through a similar situation and happens to way too many of us way too often. But again, I applaud you for what you're doing and how you're trying to help your dog. You are doing your best. Your dog thanks you.
I thank you so much for listening to this episode, listening to my rants about what I've been through. Again, just trying to relate to you and it's kind of a funny thought to think 'Am I more reactive than my dog?'
Please let me know your thoughts on this episode. I'd love to hear it on my Instagram. You can find me @spicydogmama. You can also send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org If you want to be a guest on the show, or if you just want to send me your thoughts. As always, like rate review, make sure you're subscribed or following on whatever streaming platform that you are on.
You can also follow Rey on Instagram at her adventures in progress with reactivity @mylittlepibble. And if you want to read the episodes instead of listening to them, you can do so reesesnpieces.com. And on next week's episode I have another guest interview. I was super excited to talk with Eddie from ClassicK9 Academy, a dog training facility in Ontario. I get to hear about about his story/ where he started with dog training. We had such great conversation I cannot wait for you to hear it. Have a fantastic week. You're doing amazing.