Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's Not You, It's Me

Those of you who read this blog regularly are familiar with my efforts to help my leash reactive dog, Bear, stay calmer on walks, especially when he spots other dogs. Bear has made so much progress that I thought I would give an update in the hopes that my experience might be helpful to others who are struggling with this challenge.

Our Pack leash reactive class.

Earlier this summer, I was taking Bear to Our Pack’s Sunday leash reactivity class. I have three young dogs, and walking them all together is a challenge, especially when one or more of them is leash reactive. Bear was doing well in class, but on walks around our neighborhood he was still getting pretty spun up. He makes this funny squeal when he gets excited or nervous, which would turn to barking and lunging whenever a strange dog got too close.

So I took Bear to see Marthina for a private consultation with her Pit Bull ambassadors, Hailey and Professor Dexter. He did great there too - making me look like an overwrought, anxious owner who was blowing this all WAY out of proportion. He laughed at me all the way home.

Marthina kindly advised me to just walk Bear alone for a while, without my other dogs, to continue building his confidence.

Well, a couple of months ago, I had knee surgery and couldn’t walk my dogs at all anymore, so I hired someone to come in the mornings to exercise them. Once my knee got a little better, I took Marthina’s advice and started taking Bear out for a second, short walk around the block in the afternoons, just the two of us. Well, it’s funny, the knee surgery meant that I had to walk REALLY slowly at first, which actually helped us both to relax a lot more. I think that before, I had been prone at times to taking those grim, “Grab the leashes, stare straight ahead, you are all going to behave!” death march walks with my dogs. You know the kind, where you keep walking a little faster and a little faster, just to “technically” stay out in front of your dog? You know who you are!

Now, with my bum knee, Bear and I would just sort of amble (limp) along, stopping often to rest and sniff the rose bushes. But I also took the opportunity to continue to work on his leash skills, giving him lots of treats and positive rewards for coming back to my side. I did this every time a dog barked inside a house or behind a fence we were passing, or when a squirrel ran across the road, a cyclist went by and, of course, when we saw other dogs. I went through a LOT of treats. But in the space of a few short weeks, our walks, and Bear’s leash skills, have vastly improved. We have gotten to the point where he will walk on a very loose leash without pulling, even as we pass by other dogs. Even excited, barking dogs.

I hadn’t realized, though, how much progress we’d really made until a recent afternoon. We were walking around the block and I was daydreaming a bit, not really paying attention, when a dog in a neighbor’s yard suddenly rushed the fence and erupted in furious barking. I nearly jumped out of my skin, then

Bear in Our Pack's class.

quickly recovered, only to see Bear, standing calmly at my side, looking up at me as if to say, “Well, where’s my treat??” He reacted better than I did! Amazing. I think the combination of me relaxing and providing TRUE consistency (we go every single day, even for just ten minutes) did wonders.

Bear still has his moments, but it is just awesome to see his progress. Our little daily walks have really helped us bond. I can see his trust in me growing every day, and more importantly, I’ve learned to trust him, too.


  1. That's awesome! Marthina can work wonders! Keep up the good work you guys, maybe I'll see you in class some day.

  2. Great post. Thanks so much!