“My dog isn’t good with other dogs” is something that is often said. Usually from one owner to another, sometimes from just a few yards away.
I can’t help but smile when I hear this.
If you are able to stand a few yards away from another dog & owner, and politely request they keep their dog on the lead, with your voice at an ordinary volume, then from where I’m sitting you really do not have a lot to worry about.
I suppose it is all relative right? So if you’ve never experienced (or witnessed) a Milly, then you may not know what it is like to have a dog that is actually bad with other dogs.
In a nutshell, Milly was a dog-phobic dog. This made her highly reactive in the presence of another dog.
“Reactive is the term coined by dog trainers and owners who own dogs that overreact to certain stimuli. It might be the sight of other dogs, people, kids, loud noises and chaos. The dog’s reaction to these stimuli is usually a bark and lunge type of behavior that scares the pants off both the person or dog being barked at and the person holding the leash.” Extract from: CanineUniversity.com
When I say presence I mean the sight (any distance), sound (any volume) or smell (any strength) of any canine enemy.
If you scored reactivity on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being indifferent and 10 being completely unmanageable, Milly unquestionably started at a 10. A few years ago we might’ve had the odd 8 day, and when we were intensively training with her perhaps we even hit a 6, but 10 was her default in those early days. In addition to scoring 10 for reactivity, she also scored rather highly on hyper-vigilance, which meant she was constantly on the look out for trouble. For her it wasn’t “oh there dog….. react” it was “where dog? where dog? gonna react react REACT when I see it. Where. Dog?”. The minute she stepped out of the house she was on high alert.
Apologies for the dodgy filming, but here’s footage of an early wired Milly as an example. There were no other dogs in sight, just people and cars. To be honest when I watch this now I hardly recognise her.. I think I have pushed all of those difficult times to the back of my brain.
One of the hardest things about her being 10/10 was that, after an episode of reactivity, her levels of cortisol/adrenaline/whatever remained SO high that there was zero chance of us carrying on with what it was we were doing. If it was a walk, it had to be immediately aborted, because she was unable to compose herself enough to either carry on or turn back. In this situation there were two choices: wrangle and struggle to get her home without getting an injury (her or me), or phone Matt to come and rescue us. Preferred option was always the latter and so Matt was the recipient of countless phonecalls from a sobbing Heather. Never leaving home without a phone had never been so important. Milly’s extreme behaviour also meant that very often we didn’t get too far from home, and longer walks were reserved for weekends only because it really wouldn’t matter if it took me 4 hours to get her home from 1 mile away.
So – based on my personal experience – I have quite a strong opinion on what it means to have a dog that is not good with other dogs!!
If you can answer yes to one or more of the following statements, then perhaps you and I are on a similar page:
- On sighting another dog I have to immediately turn round
- I have to hide behind cars/trees/wheelie bins etc. to avoid other dogs
- I have zero qualms about entering someone’s private driveway to make use of cars/trees/wheelie bins for hiding
- I have a pre-planned escape strategy that involves flagging down a bus and jumping on
- I have run across roads, into ditches and scrambled through fences to get away from an advancing offlead dog
- I have picked up my 20kg dog and whirled around in order to prevent contact with an escaped dog
- I have diverted a whole 2miles out of my way to avoid a dog running loose
- I am known to every dog owner in the area, but have never been close enough to speak to them
- I have hidden in the Tudor Rose Car Parking secure premises so many times they know me by name and practically put the kettle on when they see me
- I have one bicep a solid 1cm bigger than the other from continued excessive lead wrangling
Looking at that list, it appears I score 10/10 aswell.
Above is just a snapshot of early life with Milly (2009-2012), to give a little insight. It is written with some humour now, but at the time I was desperate and nothing about it was funny. Please do not read this and think we let her carry on in this highly anxious state, or neglected her well-being. We sought professional help very early on and followed their advice to the letter, with no expense spared, and no task too great… more detail on that will follow in future blogs.
Poor Mills never made it to level 1 – that was an ask too much – but she worked so hard with us and got as far as she could. Between us, we implemented all the strategies necessary to ensure a walk was a just pleasurable walk, and not a run of the gauntlet, for her or for us.