Tag Archives: neighbors

Making school less scary

One of the principles of managing reactive dogs is to help them learn to make positive associations with Scary Things. For any dog — and especially fearful dogs — it’s important to try to introduce new things and people in ways that the dogs can find the experience pleasant and even enjoyable. This means to not push the dog out of it comfort zone and to pair the new thing/person with something nice like a treat.

One error that people make is to ignore the first part of that sentence. The treat alone is not enough to make the experience pleasant for a dog that is feeling highly stressed. In fact, it is often counterproductive. Continue reading


Bunkering down

One of the things we are trying to teach Spencer is to run away from Scary People and not toward them. This is a key point of rehabilitating a reactive dog. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times, our fence is a particularly sensitive point on the side facing the school. Not only can Spencer see the Scary People, but the strip of land between our fence and the school is narrow, so people come very close to our house and sometimes they have noisy, terrifying lawnmowers. (Cue melodramatic music.)

In the previous article, I mentioned the gardener passing by frequently to tend plants that are now along the edge of the school. His almost daily presence is making it easier to desensitize Spencer because practicing often is critical for a dog to master a concept like this.

Spencer likes to sit in the sunroom when it’s nice, which gives him a clear view on anyone coming near our house from the school. When he starts barking, I coming running from wherever I am, babbling like a crazy person in the Happy Voice on Happiness Enhancing Substances, “Oh! Is there a stranger near the fence? How wonderful! We love the gardener! This is amazing!” Then I encourage him to run to the living room which has thick walls and high windows (and his crate), where he gets treated for coming to his safe place instead of going towards confrontation.

Today, he started barking, and I went running with my crazed monologue. I wasn’t even at the bottom of the steps yet when he was already on his way out of the sunroom. He trotted calmly into the living room and then turned to me to get his treats. When I stopped handing them over, he spontaneously sat down, then laid down and then rested his head on his paws. We had a big treat party then!

Up on the rooftop

Guy standing on the neighbor's roofImagine a  3×3 grid of nine squares. Our property is like the one in the middle. We our property doesn’t touch the street. (You walk down an alley to our house, in case you’re wondering). One long side of our property borders on a pre-school, but we can’t actually see any of the kids, the way the entrance and playground are set up. So all-in-all, things are pretty calm around here, especially evenings and weekends and especially during the summer holidays.

That calm has both benefits and disadvantages for the fear reactive dog. Continue reading

Work with me, people!

Warning: this will be a bit of a rant.

When walking a reactive dog, you have to constantly be aware of everything going on around you and have your course plotted out so that you can fluidly guide the dog through a potential mine field. But sometimes, despite your best efforts the Fates work against you. And frankly, sometimes other people really don’t help.

So this morning we were heading to the hope with the hopes of going to Playgroup. There were a lot of people out. So we’re walking down the street and I see a woman coming up our sidewalk. I glance at the other side of the street, and there is another woman on that sidewalk, but closer. No problem, I think, we’ll just wait until that first woman goes by and then cross diagonally and continue behind her.

Then Spencer starts the John Wayne walk. I don’t know about other dogs, but when Spencer is about to stop to poop, he starts walking like he’s been on a horse all day. No panic, I think, I’ll just get the bag ready, grab the poop and worry about tying the bag and everything once we’ve navigated the tricky bit.

Except there are suddenly cars preventing us from crossing.

I raise my hand in the universal stop signal. The woman keeps coming. I say, please wait. She keeps coming. There’s really nowhere to take the dog. I consider running in front of the car, but decide that’s a bad idea, so I prepare for the inevitable. She comes too close and Spencer starts barking and lunging. He’s on a really short leash by this point, so he can’t get away from my hip, and he did calm down pretty much immediately, but it was extremely frustrating.

If that woman had just been willing to wait a few seconds, then we could have handled this with no problems. Sigh.

Full of surprises

Like children, dogs engage in social referencing before deciding how to react to a situation, especially an unfamiliar context. The signals sent by the person at the other end of the leach can make all the difference, especially with a reactive dog. This means that when Spencer has a bad day, it’s sometimes really that I’m having a bad day and giving him the wrong signals.

This morning was a perfect example. I was trying to navigate through a slightly complicated intersection. A woman was coming down the sidewalk in front of us, so we crossed to the right. We couldn’t continue up the street on that side because there was a guy in front of us who made Spencer a bit nervous. I was going to continue down the side street when I saw a woman and her toddler coming towards us. So I decided to turn around and cross back to the other sidewalk, but suddenly there was a guy on our right walking straight towards us. Surprised, I jumped, and Spencer started barking at him. But then the strangest thing happened.

I consciously loosened the leash and said in a really calm voice, “No, no. Sorry, my fault.” The guy veered away from us (but still very close) and I glanced down at Spencer…to find him him SITTING and looking up at me to know what we were going to do next.

Let me repeat that: Spencer just spontaneously sat down calmly with a strange man less than two metres away from him.

This has been a strange yo-yo week. In France, when your dog bites someone you are legally obliged to undergo an evaluation from what is called a “behavioral veterinarian” (a sort of doggie psychologist, if you will). We saw ours on Wednesday, and Spencer was brilliant. He got a really good grade. He floored us.

Then yesterday morning, I took him out for a walk and he barked at practically everyone.

Last night he pulled like the dickens during our walk, but seemed to be on a mission to cover as much territory as he could, insisting on going down all kinds of streets we never or rarely take. He had a very clear plan where he wanted to go. I have no idea what the basis was for the plan, but he made it clear on several occasions that my idea and his were not the same. he didn’t seem stressed, just intent and over excited (it was windy and that often seems to rile him up).

And then this morning, after the incident with the man, he did some other surprising things:

  • He pulled me down a dead-end street to go say hello to dogs who were barking at him. Bless his optimism: as these dogs were barking, “Hey! Stay away from my fence!” Spencer walked up, started sniffing their noses and even play-bowed to one of them! Totally socially inept, but at the same time, very confident and courageous.
  • A little further down the road, a neighbor we don’t really know was out in her yard and said hello. She has a Jack Russell who most decidedly does not like Spencer (he’ll bark maniacally if Spencer is within 100m). But the dog was inside, which was the very first remark she made. Spencer stopped and looked at her through the fence. She started to walk towards us. I warned her that Spencer might react if she got too close. She got pretty close. We chatted. I kept Spencer moving, but still pretty static, and he didn’t say a word. We kept the encounter brief, but still, I was gobsmacked.

Vomitfest 2012

So yesterday at lunchtime, I was really surprised that Spencer didn’t come out of his bed when I started cooking. Then he didn’t react well when I gave him a bit of yogurt on my fingers.  This was surprising. This dog does not usually say no to food.

I called him to give him his essential oil drops, whcih are usually delivered on two little treats. He ate them obediently, but certainly didn’t savor them.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered his breakfast regurgitated in the sunroom.  Super. Trying to get as close to outside as he could despite the closed doors, Spencer threw up in the track of the sliding glass doors. Double super.

I encouraged him to drink to rinse out his mouth, and he did so very obediently.  And then threw up in the living room shortly thereafter. Only a quick reaction on my part saved the sheet music books.

So I let him sleep most of the afternoon, working nearby so he felt less alone. 

By the time Greg got home in the evening, Spencer had eaten a little kibble and seemed his usual energetic self. By bedtime, he had had enough kibble to rebuild his energy.

This morning when I took him down to the park, he was a little edgy (he tried very fiercely to chase away a woman who was clear on the other side fo the street and whom WE overtook), but then he played nicely with other dogs at the park and threw himself at the feet of Neron’s mistress to have his belly rubbed. So I thought the edginess might be due to the fact that he hadn’t really had any of his essential oils (Bach’s Flowers) in 24 hours.

I noticed that he didn’t have the same endurance as usual, but I just chalked that up to not having eaten very much the previous day. However, he refused his breakfast.

I called over Marylène (neighbor with 5 dogs) to help me take his temperature. He was fairly interactive, and she said that while he clearly wasn’t himself, it didn’t seem to be anything too serious. He seemed puzzled that she had come alone, so when she left, I went with her and picked up Epona, her bulldog who is Spencer’s friend.  And, although he threw up again after her arrival (thankully outside this time), he seems quite pleased she’s here. 

But that, as the Hammy Hamster narrator says, is another story…