One of the hardest things to learn when you have a reactive dog (at least in my experience), is how to read them. It is so important to be able to read where your dog is at before a leash can come off, even for a successful on leash walk.
Last night there was something in Luke’s general look and feel that told me, DO NOT let him off leash! When we first got to the field it seemed status quo, but I had a feeling there was something off. His ears pricked up, not a lot at first but they did and that is a sign in him of heightened awareness. He was also sniffing more then usual and straining on the lead. I kept him on leash in the field where we park and decided we would skip the fun and games and do our walk and at the end if all was fine, maybe he would play the recall whistle game. Big maybe.
We walked across the access road to the second field on the way to the trash, yes indeed I do put on my nerdy headlight and pick up after him. When we got to the trash I saw another dog coming up the path. My thought, ditch the garbage and get moving. I figured Luke would notice, he knows when there are other dogs around, but he paid no mind. He was glued to a smell on the ground by the trash and he would not budge. I could not get his attention to get him moving. I had to ultimately tug him from the spot.
I figured after we moved on he would be ok but it seems the scent continued on down the entire path we take. My thoughts, and I could be wrong, someone walked a female dog in heat down that path at some point in the 24 hrs since we were last there. I looked back and noticed that the dog behind us was acting the same as Luke, the owner had to keep stopping and pull the dog from the grass. Up ahead there was another dog coming and Luke has been straining on his leash following the scent. We crossed the road and he had a minor reaction to the oncoming dog, I’ll take a minor reaction anytime over a full on freak out. He lunged a bit and barked but not too badly and we quickly moved on and crossed back to the path. Resume the sniffing, pulling and stubborn freezing to over sniff.
My solution last night was to keep my left hand on the bungee and my right hand on the solid lower handle of the leash and keep him at my side. In the end that was a good decision. We didn’t see anymore dogs and after we turned around I managed to get some of his focus on me. There was a dog barking in a yard and he was alert to that but he didn’t react, he followed the lamb lung instead. Bribes are ok I figure if that is what it takes to break focus. It also semi worked to keep a piece of lamb in my hand to keep him from the scent on the path.
We cut up a road back to the access road and he actually mellowed out. Whatever he was following last night was not on the road to the car. By the time we got back he was calm, got right in and had his final treat. It was not as easy as it has been lately but not as hard as it has been in the past. I credit this to the trainer who runs the pack walks on Sundays and his agility trainer. They both have explained signs to me of his alertness and his frustration level. They gave me a base for learning to read Luke and I was lacking the knowledge of what certain small signs meant. This makes a difference. Being extremely aware is making a difference. They also both have a different approach to training, one has given me a hard NO and stiff rules on interaction and the other is my YES upbeat excited and positive person. You need no and you need yes for success. He actually pays attention to me when I say no now. He wants the yes.
I encourage you if you are frustrated and at your wits end to find a some great opposite trainers and use them both. Balance is needed between the two.
I wrote this yesterday and didn’t finish. The scent was still there tonight, no games again but also no other dogs. The cold keeps some people in. On leash the whole time but a bit more focus. This is life with a reactive dog. It gets better, it takes time and commitment. Don’t give up, find balanced help and approaches, try everything that you are comfortable trying with help from a pro and find what works for you and your dog, you may find it on your own but please, learn to read and understand your reactive dog. You will feel better and so will your dog. If anything Luke and I are bonding more deeply then I could have ever thought possible and he already followed me around and slept on my feet.