Good Walks and New Friends

For the last 4 years walking on a leash has been an absolute nightmare. Luke is one of those dogs that will pull your arm out of your socket. Nothing is worse then your dog dragging you along while you look like the worst owner in the world.

When he was younger we belly strapped him with the leash hoping he would take the hint. He knows back and will jump back if you say it and then he will turn around and charge forward again. We switched from the belly strap to the ever popular Halti when he was about 8-10 months old. He hated it! You would be trying to walk while Luke dragged himself sideways along the grass rubbing his face. It wasn’t tight on his face he just dislikes anything touching him that gives more control to his owner. I would get him on his feet and one house later he was on his side again, flipped down rubbing his face in the grass. I went online and found the Gentle Leader and shelled out bucks for that. It was leather and did a figure 8 to go on, no buckle clip like the halti (he hates the sound of a plastic buckle to this day!). For a while it worked. When he pulled and barked it tightened and at least muffled the shrillness into a loud boof, much better on the ears and less embarrassing, however he hated that too so he started doing the same thing and after you took it off he would rub his face like the world had ended.

The halti days were not cool. He was not amused to say the least.

A harness didn’t work, the pinch filled me with guilt. Luke has a way of making you regret attempts at control. We have been using his tactical vest now for a couple of months. It kind of double works for you because it has two handles, one at the front and one at the back and heavy clips in the same spots. Before the bungee leash I experimented with the front and back clip, even without the new leash the pulling went down. It also acts like a thunder coat, he feels safe in it and it has lowered some of his anxiety, not a lot of it, but some of it. It is control in a comfortable way. He doesn’t like the buckles (halti leftover) but he is more and more receptive to the vest. The vest means we are going out, we are going to have fun.

For Christmas I got tactical gear, I fill a pouch with lamb lung and mini milk bones (they are like pez for a big dog). I have his canteen and bowl around back and on my left side I have his whistle and my nerdy headlamp, I have plans to move some of that and use the pouch as a first aid pouch. Today I will pick up the H-harness to attach to my battle belt and I will reconfigure my gear. Luke knows to go to my right side now when I call him. This is conveniently where his treats are. We use a lot of lamb lung. He will do anything for it.

Yesterday we got to walk in daylight (a weekend only thing for Luke because of my work/transit schedule). The field was empty so I let him off leash and to my surprise he stayed close. I sent him off a few times and played his recall whistle game. He’s getting good at that because he knows there is a big YES and tasty lung that comes with coming back. It takes 4 blows and a name call when he is distracted by our other dog, we are not 100% yet but we are working on it, I want one whistle and to me eventually. Baby steps. He did great and I clipped him back up fo a path walk and on leash time. This is now serious business. He is working. As we crossed the second field two women walked by on the path with umbrellas and he gave a quiet bark while at attention. I can’t fault him for that and he didn’t go nuts. I stopped and told him they were ok and we waited before proceeding to the path. We followed it further then we ever have and he happily came to me and stayed at my side mostly on a loose leash the entire way down. When I told him to go sniff and be a dog he did. Half of the time he came to my side I didn’t need to ask him, he chose to come. I’m sure it has something to do with praise and lamb lung, so I treat heavily and say a lot of good boy and yes.

Loose leash, on me and 100% his choice. This is what I imagined when I got him.

I tell him how much I love our walks these days. I actually do, I have not enjoyed walking him since he was a puppy. From 6 months on he has been hell to walk. This is so nice. Our success came in the form of distractions on the way back. The first was a rollerblader with a large dog on an extendable leash, those things should be banned! Useless owners with useless leads that offer no control and really a large dog can snap that thin line in a heart beat. Luke went stiff and alert and I said on me, his eyes met mine and I kept his focus and talked to him. He maintained his contact with me and got his reward times 2. Zero reaction. The second distraction was 2 people in front yards as we passed their houses. He stiffened again and kept eye contact and was praised and treated for relaxing and keeping focus on me as we walked past. Lastly came two boys on bikes. He hates bikes. He did well and it was the hardest distraction, he didn’t react but it was much harder to keep his focus on me. We finished up the last bit back to the car and he got right in and laid down. No fuss no muss. It was a good walk. He is improving in leaps and bounds right now.

Relaxed after a walk, he hasn’t jumped in and laid down like that for years.

New friends. Over the holidays we got frogs, shrimp and fish. We started in bowls and quickly got a 10 gallon and 36 gallon tank. The small one houses my 4 neon tetras, 2 frogs and at least 2 shrimp. The frogs got hungry. Luke can’t see the 10 gallon tank but his cat can, he can watch it from his post at night in the Izzy Epicentre. The 36 gallon tank is full of schooling tetras of various varieties. Luke has discovered that tank and will stand or sit with his nose up watching them. They swim down and hover staring back at him and dance around. His tale wags, his ears perk up and he gets excited. They are his fish. Relaxing for people to watch, and apparently Luke as well. He is in utter love with the fish. What a big scary dog he is. Afraid of a 20lb cat and in love with 12 tetras that dance around his face. You can’t tell me that a reactive dog is a bad dog or a scary dog anymore because I have Luke, he is such a softie and I love that dog. That dog is my reactive dog and he is teaching me so much about having patience and understanding.

Luke’s new friends. He keeps going back to watch them.

A Good Xmas and Hopes for a New Year

Bad first time blogger for going underground after one post!

Good Boys get Good Toys. It was a raccoon, it lasted 24 hrs. He showed amazing restraint.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s celebrate some well earned success, such as Xmas.

Any owner of a reactive dog will tell you that uneventful is a wonderful thing. We don’t need amazing meet and greets, just an uneventful walk or two. This was our 2018 finale. It was quite possibly the hardest and most frustrating years of my life with Luke, let me recap what you missed if you weren’t my Facebook friend.

In 2018 Luke’s fear reaction had hit a new high after several bad attacks in mid-late 2017. I started the year with a dog that growled at people, dogs and rocks yes, rocks! He trusted nothing and no one. I was taking him to a park up the road between 9 and 10 pm (I get up for work at 5 am) because we could not risk any interaction in the dark. Even at that time we had interruptions. Sometimes we drove to every park looking for just one empty place. In April I happened across a reactive dog pack walk, free with a trainer. Luke got another training device and I learned to use it.

Enter the pinch. At first he obeyed, then he cleverly figured out how to exploit that, why not, he was getting an unintended correction every time he behaved and tried to avoid a correction. I felt bad, he felt bad, but he really tried and so did I. Out of the blue one Sunday in the early summer he pissed on my leg. I have never been so disheartened and I felt like finally giving up and giving him up. Instead we started Agility. He liked that. Loved it even, as fall came agility became non-existent because of conflicting schedules. Back to walks and dodging in parks and fighting with other people to give us space and 5 minutes. We still do the weekly pack walks but since October I have been staggering them.

I started looking into training again and training videos and gear and I found my tactical savior, first the vest from OneTigris, then the collar from Excellent Elite Spanker and finally the tactical bungee leash (I forget the make it was cheap but awesome!) After rolling in his gear twice in shit*, seriously, and washing him and his gear twice, I also am decked out in tactical gear. I carry, he behaves.

*side note – Pick up after your dogs people, it’s honestly not hard to do, even in the dark!

Back to it, tactical. I carry the pouches, Luke and I match, he is feeling better about his gear snapping on now that I am also snapping on gear and he is beginning to enjoy leash walks. We have treats, bags, lights, a canteen and bowl and our expensive Logan Herding Whistle. We are modifying gear for ease and working on whistle recall. He has learned that when I say “On me!” He is to be on my right side. Good job Luke!

This Christmas he had daylight off leash in a quiet field with our other dog, when I blew my whistle and called him he came back. Thank you hours of ball, whistle and endless pouch of lamb lung! We are having fun finally.

He is still reactive but last night he was close, one hand on the bungee and one hand on the low handle. He could have gone nuts last night on our walk at least 5 times but instead he felt I had control, he was “on me” with eye contact and we moved on with a reward for maintaining contact and not reacting.

Uneventful, yes. We don’t always get ball time but we are having a good time. There are still reactions. The fear is there, but we are enjoying some small success and that is all I can ask for right now.

Happy New Year Luke, 2019 will be a lot of work, but you are worth it.

Another Xmas gift. Death Vader is still around, Luke comes by his darkside honestly.

How we got here in a nutshell…

Welcome to my blog, I’m new at this, I’m also new-ish to having a dog. This is my journey with Luke Skywalker, my reactive first dog.

I never intended to get a puppy, I had literally just moved to Victoria BC in a new relationship and I had just made a major shift in my life. My partner and I were settling in and by chance and whim pulled into the Metchosin Farmers Market. We saw a man there with a dog and 8 little puppies on string and I laughed and said (and I quote)

“Some poor sucker is going home with a puppy and it’s not going to be us!”

We walked around that market as people gushed over those puppies. Not us! Not until Luke got his string loose and wandered right across the busy market undetected and stopped at me. I bent down and told him he was cute and that was where our relationship would end, but then he crawled up on my leg and snuggled in. We spent the afternoon in the makeshift parking lot talking to the owner and hanging out with Luke and his mom. I got his information and said I was only interested if that one didn’t find a home. 2 weeks later after another meet and a lot of talking he came home. I became that poor sucker.

The day he came home

One week later my partner said the puppy has to go, call and see if he will take him back. I left a message and 4 hours later when the call was returned we backed down and asked for the name of his moms vet. The very next day while walking around Langford Lake on leash a woman with two fully grown German sheperds said “Oh puppy!” And crossed the path to pet Luke while we were walking and her dogs attacked. My heart stopped, I lost it when one of them grabbed his tiny head, I thought he was going to be killed. I snatched him up and our troubles began.

Luke has a great memory, he never forgets a thing. To this day he freaks out when he sees a dog larger then himself and he is scared of Sheperds. He has one Shepherd that he likes from his reactive dog walk and it took months for him to get comfortable with him.

Luke is a Lab/Border Collie/Pitt cross. His head and heart are all Pitt, his OCD and need to work/energy is all Border Collie and he wags like a Lab. He’s extremely heavy and dense with muscle, also from the Pittbul. He’s sweet as they come as long as he knows you.

He’s been attacked about 10 times in his four years by dogs of every breed and size and he is afraid of people as well. He has never bitten anyone but he is frightening when he reacts, he will growl, raise his hackles and bark close and ferociously. He is a barker and I often think that perhaps I should have named him Bob Barker instead. This behavior has been met by the boot of the offending dogs owner. This is why we don’t trust people either. Those kicks only made his problems worse.

He is afraid to pee in his spot in his yard because another dog broke through the fence and attacked him in his safe place while he was peeing, ever since it is hit and miss for his pit. Luke is complex, it is exhausting trying to find a quiet safe place to throw a ball for him. We sit and wait hoping for 10 minutes of quiet wherever we go. At all other times he is leashed and under control. We have tried every product imaginable, and now has all tactical dog gear and we are starting to feel better. We suit up for battle when we leave the house.

Your dog may be friendly, mine is sadly not. My dog is under control, please keep yours under control as well. Please don’t let your dog off leash in leash only parks. These are the safe places we have because if everyone is under control we can walk safely without meeting and eventually Luke might believe me when I tell him he is safe at my side. He isn’t if your dog runs up. Please don’t let your little dogs out on a 25 foot extended leash, you have just allowed them the same freedom as off leash when we walk by on a four foot lead held at 1 foot on the second handle.

Luke and I are working very hard to feel safe. We are working very hard to help him relax and know that every dog and every stranger are not a threat. For Luke’s safety and for your dogs safety, keep your dog under control, because mine is until yours is in his face.

Welcome to our journey. We’re a work in progress and I am also trying to not be a reactive owner. Give us space, it’s so very obvious that we need it.

Luke today, if you see us feel free to say Hi Luke and keep walking, he needs space but likes a friendly hello.