A few weeks ago I wrote a post about our dog Phoebe. In that post, I shared that Phoebe was a “reactive dog”. Reactive meaning, that while on a walk if Phoebe happened to see another dog, pretty much any other dog, she would go berserk. She would lunge and pull, whine and howl, and make a very embarrassing display of a dog that has not been properly trained. We would apologize to the neighbors and move on as quickly as we could. It was bad.
All of the above prompted me to do some research with the all-knowing, Google. I found some videos that shared a few tips and steps, which we tried. Step one was to carry treats that Phoebe loves, which wasn’t difficult since she loves treats, and every single time she acknowledged me by looking at me, I was to give her a treat and say, “Good Girl”. Since there was food involved, she caught on to this very quickly. Step two was a little more “invasive”.
Step two involved something called a head collar. A head collar is a contraption that goes around the dog’s nose and clips behind its head. The dog can breath, pant, eat, drink, and play and Phoebe would wear it and do all of those things…inside. When I tried to take her outside, even in the backyard, she planted herself and refused to move. Evidently, Phoebe is very self-conscious about what the neighbors might think. In my own weird way, I can relate.
When I was a little girl of 9, I had an abundance of adult teeth and an itty-bitty mouth in which to house them. Needless to say, my mouth was a mess. And so, I began wearing braces on just my top teeth at the ripe old age of 9. They weren’t nice, clear braces like they are now. Back then they were all metal. Hard metal. Metal bands that dug into your gums and metal wires that ripped up your cheeks. It was fun. Adding to all of that fun, it was decided that I needed to wear a lovely little torture device called “head gear”.
Now, head gear wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have just worn it to bed. I probably wouldn’t have minded that, too much. But, wearing it to school, well, that was something else entirely. As you can see in the picture, head gear is exactly that. It has bands that go around your head and behind your neck that attach with a metal rod that is plugged into your teeth. It wasn’t very attractive. Not that I thought much about it at the time, but looking back…
Picture a toddler-size 9 year old with a head full of short wild auburn hair, my mother refused to let it grow because it was wavy and hard to control, and a face full of freckles that floated on the whitest skin you can imagine. Now picture all of that with head gear. It was an awkward time for me. I was oblivious for the most part, but still. Obviously, this is not a picture of me. Fortunately, I have no pictures of myself in my head gear. Moving on…
When I continued to see Phoebe looking dejected whenever I put on her head gear, it brought back memories and I really could relate. I began to question whether or not this was a good idea for Phoebe. I’m sure it might work for other dogs, but, strange as it may sound, I’ve always treated my dogs like the individuals they are. I am not looking for a dog that walks slightly behind my left heel. Nor do I want a dog that plops her bottom down the minute I stop moving. I want Phoebe. A weirdo dog that lives for her walk and the opportunity to smell anything and everything in her path. A slight disclaimer: She does walk on my left side and is not allowed to cross back and forth in front of me, but that is for safety sake. Her owner is a klutz. However, I have no problem with her having her nose to the ground in anticipation of finding the next perfect smell of the day.
So, we were back to Step 1 and the treats and though she was doing well with this step, the frenetic behavior remained.
Enter the Dog Whisperer and his mantra that it is not always the dog that needs training. Cliff saw it first. A couple on Cesar Milan’s show sharing about their dog that was very reactive with other dogs. Whenever the couple would walk their dog and see other dogs they would tighten up on the dog’s leash and wait for the inevitable. This was the first thing Cesar addressed and his words were life-changing.
If a dog owner seeing other dogs tightens up on their dogs leash, their dog perceives danger and reacts accordingly to protect its owner. Wait. What??? I not only tightened up on Phoebe’s leash, I wrapped it around my hand and held it with a death grip against my chest waiting for the onslaught. I was telling my poor girl that there was danger with every single dog we saw, large or small, near or far. I was the one making her crazy. The advice given was to relax the hand that holds the leash and walk calmly by. I was skeptical, but we tried.
On our next walk when we saw another dog, I let my leash toting arm hang relaxed at my side. She started to whine. I remained calm. She started to pull. I called her name. She looked at me. I gave her a treat and told her she was a “Good Girl”. The other dog moved on and Phoebe went back to her smells. The beginnings of success!
And so, I am now fully trained and have given Phoebe a new “leash” on life. It’s a good life but in the light of all eternity, it’s really not that big a deal.