Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reactivity: Part 3; Shut up and listen

So much of our dog's behavior on-leash is dependent on our own behavior.  It's no news that dogs tend to act "better" off-leash than they do on-leash.  Is it really surpising, when you think about it?  Dogs weren't born to be on leashes...that was an idea by a human and humans, well, we tend to ruin a lot of stuff.  We get our noses in things and mess up a lot of things. 

One of the turning points my relationship with Fanny was shortly after we moved into our house.  We were taking a nice, leisurely walk around the neighborhood when I suddenly heard a lady yelling at her dogs to come back.  I started to scan around the area we were walking just hoping to God that we wouldn't run into these dogs.  Fanny didn't exactly have the best track record with meeting dogs on-leash.  She had gotten into scuffles and always came out with the one needing stitches...the top of the head, the space between her eyes, and one time right under her eye that I thought we would have to have surgery.  Luckily that didn't happen.  Anyway, back to the excitement...

Much to my displeasure, here come these two dogs running full speed towards us.  One was a golden retriever, one was a medium-sized mix (I would say a pointer/lab/dalmation mix).  My typical response to situations like this would have been to 1.) try and turn around and go the other direction or 2.) if it was too late to turn around, I would pick Fanny up by the collar and hold her head high enough off the ground so she couldn't latch on and bite the other dog.  Since these dogs were too close and I was feeling outnumbered...I had the instinct to do something completely different than I had ever done before.  I dropped the leash and calmly backed myself away and didn't say a single word.  I guess I figured that if she would start some crap with either dog I would blame the owner off in the distance that their dogs ran over to us (crossing the street in the process) and confronted us and my dog was just acting out of defense.

Well...what happened next completely floored me.   Fanny froze, but then started wagging her tail and politely sniffed the other dogs.  "Who stole my dog?" I thought to myself.  After a couple minutes of sniffing, the two dogs took off to go back to their home and Fanny happily trotted along with them.  What this simply because I dropped the leash and let the dogs have their own conversation without me right there attached to them?  Do I get in the way of my dog?  Absolutely. 

As it turns out, Fanny ended up loving the golden retriever, Otis, and we still see him every week (or so) when we walk past his house.  Fanny looks up to us and gives her ever-so-sweet tail wag and starts to whine...and, of course, we cave in an let her go say "hello" to her boyfriend. 

So, what's the point of this post?  Well, it's simple.  We owe it to our dogs to shut up and just let our dogs be dogs.  Let them do their thing and figure things out on their own - on their time - at their comfort level.  I leave you with one, simple suggestion (even to myself).  "Shut up and listen."

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