Pixie is reactive. She flips out on people, kids, dogs behind fences, people with leashed dogs, and the occasional cat or squirrel. Nice days are showing up more frequently, and I have to be careful when I decide to take my dog out for a walk. The stresses of all these people who also want to walk their dog, are just too much for both of us. For example, last Sunday I got home from appointments while it was still light outside and decided I should get the dogs out. Once I turned into my neighborhood I saw ALL the people. I mean ALL. THE. PEOPLE. I felt my blood pressure rise while I was still in my car so Pixie was not getting a walk on Sunday.
I hate this. I hate that I have to compromise my plans because there are too many people outside with their dogs, and I can’t just go do what I want with my dog. I hate that I get embarrassed and frustrated with her when she flips out. I also hate that going out on a day like Sunday would have stressed Pixie out to the point of melt down. I really hate that going out for a relaxing or exciting sniff walk is so stressful for my pup. I can’t imagine what that feels like for her, so I make the decision not to put her in that situation.
Pixie and I have been working on this for about a year now. Some areas have improved greatly, others we still have a long way to go. There is no quick fix for having a reactive dog. Its working together to change the emotion associated with the trigger. She never gets punished for flipping out, I make a mental note of what went wrong, and change tactics next time. Walks never involve answering the phone, or zoning out to the song on my Pandora station, it’s actively keeping her engaged with me and always watching for triggers to make sure she knows I am going to get her through them safely and calmly. They often involve changing directions or choosing another street to walk down because there are loose dogs, or kids playing, and I know that would be too stressful for her to deal with. Walks at the state park often involve me headed into the woods to give plenty of space for her to deal with a passing runner or barking dog.
One day she will be able to handle going for a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but for now I am committed to teaching her to trust me. On our journey I rejoice in the moments when she looks at the barking dogs behind the fence, takes a deep breath and looks at me for instruction. Learning is happening at her pace, and I will continue to keep her safe. So if you see me in the trees at the park, you can laugh but please don’t talk to my dog because she might flip out.