I am going to be a voice joining in with some of the recent posts I have read about keeping dogs in control and on leash. Especially since this morning Pearl was accosted (and didn’t handle it well) by an off leash dog whose owner asked if my dog was friendly when her dog was already inches from mine (she’s not, too late), and also said her dog “barks and is super dominant but is fine.” What!? This seems to be happening to us all too often. When we were on vacation, we had an experience that really reinforced how I feel about people needing to take responsibility for their dogs. My parents live next door to a family who lets their dog out loose (they have no fenced yard). He clearly does not have a good recall, so he basically runs free in the neighborhood while his owners yell for him to come back from their yard.
Aside from the risks of him getting hit by a car, since they live on a somewhat busy road where cars tend to drive fast, he is a danger to himself and others when he runs up to greet other people and dogs. The first time I saw him my sister and I were outside with Max, who is used to him and is able to react appropriately. Pearl, on the other hand, is reactive and one afternoon when I left the house with her this dog ran right up to her and got right in her face too quickly for me to react. Of course she lunged and barked and growled and snapped. I was afraid for a second she might have actually bitten him. While she is not aggressive, I am not at all certain she wouldn’t bite another dog because she was afraid/overwhelmed. I backed up with Pearl as quickly as I could, trying to do an “emergency U-turn” but he started following us and I couldn’t wrangle Pearl and keep him away at the same time. It was really frightening for me. Because Pearl is reactive I am very conscious of needing to keep her under control and protect her not only from her environment but from herself. I take precautions due to her reactivity, but if she had bitten this other dog you can bet that it wouldn’t have mattered that there was a big, strange dog who was loose, startled her, and got right in her face while she was safely on leash, she would have been labeled the aggressor. I cannot tell you how angry I was. Not only was it a dangerous situation, it was a setback for Pearl. I don’t care how friendly your dog is, MY dog may not be friendly to other dogs and you are putting your dog and mine at risk by letting your dog run loose. Even though my dog might not be good with other dogs, she is still a good dog. I hate that an owner would just do something without thinking that puts a dog like mine in a situation where she could be labeled dangerous or aggressive despite the fact that she is just a sweet, loving dog put in a situation she couldn’t handle.
I think a lot of Pearl’s reactivity is frustration at not being able to get to or greet the other dog, although the dogs she chooses to react to and not to react to are totally arbitrary and not based on size or whether the other dog reacts. For example, there are two houses next to each other on our walking route that often have dogs fenced in yards with chain link gates. Both dogs are similarly sized and both bark and jump as we walk by. Pearl ignores the first one and barks and lunges horribly at the second, no matter if only one of them is out or both of them are out. Why does the first dog not interest her and the second dog makes her crazy? She also sometimes seems to be backsliding in her reactivity. She has started barking sometimes at people walking alone, without dogs, which she never used to do before. It baffles me and I am just at my wits end about how to help her conquer this. (Kristine over at Rescued Insanity is clearly a miracle worker with how much progress she has made with Shiva with this issue)
I think reactivity is one of the hardest things to address, especially for a first time dog owner like me who knows next to nothing about dog training. I wish there was a way to bring a little more awareness to this issue because it seems like people who are blessed with non-reactive dogs don’t always understand the challenges of a reactive dog or that a reactive dog doesn’t always mean the owner has been irresponsible or doesn’t work to train or control her dog (or that we are unfriendly and just trying to cause trouble for them with our insistence that they keep their dogs under control and at a safe distance).