Keeping Control

I thought this picture was appropriate but really Pearl and the other dog in this picture, our friend's dog Buster, are BFFs and love each other. Picture taken by Buster's dad and fabulous photographer Brandon Krepel

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).

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About Pearl the Puppy

Pearl is just over 40 lbs of energy mixed with a pinch of crazy. We adopted her in March 2011 from a St. Louis rescue organization called Impact for Animals (now Pet Rescue Network). We are unsure about her age, but we are guessing she was born in Fall 2010. Her background is anybody's guess, but we are pretty sure that she has at least some sighthound in her. She's a whole lot of trouble but a whole lot of fun.

20 thoughts on “Keeping Control

  1. My brother’s dog, Saydee, is staying with us for a couple of months and she is reactive. It is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. On walks she will walk nicely by one person and bark aggressively at the next – I’m not sure what the difference is, but it’s something I need to figure out. The first step is figuring out their “tiggers” and then working to counter-condition them – it’s LOTS of work! Patricia McConnell has a great book called The Cautious Canine (actually ALL of her books are excellent!). Best of luck in your work with Pearl, she is adorable 😉

    • Sometimes its just nice to know that your dog isn’t a freak and that a lot of dogs and owners struggle with this. I love Patricia McConnell- I read Control Unleashed but it is just so beyond where Pearl and I are at right now. I think I will check out the Cautious Canine next… of course when I will have time to read I have no idea. Spring break maybe. Right now I am buried in law school casebooks 😦

  2. I really, really agree with everything you have said. I have had the exact same experiences a few times and it is so frustrating to have all your hard work be damaged by one irresponsible dog owner that can’t or won’t keep their dog under control. I don’t care how friendly, how small or whatever they want to say about their dog. I don’t want loose dogs that I don’t know coming up to my dogs and I (especially walking 3 greyhounds on leashes, which is sometimes a feat in itself if a squirrels happens to appear). Sometimes I don’t even let people come up with their dogs on a leash, people can think I’m rude or overprotective but atleast my dogs are safe.

    • Keeping your dogs safe is always #1, right? I do hate people thinking I am rude, but I normally don’t have that problem because my dog spazzing on the other end of the leash makes it obvious why they can’t come up to us. They just probably think I am a bad dog owner who can’t control her dog (the second part of that may be true anyway).

  3. That’s a tough one, that’s for sure. I’ve worked on reactivity with Sage and it seems to be getting better, but it takes a lot of work. I keep her on a short leash, next to my side all the time. Fortunately, she’s always walked pretty well on a leash without pulling (as opposed to Toby, who was the master of pulling!) When she sees a cat (trust me, she knows where every cat lives in our neighborhood), we just walk by. And it seems to be working. If a dog approaches us on the street, also leashed, I’ll pick up the signals from the other dog handler and may or may not have them meet. Of course, those people whose dogs are running lose are, I agree, irresponsible (not that Sage hasn’t escaped out the front door on occasion, much to my dismay. Fortunately, I can get her back pretty quickly).

    Most people, where I live, seem to be responsible and one or the other of us either crosses the street or finds a way to not walk by each other. I know that’s not the way it is everywhere though. We also have a couple of dogs that “fence fight” every time we go by. That’s also tough, but using the short leash helps. Today, we went by one who was barking at her and she just stayed by my side. I felt like we’ve made progress!

  4. What a brilliant Post. We are going to share it on Twitter if that is OK.

    The Lady Of The House says: “We have the same problem. I am sick and tired of the owners who let their loose dogs gallop energetically up to Winnie (who is always walked on her lead because of her strong prey drive meaning no cat or squirrel would be safe) and accost her while they shout from a distance: “Don’t worry. He/she’s just being friendly. He/she won’t hurt her.”

    “As you say, they seem to think that there’s no chance your dog will snap. Winnie gets very distressed and will growl and bare her teeth in defence but I don’t know if she should ever bite if she was pushed too far. But of course if she did (especially with the smaller dogs) she’d be the one blamed.

    “I try to shout back that she’s not very sociable and could they please get their dog….but I don’t see why I should have to say that about Winnie. It’s not true. She is sociable and I’d hate to think I perpetuate myths about greyhounds being predators…I feel guilty when I say it. She should be able to walk in public unmolested. If anyone has ideas about an appropriate warning to shout that doesn’t imply any fault with Winnie I’d be grateful.”

  5. Excellent post, my dog is exactly the same as Pearl.. some dogs she reacts to negatively and some she isn’t bothered about and ignores. My dog is always on the lead if other dogs are around and I go out of my way to avoid other dogs whether they are on the lead or not, because I don’t know what reaction Tia will have.

    Tia was well socialised as a puppy and has been to puppy training and follow on training, she was excellent in training and was a proper little star pupil. When she socialised as a puppy she used to be bullied quite a lot so I even had a behavourist come to see her as she used to freeze in the street and cower…. this stopped and I thought all was good, but then as she got older she started to react noisily, lunging and barking at dog she didn’t like… Tia is a Rottweiler so whilst she is sweet and lovely really, obviously people react negatively even though she has never actually attacked another dog and I am the same as you, I’m not sure she actually would bite another dog, she is being noisy to keep them away from her and look tougher than she actually is.. yes I really do have the wimpiest Rottweiler ever, she is a small, slim Rotti too, so maybe she has issues between what her brain is telling her and how she is built… inferiority complex maybe… assuming dogs can get this!

    Anyway I know how you feel, I keep Tia on the lead, go out of the way to avoid other dog walkers and yet other dogs are left off the lead and come running over to her, 9 times out of 10 Tia doesn’t react when dogs run up to her, but their owners do not know how my dog will react, it is common courtesy to keep your dog under control and respect other people and dogs out walking.

    Sorry I can’t help with advice on Pearl…. Tia is identical I think… some dogs she likes, some dogs she hates even from a distance (she can smell a Collie from several miles away I think!!!) Its weird and trainers haven’t really understood the issue properly in her case.

    • Good luck with Tia- sometimes its just nice to know you aren’t alone. It’s funny she doesn’t like Collie’s. Pearl doesn’t like big fluffy dogs of any kind- Collie’s, Huskies, Chows, etc. But then again, she will wig out at a Chihuahua so there is no explaining her sometimes…

  6. we are very much in your same boat and have to keep desmond on leash at all times, although he is not picky about who or what he reacts to–people, dogs, squirrels, cats, blowing pieces of garbage, etc.

    but i believe fully that it’s his frustration at being on the leash and not being able to greet and play with these people/animals/things (although, the cats/squirrels might be a different story… hope to never find out). i’m with you also on the Control Unleashed thing. that’s a book for people and dogs who have made some progress with reactivity–not for beginners. i also picked up a copy of Fiesty Fido to start with (it’s pretty thin/short and a quick read), and we’re going to begin working on that next month (for now we’re just working on completely avoiding triggers on our walks in hopes of not exacerbating the problem with self-rewarding behavior).

    for the record, i also want to say that this part right here:

    “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).”

    that made me want to hug you! i 100% agree.

  7. Oh, I so feel your pain. Bella, before we realized it, was actually being terrorized in her own home (and still is in her own yard) by a neighbor’s dog that they allow to run loose who then comes into our yard and barks and growls at Bella through our windows. It’s bad enough that we knew the dog would come into our yard while we were walking Bella on a leash and start fights with her but to find out she had been charging Bella through the windows, explains a lot of why we haven’t been able to overcome certain of her fears. Bella is a good girl who used to love to “play with other puppies” but now she’s so terrified of other dogs that we are reluctant to introduce her to any dog. 😦

    Sorry for the rant, I usually try to offer some advice or experience. However, like you, I am beyond frustrated with people who think there is nothing wrong with allowing their dogs to run free uncontrolled.

    • Oh my gosh, that sounds awful! Poor Bella and poor you for having to deal with that. I kind of feel bad for the other dog too… a dog that is running wild and starting fights with neighborhood dogs probably has some problems of his own and can’t have very conscientious owners. It is SO frustrating that other people’s mistakes can have lifetime effects for us and our dogs. Hope things get better for you and Bella!

      • Oh believe me, my emotions towards the other dog are what keeps me from escalating the issue legally. I’ve even offered to work with the owners to help socialize her to no avail. I really hate that these people were allowed to have this dog and it’s an example I point to whenever people complain about how restrictive some rescue groups are about who they adopt to… 😦

        We’ve given up talking to the neighbors and have fenced off the area where the dog was coming right up to the house. She still shows up in the backyard but at least now she can’t get right in Bella’s face anymore.

  8. This is all so true. I have one highly reactive greyhound (although he seems to change with the wind *Sigh*) and one somewhat defensively reactive. The highly reactive one was adopted in June after spending pretty much all of his nine years in a racing kennel. Small wonder that he finds it all rather overwhelming and falls back on what he knows. The somewhat reactive one is actually pretty good, but is a tripod who was attacked on his own property by a JRT so is inclined to growl/snap first when a strange dog barrels up to him, and let me ask/answer questions later.

    It’s all so tedious. WHEN will people realise that it is every bit as irresponsible to allow their perfectly friendly but ‘rude’ dog charge up to a leashed dog as it would be for me to let my not-so-peaceable pair free in a public area?

    As others have said, small dog owners are the worst. If a small fluffy toy breed rushes mine and gets bitten it will automatically be assumed to be the fault of my ‘aggressive’ greyhounds, EVEN THOUGH they are both leashed and minding their own business. Do they really not even have any idea of the danger they’re putting their dog into?

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