Sunday walk by the river: Reactive vs. confident

We had lovely, unseasonably warm weather this past weekend, which was very welcome. The dogs got a ton of exercise, and they were very calm and content. They seem to enjoy each other’s company more when they get lots of exercise; both of them were getting along beautifully, initiating play sessions appropriately, with no disagreements to be had.

Babies on front porch after #dailywalk. #germanshepherds

On Sunday, we took them on a long walk by the river near our house. As I’ve mentioned before, on the busy stretches of the trail, our strategy is to have Guion walk Eden in front, and I walk Pyrrha behind, working on our classical conditioning protocol the whole time. Because of this, I get to enjoy the walks less, because I’m constantly on high alert for her two triggers (other dogs and small children), but I think it’s been a good strategy.

River walk
Eden and Guion, trailblazing.

There were LOTS of dogs out on Sunday, as I expected, and Pyrrha did pretty well, all things considered. She only had one outburst, when two women with four dogs came close to us and let all the dogs stop and stare at Pyrrha, and I had nowhere to turn (except into the river!). (The dogs were friendly, but Pyrrha just can’t handle the proximity.)

I’ve been taking the clicker with me when I’m working with her on walks, and I think this has been helpful in signaling to people that I don’t want them and their dog to approach us. I hear people say, “Oh, she’s working with that dog,” and then they keep moving. Sometimes, when we stop to let dogs pass, some people seem to assume that we’re waiting for them and their dog to come greet us. The clicker seems to be helpful in communicating that this is not the case, and that we are training here.

River walk

Pyrrha’s anxiety lessened as the walk went on, too, which I was glad to note. Even though we kept passing dogs, near the end of our long walk, she was far more relaxed about them passing and was accepting treats a lot more gently and readily.

River walk

Eden continues to be unfazed by everything! She met kids, a man in a wheelchair, other dogs, and other people on the walk. I’m thankful for the abundance of good experiences she’s had so far, as they continue to increase her confidence and her already firmly held belief that the world is FUN and AWESOME and EXCITING.

I confess that I sometimes get jealous of these two, Guion and Eden, who get to lead the way and have happy interactions with people and dogs. I get stuck behind with Pyrrha, trying desperately to keep her from reacting. And if she does react in fear, she just looks like “another aggressive German shepherd.” Sometimes I want to wear a signboard on walks that says, in big letters, “SHE’S JUST SCARED; SHE ISN’T A KILLER.”

The confident, stable family members at the river. #rivannatrail #ediebaby

I try to look on the bright side. At least she’s not reactive to adults or teenagers. Pyrrha loves being outside and taking walks. And she actually loves other dogs — just not when everyone is leashed. And at least we have one shepherd who can be our breed ambassador, the friendly, goofy baby who loves everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to stay encouraged, when Pyrrha’s progress seems so microscopic. But I just have to keep believing that she is getting better. And take a deep breath. And just enjoy walking the dog.

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24 thoughts on “Sunday walk by the river: Reactive vs. confident

  1. It sure is a tough road sometimes with a reactive dog. I am sad that when we are outside, Ruby appears to be an out-of-control menace when she’s having a meltdown, instead of the sweet, charming, funny dog I know. I am glad you have Eden to lead the way, and hope her behavior will help Pyrrha to calm, as well. I never did any specific training with my leash-reactive Elkhound, Freya, and after years of walking with my easy dog, Lasya, she did mellow out eventually.

    Great point about the clicker – I need to take it out with us more often.

    I love the pink and purple combo on Pyrrha! I’ll be getting your Island Mutt leash out in the mail tomorrow.

    Also, please consider joining the WOOF Support Blog Hop for reactive dogs and their owners next Thursday – there is a link in my sidebar, hosted by Oz the Terrier.

    1. Thanks for your comment; I know you two are working on this very same thing. I am encouraged to hear that (even without any kind of serious training in place) your Freya learned from Lasya and was able to calm down. Thanks for the notice about the blog hop, too!

  2. I know how you feel about having the reactive dog. For ages, when we would go for walks, it was always Chris and Snoopy or Bauer up ahead and me behind with crazy Jeni. You are doing all the right things, and with your hard work, it WILL get better! There’s nothing better than the day you walk right by another dog with your formerly super reactive pup and she looks right at you! Sounds like you’re not even too far off! And Eden is going to grow up into a great “easy” adult dog thanks to your work with her. I feel like my experience with adult dogs with reactive and fearful behavior makes me an even better puppy raiser because I know what things to expose them to and how to prevent reactivity in the future.

    1. Thanks for your kind words; I really appreciate it! You’ve done such an impressive job with your pack, and I appreciate your counsel and encouragement!

    1. I think we should try that, Beth; she may be less reactive, because Guion is a far less anxious person than I am, and doesn’t worry about encounters as much. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I’ve considered (am considering?) purchasing a harness with the velcro patch “in training” for Beatrix. Though we don’t encounter too many dogs on our walks, it would be helpful if the other dog owners were clear that she is working. I think it might also help with the “embarrassment” factor of ‘Oh hey, my dog is going banana’s! Hi!’

    1. That’s a good idea, Miranda! Thanks for sharing. I hope that could possibly help Beatrix. It is hard to know how to communicate with other people about your reactive dog.

      1. When I had Freya I took comfort in the fact that I had one dog that didn’t freak out, so maybe people would not think it was all my fault? I thought about a tshirt that said “She Came This Way.”

  4. You know I’m sending lots of sympathy.

    I sometimes play mental games like, “would dog reactivity be better than people reactivity?” or “would I prefer Silas to be friendlier at home, if that meant he were less friendly out in public?” Your last paragraph reminds me of that. It’s funny how having a “problem” dog messes with your brain.

    And yes, microscopic progress is worthwhile, too. It was a really important day for me when I realized that even the tiniest change was making Silas less intensely miserable. What’s better than sheer panic? Everything. Not that I don’t sometimes resent tiny progress for not being big progress, but it’s a useful perspective.

    1. Thank you. 🙂 I have the same internal conversations, too. And you’re right: that’s a great reminder — progress is progress, no matter how small (to rip off “Horton Hears a Who”).

    2. Since Ruby has “everything reactivity” out of doors I don’t have to play that particular mental trade-off game, and I’m so thankful that she is not destructive and good with people that come over, but there is still that nagging “thief of joy” – comparison – that sneaks up sometimes, like when I pass parks full of people walking relaxed, happy dogs.

      1. That is tough, man. I have been right with you with that creeping envy. Now we have one dog who is relaxed and happy, and I am so thankful for that, but I am always worrying about my Pyrrha.

      2. Oh, lord yes. A week or two ago I read an adoption flier that went something like “Happy Rover loves people, seeks running buddy.” I burst into tears. And that’s with Silas doing much better these days.

  5. I know it’s really hard to stay relaxed when you have a reactive dog and are out walking. Have you considered putting a yellow ribbon around Pyrrha’s collar/leash to signal to knowledgeable people that Pyrrha needs space? (part of The Yellow Dog Project).

  6. I’d get scared if four people stopped and stared at me when I was walking. I feel your pain, though. I get so tired of shouting to people, “My dog is NOT FRIENDLY” to get them to call their dogs or let us cross without an in-his-face-greeting… when really I want to be defending Lucas and shouting, “My dog is a really great dog, but he’s very uncomfortable and frightened when he’s on leash, so if you could just keep your dogs from rushing into his face and staring him down because that’s super rude. And so are you. K? Thanks!”

    Rant over.

  7. Pyrrha has the same behavioral issue as Lancer, can’t handle the proximity, even if the other dogs are totally chill… and toward small children too, which I didn’t mention on my blog. It’s funny how people seem to notice that a clicker signifies training with a dog! I guess you have more knowledgable people around your area…

    People mostly kinda stare at us while I’m clicking away. Probably wondering, “What is that sound…?” LOL

    ~Fiona
    http://lancerandrara.blogspot.com

  8. Your comment about the clicker made me think of something. Bunny has a new harness that was recommended by another Greyhound friend who’s big into agility. It’s also used a lot by people with working dogs. It looks like a working dog harness, and you can get labels that go on the sides that say all kinds of things. You could get some that say something innocuous like “In Training” if you wanted people to leave her alone. If you wanted a lighter tone, you could get something like “Hands Off the Diva” or “Ask Before You Pet Me.” It might be worth it for you, even if you don’t use it to walk her. I like it for walking at night because it’s highly reflective and has some glow in the dark patches.

    Anyway, the cheapest place I’ve found it is at Clean Run. http://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_id=3301&ParentCat=202&string=Julius%20K-9%20IDC%20Harness

  9. Do you guys ever trade dogs on walks? We do that frequently if someone is getting annoyed with their chosen walking partner and it provides a nice break.
    Interesting that the clicker communicates so well to other walkers! Good strategy – who knew you could indirectly clicker train humans?! lol. Drives me crazy when people don’t understand that even if their dogs are fine, me and mine might still want some space (doesn’t matter why, either – I just want it).

  10. I relate to this a LOT with Kingston. I want people to know how loving and cuddly and smart and sweet he is, but how could they ever know that when he is a big pit bull who is barking at them? At least know you are not alone!!

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