My Reactive Dog
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
NOTE: ALL IMAGES IN THIS ARTICLE BELONG TO THE AUTHOR AND ARE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT LAWS.
As a Pet Professional, I believe we get looked at by others that our own pets are perfect. That they are the best-behaved pets on the planet…like Saints.
I can tell you here and now that we don’t all have dogs that are Saints. Our own dogs develop issues or sometimes we intentionally take on difficult dogs into our lives.
And sometimes we even need help ourselves.
I feel in this article you may learn some thing’s that you’d never thought were true about us and that even we can make mistakes.
Back in 2015, I asked my now ex-partner for a dog, to keep me company while he went away with his sister and her wife travelling the world, or more specifically Asia. As we lived at his father’s house he had to ask permission. His father already had a dog called Bonnie. The best mongrel I have ever met, who lived until she was at least 19, but she was elderly and very independent, not a dog that really needed care and while he was away, I wanted a dog that could keep me on my toes.
As soon as his father said yes, I began trawling through websites and found her…my Keeko…on Facebook (First Faux Pas). I saw Keeko’s picture and I knew, just knew she was mine. I have never felt so drawn to a photo. I messaged the breeder and arranged to pick her up. I walked out to the car…and there was a nail straight through my tyre. I contacted the breeder expressing that I did want her and was worried she would think I was a time-waster. We arranged for her partner to fetch Keeko through to me (Second Faux Pas). I accepted Keeko and was very lucky that she was completely healthy considering I had done none of the checks I was supposed to. In fact, Keeko is as strong as an Ox.
Keeko grew and ended up bigger than I expected, in fact, I asked the breeder for pictures of the mother and father. Keeko is the double of her Mum in the face and in colour, Keeko’s Mother is a Jack Russell and Keeko’s father was apparently a Jack Russell too, sadly I no longer have the photo’s but don’t believe he was a complete Jack Russell and as Keeko has grown she has more than proven that her Dad isn’t her Dad. (Sorry to the breeder if you ever read this, I wonder if your beautiful girl had a split litter.) Keeko grew bigger than both parents, who were both the height of Jack Russell’s. In fact, Keeko stands 17 inches tall from floor to withers.
Keeko is intelligent, very athletic and impossible to tire out. I had her spayed at just shy of 7 months old, potentially another mistake as studies are starting to show that this can lead to behavioural issues. However, Keeko recovered and was doing great. She was your typical annoying dog, thinking every dog wanted to meet her when it just wasn’t the case, I did, however, admire her confidence.
However, when Keeko turned two things changed. She wasn’t always being walked by me as she was always out with someone else by the time I got home, and one day when I took her out myself she was suddenly reacting to every single dog she saw. I was heartbroken, wondering what had suddenly changed. I started keeping her on the lead all the time as, despite one of her strong skills being her recall, it went pear-shaped when another dog was present. I felt utterly helpless. My dog found every walk stressful, her favourite thing had become her worst nightmare.
Dogs barking behind fences would trigger her, dogs wanting to meet her, would trigger her as soon as they got close to her face. Dogs barking that walked passed her would set her off. It didn’t matter if she was on or off lead she just didn’t want dogs near her. I constantly worried even when she was on lead, that if she snapped at another dog, the other dog would take serious offence and attack Keeko. I wondered where my confident Keeko had gone. She’d gone from confident to scared. I didn’t know how to help her, but at the same time, felt I should have known how to help her.
I took her to a trainer but sadly, Keeko didn’t seem to improve and after my relationship ended, everything got put on hold. Eventually, once everything settled I sort out another trainer. This trainer is trained by IMDT and when she assessed Keeko, she told me that Keeko wasn’t even reactive enough to be in her reactive’s dog class. She even told me that she believed Keeko was half border collie! No wonder I couldn’t tire her out!
Instead, Keeko was placed in a group class and given extra space. Keeko excelled at the 6-week course, eventually, I could even let go of her lead and she’d focus on me, completely ignoring the other dogs in the class. During the classes, I also learnt about trigger stacking and how Keeko can end up stressed before we even go outside, for example, a stressor of Keeko’s is people knocking at the door.
Since finding out that Keeko was potentially half border collie or at least half of some sort of collie, I’ve done research and even seen friends who own border collies and Keeko is so similar personality-wise to them. Physically its less obvious, she lays down like a border collie, and she has the fans on her legs and tail like a border collie.
Since the training, Keeko has improved. Don’t get me wrong she has her moments but she’s not as bad as she was.
Have I suffered ignorant people? Yes. Even when Keeko was confident if I told her to leave a dog alone, despite her wanting to greet everyone, she would come away. Unfortunately, Keeko hasn’t been granted the same respect. Despite me shouting to owners to keep their dogs away, they don’t. They think that because their dog is friendly…that my dog will be nice, that she’ll be fine. Some even believe that my dog isn’t well socialised. This, however, isn’t true. She used to be so good that I could use her to socialise other dogs, such as puppies.
Do I have Keeko off lead? Yes, I do. We play fetch in the park and it doesn’t matter how close other dogs get, the ball is life. She’s had dogs come and sit right next to her while she’s waiting for the ball to be thrown and she’s not batted an eyelid. Other times I have had her off lead is in open fields where I can see 360 degrees around myself to ensure we aren’t caught off guard by dogs appearing out of nowhere.
The point is even us Professionals have struggles, our pets aren’t perfect and you can come and talk to us about your pets. We will more than likely be able to sympathise or at the very least empathise with what you are going through.
If you are seeking a trainer consider an IMDT trainer or seek out a trainer who uses Positive Reinforcement, Force Free, Reward-based training. Training this way allows your dog to make choices for themselves and you rewarding the right choice. Don’t work with any that forces your dog to do anything they don't want and avoid trainers who advise E-Collars, Prong Collars and Choke Chains.
She's my girl and she's beautiful just the way she is.