The Many Faces of Ru

Maybe this isn’t the most popular thing to say, but having a reactive dog often feels like a burden. With behavioral issues that even I don’t fully grasp sometimes and often seem like they come out of nowhere, Rufus is complex to say the least. Despite all of this , I love him with my whole heart.

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I think that those of us who have fallen hard for reactive dogs are drawn to the “virtual platform” of sharing because it’s our way of showcasing our complex pups in all of their glory. We get to share those moments of pure bliss when our dogs are 100% themselves. Nothing is making them tense. Nothing is making them unsure. They are just dogs. Wonderful, uncomplicated canines.

And sure – progress happens and there are even times when he just plain surprises me with his intuitiveness in certain situations, but I’m just being real about the bigger picture. Rufus is a tough cookie and he makes me reexamine our training techniques over and over again. For years now, guys! Years! Ugh…

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But then there are the moments when it’s just the two (or three) of us. And I remember why I adore this guy so much and why I’m so happy he came into my life. Screwball behavior and all.

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My Cautious Canine #2 | Training on-the-go

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A lot of people with reactive dogs feel as though they have limited options when it comes to traveling with their furry friends.

-No busy cities or tourist spots

-No public stays such as hotels

-No way am I taking my dog on “vacation” when time away from home with them is anything but relaxing.

But the one thing I’ve been pretty diligent about is making sure I include Rufus in as many activities as possible, which has included his fair share of trips and vacations.

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Over the weekend, we took Rufus out of town with us. I knew this would be a great opportunity to work on his reactivity. And with the right tools, it was pretty stress-free.

We stayed in a very pet-friendly hotel. And because they were so accommodating, we actually had a personal entrance so that we wouldn’t have to walk through the main lobby. However, we did run into other dog owners and I’m proud to report this dude did pretty well with all of our encounters.

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My two tools:

  1. Lots of treats
  2. Head halter/gentle leader

That’s it. It has been years since I’ve used the head collar on him and wow! I can’t believe how wonderfully it worked this time around. Having control at that level made it so easy to get his attention and gently correct him when he was getting too excited. It was kind of like magic. Honestly, I feel silly that I waited so long to try this again. It’s a total game changer! He was calm, relaxed, and willing to work the entire weekend.

And at the end of every day, he was pooped. He wasn’t sweatin’ it.

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I know I’m lucky that Rufus is incredibly motivated by food. He will LITERALLY do anything for a nibble. It makes life and training so much easier.

And while we still have a long way to go, I have to say that I couldn’t have asked for more from this amazing dude. I love traveling with him and he made our trip so much more memorable. After all, he is my best friend.

Good boy, Rufus.

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The Cautious Canine | A Revisit #1

There are a lot of reasons why we as dog owners/parents/caretakers sometimes allow ourselves to slack on training.

Sometimes life gets hard or hectic.

Sometime we get lazy.

Sometimes we work with other dogs all day and we forget we have a project pup at home…:cough: 

Sometimes it’s easier to avoid our dog’s obstacles and triggers than it is to keep it up with hard work and consistency.

For whatever reason, sometimes we mess up. And while that’s completely fine in some behavioral cases, it really isn’t for Rufus.

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I know he looks smug and confident, but he’s really a total wuss.

This dude thrives on repetition and positive association.

So after a few incidents in which I found myself avoiding situations or completely shocked by Ru’s reaction to a trigger, I decided to dust off the old “dog behavior” book pile and strap on the treat pouch. Time to get back to work.

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The Cautious Canine outlines the most straight-forward approach to correcting unwanted behaviors rooted in fear. And for the most part, Ru’s behavioral quirks (to put it nicely…) are all rooted in fear. It’s a subtle fear, but it’s definitely there…

Here are our baby steps:

  1. Keep him a safe distance from his triggers and reward him for being brave and calm in those situations. In this case, that means FEED HIM ALLLL THE TREATS!
  2. Be consistent.
  3. Slowly shorten the distance from said triggers while continuing to build up his confidence and reward him for his progress.
  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. 

 

It doesn’t seem like much, but it works! I plan on making this a mini-series and keeping all of you out there up to date on Ru-man’s progress. I hope you like this kind of stuff as much as I do. Dog behavior nerds unite!

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Happy Healthy Dogs<3 

 

 

 

The Dog Goes | How to Travel with a Fearful Dog

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For anyone out there that knows about the anxiety that comes with loving a reactive or fearful dog, know that you are absolutely not alone. And your dog doesn’t have to be either…

I know that the easy solution can be to just leave your dog at home, but that may not be what’s best for you or your dog.

Rufus has some special needs when it comes to making him happy. While he is weary and often indifferent towards new people, he absolutely loves being with me and he loves exploring new places. Heavy foot traffic and city buzz doesn’t seem to affect him in the slightest. But a stranger bending down to give him attention? Well, that’s just not his cup of tea.

Taking him to new hiking spots is one thing. There is usually little to no human interaction and wide open spaces are a breeze. But sometimes we travel for longer periods, which means staying in hotels and exploring new cities and local parks full of people. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past several years about keeping Rufus comfortable:

  1. Keep him close. When navigating a new city, I keep Rufus close to my side. While I have a tendency to allow him to lead (without pulling) during our neighborhood walks at home, this just isn’t acceptable in new places. He seems to find comfort in letting me lead and I find comfort in knowing a person will have to approach me first before they reach for my dog.
  2. Keep him busy. If for whatever reason we need to stop somewhere and rest or eat, I make sure to keep Ru busy so that he’s not overwhelmed with obsessing over the people around him. I bring treats, keep him in long “sits” and “stays”, and interact with him constantly. It may make things a little less low-key for me but as long as he’s at ease, it’s worth it.
  3. Praise, Praise, Praise. No calm or obedient moment goes unnoticed! When he’s calm, I praise him. When he’s enjoying himself, I praise him. When he’s just being a normal dog and not focusing on a group of people approaching, I praise him. And when he meets someone successfully, I have a freaking celebration! I may sound like a lunatic, but who cares? I am not above making baby noises in public if it means my dog gets that being a happy, balanced dude is the best thing in the world. No shame here, people.

 

Of course there’s never a one-size-fits-all approach to handling a pup with behavioral issues, but this keeps us happy. Just by being cautious and alert, I have made sure Rufus has as many experiences as possible. He absolutely loves going to as many places as possible with me and these little tips make that possible. Of course he’s improved so much since we adopted him, but the truth is that he will always be a little “quirky” when it comes to socializing. And as long as everyone is safe and educated, I’ve learned that I can work with whatever quirky curveballs he decides to throw at me. And it turns out this guy really loves to keep me on my toes…

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Reunited with one of his favorites after four years! 

Surprise! I’m a good boy!

Rufus really likes to surprise me. I mean he really, really loves to prove me wrong. And sometimes, I’m totally cool with that.

Yesterday we went to visit my friend and her boyfriend on their gorgeous farm. I’ve been friends with Erin since elementary school in Illinois and somehow both of us ended up in the beautiful state of Oregon. We’re still really close and we also both really adore our dogs. Like, crazy dog lady status.

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Who else takes close-up photos of their dog’s glorious jowls?

Since we’ve lived out here, Rufus has become really close with Erin and she’s even watched him a few times for us. However, she has lived with her boyfriend for awhile now and Ru has never had the opportunity to meet him. And since we have a vacation planned and poor Ru won’t be able to go with, we finally had to suck it up and get these two dudes together.

Some behavioral history on Rufus: he’s iffy with new people, especially men. Sometimes he can be completely cool with strangers right away and other times he embarrasses the crap out of me. I mean…he’s a complicated guy and I just never know which Rufus I’m going to be bringing to a situation. Yep, it’s SUPER fun….

But guess what? He was a freaking all-star yesterday and liked Matt right away. No barking, no weirdo low growling, and he basically just kept his cool. Of course I set him up for success: lots of positive reinforcement for good behavior, taking a really beautiful long walk with everyone around their farm (which is his favorite thing EVER!!), etc. And the most important factor: he saw that both Erin and I (and Moose, his dog friend) enjoyed Matt’s company, which means the world to him. Mom’s cool with this guy? Ok, I’ll let him live. Of course I’m being dramatic, but you get the point.

Rufus and Erin's Moose after a crazy romp at the beach.

Rufus and Erin’s pup, Moose, after a long romp at the beach.

If any of you out there have weary dogs, do you experience the same thing? I find it so fascinating that he really does seem to just intuitively feel how I feel around certain people. Of course this doesn’t work every single time, but I’m always so thankful when it does. If there was every any doubt, he is absolutely my soul pup.

My little mood ring.

We cool?

We cool?