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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
My two tools:
- Lots of treats
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
Reunited with one of his favorites after four years!