Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Managing & Training Your Reactive Dog is So Important!

Phoenix wearing her Gentle Leader Head Collar

Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing well! Today I wanted to talk to you about dog reactivity. I was just reminded of an incident that recently happened at my apartment complex that I'm going to share with you. We were not involved in the initial incident but the fallout from the incident happened to us.

I'm going to start this off with a question for everyone to ponder. Do you want to be the owner of a dog who traumatizes another dog for life?

Okay, okay.. I know.. I went dark, right? But it's an important thing to think about. No matter what size of dog you have, management is huge. Every single dog who has teeth in his or her mouth could potentially do damage to another dog or human. Every dog. It's an even more important thing to think about if your dog is reactive. People say, "Oh my dog is all bark. If he got off his leash he wouldn't know what to do.. He would never actually bite anyone." Those people are WRONG. So wrong. I've personally had this happen to me with Zoe and a small dog. The small dog reacted at her for months, one day the owner got complacent and just opened their door and the dog came charging out and attacked Zoe. I had to pick Zoe up and the dog was still jumping and biting at us. It was awful.

If your dog could potentially get away from you while they are reacting and harm another dog, you need to re-evaluate what you're doing. If your dog is going to turn around and come up the leash on you and bite you because they are reacting and frustrated that they can't get the "thing", you have another problem to deal with. What if your dog goes up the leash, bites you and you drop the leash? Now your dog is loose, you're potentially hurt and the thing they were reacting at is now at risk for being harmed, too. This is where the management comes into play. I know muzzles are wildly unpopular but when they are conditioned properly, most dogs are fine. If your dog redirects on you, I would highly recommend seeking professional help for them. (For links to professional organizations scroll down)

Keeping our reactive dogs under control is so important. You may need to teach them to wear a basket muzzle (Muzzle Training Tutorial) or you need to teach them to wear a head collar. Maybe you have a double leash attached to multiple points on the dog but if you're taking your reactive dog off your property or you live in an apartment complex, you need to make sure that you have that dog under control. You can't fail your dog because it could literally mean life or death.

Zoe showing off her multi leash attachments!

In addition to the management, I would also highly recommend working with a qualified Positive Reinforcement trainer. Training is just as important as management. There are things you can do to make your dog feel better about other dogs and the environment in general. There are also some super fun impulse control games you can play with your dog to help them, too. You can find trainers in your area by going here: PPG or here: CCPDT

If you're just starting your "reactive journey" I would recommend that you do as much research as possible on the subject of reactive dogs. A great website to start at would be: http://careforreactivedogs.com There are also several support groups on facebook you can join.

There's an amazing training book called "Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out" by  Laura VanArendonk Baugh that I would recommend checking out. I really liked the book and the training plan is very easy to understand.

I would also recommend watching Kris Willson's series on her dog Luna's emotional recovery from being attacked: Behavior Modification Training with Luna Session 1 There's some great body language from Luna in these videos and Kris explains them in great detail. Dogs can be really subtle and she does a fantastic job explaining everything the dog is doing.

These are training tutorials by Emily Larlham: How to stop your dog lunging and barking- Train 'Let's Go!'- shy reactive dogs & Giving into leash pressure- for shy reactive dogs In the videos, Emily shows you how to train your dog to move with you and to turn away from scary things. The second video shows you how to teach your dog to recognize and give in to leash pressure. They are both excellent. 

You can also rent dvd seminars of trainers doing presentations on reactivity by joining Tawzer Dog

Depending on the severity of the reactivity, you might need to go to a Vet Behaviorist. You may need to get your dog a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. That's up to you and your vet to decide but please don't discount medication and think of it as a last resort. Medication has been shown to be extremely beneficial in helping dogs to feel better about the world. You can also request that your own vet consult with a behaviorist over the phone. If you need help finding a Behavioral Consultant please go here: http://iaabc.org/

Your dog might just need a smaller world. Which means instead of walking during high traffic times with other dog owners around, you play fetch in your yard or play other indoor games, like trick training. You might need to save the walking for early in the morning or later at night when there are less people around. Maybe you need to turn down that super fun invite to meet up with other dog owners for a romp on the beach. You have to do whatever is right for your dog and if that means staying at home then that's okay.

It is always okay to advocate for your dog, even if it means disappointing someone.

We stayed home today.

Now onto the incident at my apartment complex. About a month ago, my neighbor's young dog was attacked by our resident angry German Shepherd. This GSD is constantly going after people's dogs. To the point where I now peek around every corner before committing to walking around them.  The other day I saw him and ended up having to walk about a quarter of a mile in the other direction to get back to my apartment without us crossing paths. This dog weighs more than his owners and they can't control him at all. They also use aversive punishment which is making his reactivity worse. As soon as they begin correcting him, he turns around on them. It's really sad.

On the day of the incident, my other neighbor was walking his young dog and the GSD happened to be out and he began reacting. The GSD ended up getting away from his owners and he attacked the dog. He completely flattened her on the ground. It was awful. We were inside and we could hear the screaming. The young dog ended up being physically okay but the psychological damage was done.

My neighbor's young dog is now reactive and on Tuesday evening, she went after me and my dogs as we were passing her. The dog was barely under her owner's control. She almost got away from him. Luckily, I was far enough away from her that we were able to get away and she didn't get us but she is at least twice the size of my dogs and could potentially do damage, not to mention my dogs would defend themselves. This could of been a really ugly situation but I'm glad we came out of it okay. What makes me really sad is that neither of these two dogs are getting the help they need. Their owners are ignoring the problem or worse using punishment.

So if you have a reactive dog, please, make sure your dog is under control. Get help from a professional if you need it! Don't wait around and hope the reactivity gets better on it's own. It won't! There is no shame in using a basket muzzle. There is no shame in using a head collar for better control. If you're not comfortable with a head collar, then at least a double clipping harness that clips to the front. Maybe your dog just needs that smaller world and that's okay too! Not every dog is capable of being out in the environment or in crowded places. If your dog is happier at home then that's fine!

I know I am mostly talking about big dogs here but trust me when I say that all of these same things apply to people with little dogs. Little dogs with reactivity are not cute, either! Yes, they could potentially do less physical damage than their larger cousins but they can still emotionally damage another dog. Remember the little dog that went after Zoe in the beginning of my post? That dog was only 10lbs and Zoe was always scared to walk past their place after the dog attacked her. Also, little dogs can get hurt very easily (bigger dog goes to defend itself or won't put up with being bullied by a small one) so it's really important to keep them from going after other dogs.

I'm just going to throw this in right here: NO Flexi leashes!!! 

If your dog is reactive the last thing they need is to be on a flexi leash! Those things break all the time, not to mention the damage the cords can do. They are dangerous with even the most friendliest of dogs. The only time I would ever say a flexi leash is okay is if you are in a wide open space, you're alone, you have 100% visibility and your dog is very well trained.

Long Lines attached to the harnesses at the beach.
 Long Lines can be a great alternative to using a flexi lead.

Now lets talk about Phoenix. I usually call Phoenix my "highly functional" reactive dog. She is able to go out in public and she is generally not leash reactive (she's triggered by dogs being excited or playing roughly, she will want to chase and nip at their butts). Unless a large dog happens to get into her face and scares her, then she might think she needs to defend herself. 95% of the time she will avoid interactions with other dogs if she is given the choice. Even with that being the case, I've conditioned her to wearing a muzzle (both kinds, soft and basket) and I've also conditioned her to wearing a gentle leader head collar. We don't need these tools very often but it's good to have them available and she's already used to wearing something on her face if she needs it (ie: vet visit).

I'm hyper vigilant when she is out in public. That means that I am never on my cell phone, I never use headphones with music. I don't allow other dog owners to distract me and I give my dogs my full attention. Complacency is a killer. You cannot afford to be complacent when you have a reactive dog. I am always on the look out for trouble and planning our escape if we need to. Even with all of this, we've had our share of mess ups. Off leash dogs have run up on us, owners have let their dogs drag them into my dog's faces, excited dogs have accidentally run into us. Phoenix has occasionally threatened to snap at those dogs. Luckily everything turned out okay but I would never want my dog to traumatize another dog so I am constantly working with her.

I really feel that it's important to protect other people's dogs from our reactive dogs, if at all possible. No one is perfect and sometimes stuff happens but being proactive is so important. We can't be normal dog owners, as sad as that is. We have to better than everyone else.

What do you do to manage your reactive dog? Comment below!

I have additional training resources on my training page so be sure to check that out! 










49 comments:

  1. This is a GREAT post! I'm also glad small dogs are not excluded. All too often people think it's cute or funny when their small dog is being reactive. The size of the dog shouldn't matter, the behavior is still inappropriate.

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  2. Wow! What great information you have. It is soooo important that we make sure our dogs are not put in bad situations.

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  3. I use treats, lots and lots of treats. Generally if I pull out a huge chunk of dried lung, those dogs will follow me anywhere. :-)

    Have you spoken to the owners with the reactive dogs? If not maybe the apartment management could do it. Poor dogs definitely need some help!

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    1. That's awesome that you found a treat that they love so much! I have not spoken to the GSD owner at all because I can't get close to her. Her dog is that aggressive. The other owner I tried to talk to but he was not receptive. That's a problem in and of itself. I find that most people don't want to hear what you have to say and it's sad.

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  4. I wish you could talk to the owners of those dogs (and they would listen).

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  5. What a fabulous post. It makes me really sad to hear about the GSD, who was already reactive, being "managed" with aversive methods, since that poor dog is only going to get worse and worse! All dogs, just like all people, have different triggers and personalities, and it's so important to set them up for success, not failure.

    I love your comment "It's always okay to advocate for your dog, even if it means disappointing someone." With reactive dogs, it's just as important to protect them as it is to make sure we are protecting other dogs and people. Thanks for the great information!!

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    1. Thank you so much. It makes me sad to think about it, too!

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  6. It is scary to see how some people handle their reactive dogs. We had a miniature Schnauzer that could not be around other dogs or people. We made the necessary adjustments. This is a great post.

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    1. It's very scary! That's awesome that you made adjustments for your schnauzer. I wish more people would do that for their pups! Thanks so much!

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  7. There is one day a week when I see the same reactive GSD and his owners that "manage" him by saying in a lilting voice "Do you want to turn around and go home". Surprisingly (sarcasm) it doesn't work. They have this dog on a flexi-lead and it reacts to every dog it sees. I finally started taking a different route in the park to avoid this dog because I have no doubt that at some point, the coffee carrying owner is going to lose the grip and that dog would do some damage to any dogs in the area. Of course, it wouldn't be so bad if this were the only reactive dog - but there are a couple others. Here we all have to get our dogs out early because of the heat - so it's a little difficult to avoid them, but I find ways. Blueberry is a pacifist and I do my best to keep her safe. There is one little reactive dog, whose owner I am friendly with, that actually can pass by Blueberry on a walk and have no reaction now. I like to think Blueberry's calm demeanor has helped that little dog realize that not every larger dog is a threat! :)

    Oh, and when I had my reactive foster dog that was about 92 pounds - I was hypervigilant when hiking with her and went only when I knew there would be very few people and dogs out. Although one time I recall hugging a rock and holding onto her leash for dear life as a dog and its owner passed us on the trail. I know that wasn't a good long term solution - but when I offered to take the foster dog to a positive trainer - on MY dime - they refused and only wanted me to use their trainer who was the polar opposite of positive. Needless to say, I stopped fostering for that group shortly after that.

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    1. Yikes about the GSD's owners! I don't get why people think their dogs understand English. I also totally relate to having to change routes to avoid reactive dogs. Sometimes I feel like I'm running the "dog gauntlet" at my apartment complex! The other day we had to run because these two big dogs nearly came through a window at us in a unit that previously had no dogs. It just makes me so sad!

      Good for you for standing up for what you believe in and leaving the rescue group! I can't believe they'd turn you down for using your own trainer on your dime. Wow. :(

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  8. You work so hard with the girls. It's so unfortunate irresponsible owners don't understand the consequences, and that responsible owners and their dogs are the ones to suffer.

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    1. Awe thanks! I really wish other people would be more responsible!

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  9. AWESOME post!
    We use gentle leaders when going into a high distraction environment, if the dogs are doing great the GL come off, if not they stay on.
    I always look at a situation in measurement of distractions and dangers. LoL (life with a reactive dog) At this point I might want to consider not using the term reactive, Ziva does great around well mannered dogs. She loved doggy daycare (it really helped get her out of her shell), she did awesome in agility only had a couple issues with two crazy energy dogs, and so far so good with flyball. But for sure, she will respond if she is attacked or threatened. Usually it's the little dogs I have to watch out for in my area, the barking/snapping/jumping at the end of their leash drives Ziva batty! But I can't blame her it is rude.
    But with her background i'm careful to do proper introductions and structure play dates around whether or not I think the dog is a good match. It is important to always set your dog up for success.

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    1. Thank you! That's totally awesome that you are so proactive! You're right, proper introductions are so crucial. I also totally agree with setting the dog up for success.

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  10. Thank you for this post. Unfortunately, management is something people only start thinking about after something bad has happened.

    To clarify about redirected biting: it is a byproduct of the leash. I think that’s why we see more reactivity than we did in the “old days” when people just let their dogs run around without fences. It’s a hindbrain thing. Leo sees something scary and can’t get to it, so he loses his mind barking and snaps at whatever’s within reach. If he weren’t on a leash, he would run up to the thing, check it out, and stay in his right mind. That’s what happens when joggers or bikes pass through an off-leash area. That’s why he only barks at other dogs when he’s on leash. If I dropped his leash, *probably* he wouldn’t just go attack the thing. Obviously, that *probably* is why I make sure to keep hold of him, and manage our walks so carefully. Like you said, any dog can bite. What we’ve done is made Leo’s world smaller. We walk him during off-hours, and work our hardest to keep him a safe distance from his triggers. Our counter-conditioning has really paid off and we’ve only had that one redirection in a very long time.

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    1. Yeah, it's too bad that other owners are not proactive. That's why I keep writing posts about management. I truly hope that someone will see it and learn something and work with their dogs.

      About the redirected biting, I totally understand what you're saying about it being a by-product of the leash or other containment, they are frustrated so they just go after whatever is close but it's still a dangerous thing to have to deal with and those dogs should really be muzzled until they are doing better. I've also seen several incidents of reactive dogs getting away and attacking the thing they were reacting at. I know some leash reactive dogs are totally fine off leash with other dogs but some are not. If I saw a leash reactive dog acting aggressively at everything he/she passed on the way to the dog park and then them entering the dog park, I'd definitely leave. Regardless of how great they are when they finally get off the leash because I've seen some really bad things happen and I wouldn't want to risk it.

      That's great that you are working with Leo and making sure he is far enough from triggers to handle them!

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  11. This is a fantastic post, Lauren! Might be your best yet! I don't have any issues with reactivity as a whole, though Nola is iffy around large yellow dogs. She was attacked by a golden before we moved, and while she's okay with all other large dogs and fine walking passed goldens, if they get in her face she might freak. I just pick her up and move on.

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    1. Thank you! :D I've had to pick up Phoenix a couple of times, too! If we're being charged by a dog, sometimes it's easier to just pick her up rather than waiting and seeing how she'll take it.

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  12. This is a really important topic! As pet owners, we often underestimate the power of our pets. Even as a cat owner I have to remember that I have 2 of the world's most efficient predators living in my home. It is great that you emphasize learning about controlling anxiety and understanding the nature of your beast.
    -Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

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  13. Great post. My little love bug can be reactive with strangers and dogs. We think it is fear aggression - he defends his house, owner, crate and resources. We have had to set up strategies and keep his world small. It is still a problem going to the vet and the park or if we have guests. He can not wear a mask but luckily he is small so I can control him in his harness and he does not turn on me. One thing I would say is that it is extremely expensive and time consuming getting help. The behaviourist vet wanted $500 just for a first visit, not even treatment. My regular vet would not give medication without a full exam and a behaviour modification plan and then wouldn't do the exam with knocking him out. The behaviourists and trainers I work with charge over $200 for some sessions. Then you have to work on things every day and if you get little things wrong you can go back to square one. Progress is slow. Distance is our friend with triggers as you mention.

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    1. Awe, it's so hard when they are so lovey with us but then crabby with everything else. That's awesome that you've set things up for him and are understanding of his needs. I'm sorry that everything is so expensive! If you really need it, you can get your vet to do all the initial stuff and then have them consult with the vet behaviorist. Usually consults between professionals are free and your vet can relay the info to you. I would also definitely recommend checking out the seminars on Tawzer Dog. You can get a membership and they will send you the dvds like netflix.

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  14. Nala isn't reactive--in fact, she's wonderfully dog social, and I'm really grateful. But I still manage her to make sure she doesn't traumatize any other dogs, particularly since most of the dogs in our neighborhood seem to be reactive.

    When we're approached by dogs I know or suspect might be reactive, I cross the street and duck behind a car so that she can't stare and wag at them. I'm always on the lookout for cats, to make sure that I don't let Nala get close enough to try to play with them and piss them off. And even when we go hiking and Nala has the freedom of a 20 ft long line with which to go greet dogs, we follow a three second greeting protocol so that none of the dogs she greets has a chance to arbitrarily decide that they hate her (which has happened)--basically, I tell Nala how good she is as she greets, then say "Let's go!" and she follows me (and often gets a treat for it). And if a dog gets weird or stare-y or clearly doesn't want to say hi to her, we go to the other side of the trail and move past without greeting. Basically, I hate the way that most of the people we encounter manage--or fail to manage--their reactive dogs, so, uh, I do it for them? Weird, I know.

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    1. Thank you so much for thinking of the other dog owners! I sort of do the same thing, especially around my apartment complex because so many of the dogs are reactive and their owners are clueless.

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  15. It's really sad when people can't control their own dogs and don't take the necessary steps to learn how to have the control. They put other people and other dogs at risk of getting injured and they risk getting injured themselves. This is not a good example for pet parents to set. It is also awful to think about the trauma a dog attack causes the dog that is the victim both physically and emotionally.

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  16. Dis is a pawesome post - full of great information by an obviously informed and experienced person! Thank you for sharing your knowledge - I'll spread it along to my readers as well!

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  17. Terrific post, you have packed in so much great information and advice here. I'm assuming animal control is aware of the terror GSD? He could potentially harm a child that got in the way. Something should be done, the owners clearly can't handle him on their own. Definitely sharing this!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah the ACOs are aware of him but they haven't done anything. I've also complained to the management at our building.

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  18. I don't have reactive dogs, but if I did, I'd print this out for the fridge. It isn't fair to deliberately put a dog - who is reactive due to anxiety - in stressful situations without a plan in place to teach the dog to deal with it positively. I hate seeing dogs get reprimanded for being anxious. Hope the poor GSD and the smaller dog find some relief, somehow. :(

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    1. I totally agree with you. It's not fair to them at all! :( I don't know why people do it.

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  19. This is a wonderful post and so important for people to understand. I am going to share this ASAP! Thank you for taking the time and energy in writing such an informative blog post!

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  20. This is an awesome post, Lauren, thank you. Our younger beagle is mildly leash reactive (she only reacts if other - loose - dogs run at her), but our Lab mix Luke is more than that. Though I think because all I have learned from reading great helpful blogs like yours, that we've gotten ahead of things on trying to help him and managing as well. We're working on it.
    We are lucky to live in the country where we can have mostly quiet walks...though we do have one neighbor we have to avoid. I can't imagine having to deal with all you do just going out of your own home, that has to be tough.
    But I really appreciate you saying it's OK to stay home, and it's Ok to use a muzzle if needed. Since one of our biggest issues is strangers coming to our home, I've wondered if getting a muzzle was something we should do while we work on things.
    I try to keep people safe, to know that even though he hasn't. he could bite someone. And I know that if he bit the wrong person, it could get bad. So we're doing everything we can to make sure that never happens. I can't believe everyone doesn't do that!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad you're taking steps to help your beagle! One thing I would recommend would be crate training, if you haven't done that already. Making the crate a wonderful, safe place to be works wonders and they can hang out in there while you have company with a long lasting chew or stuffed kong. That way everyone is safe and it's also good because the dog is getting a chewy or some sort of long lasting food that they like and they can begin to associate the guest with good things, even if they are not being actively trained. :)

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    2. Thanks so much for mentioning the crate, it's something we hadn't really thought about. Luke was crate trained as a puppy and he always loved his crate. Once he outgrew it, we stopped using it. But I think that might work for company, and could be a good solution for while we're working on things.

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  21. This is a wonderful post! I wondered about "reactive dogs" at BlogPaws this year. There were so many dogs and luckily, there were no problems, but one never knows when they are in a new environment around strange dogs.

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  22. Thanks for your very thorough post with the many excellent examples of managing reactive dogs. I was especially please to read your description of your "hyper-vigilance" when you're out with your own. People are far too distracted by their phones, their email, texting and all that - it's crazy. You really cannot multitask and do an effective job protecting your dogs. Our brains are not built that way. Great post!

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  23. This was a great read, I will be sharing this post all over my social media!

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  24. Wow. This is the most thorough and comprehensive post I've seen on this topic. And I LOVE the resource page. Thanks so much.

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  25. I really like this post. As the owner of a reactive large dog and person who has to live in an apartment complex (thanks to rich people driving up costs and multiple dangerously bad private landlords, it's all we can afford while in Seattle- only a few months left here, thank God), I agree that we need to be vigilant and make others feel safe. I always have the most delicious treats in my sweet fanny pack and have training sessions every walk, I always read up on new training strategies, and keep my dog in obedience classes. Luckily, mine is quite dog friendly when other dogs are off leash and at daycare (she does to a small private place with 5 other dogs)- she is very, very social. She was attacked by a smaller dog a few months back and it undid months of training and we were constantly harassed by homeless people at our last place, which made her more person-wary; but I've learned that instead of getting mad and blaming the other dog or other people, it's important to 'just keep swimming.' I will often take my dog in my car (I park directly below my apartment) to a park instead of walking sidewalks (not enough room). There, we can safely work on desensitization and manners and she can be a dog. Before the attack I would see moments of impulse control on her part and felt so proud of her hard work. I'm seeing it again, but we still have a ways to go. Point being, we with reactive dogs really have to advocate and let people know, 'please just let us pass; we're working on skills." Especially in Seattle, it's culturally unacceptable to have a reactive dog; but with hard work and love, it can be managed. Luckily for us, once I finish my doctoral degree, we'll be back in a more rural place where we both feel more comfortable. We are cut from similar cloth.

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