I haven’t posted about this yet but I felt now was the time. My own dog, Grizzle, came to us as a puppy – 9 weeks old to be exact. He was from a superb breeder over Norfolk way and was in a litter of 4, with mother present along with a number of other breeding bitches and dogs. He was of good health and a superb temperament, in fact it was his confident assertive nature which drew my partner to him and …. the rest they say is history!
We live in a cottage on the canal right next to the lock so from the minute he got home he was faced with all the noises and disturbances you could wish for with regards socializing a young pup. There were dogs galore and he saw twenty plus daily. As soon as he was old enough he was out and about sniffing, barking at and playing with the dogs passing by. Only once was he “attacked” as a youngster and though the other dog did grab hold of his fur there was no broken skin and it didn’t dampen his spirits, nor stop him from running up to play with every dog in sight. So much did he want to play that we really found it quite a nuisance from time to time, letting him off the lead always meant we’d be chasing him down the path as he tore off after a dog in the distant horizon. Never did he growl, attack or in any way cause a fight with another dog. We thought we’d done him proud and sat back to enjoy the next 14 years together. Indeed, it was at this point that I felt certain in my decision to start Jog My Dog, not only was it a long-standing passion, here I had myself a superbly friendly dog who thrived on being with his kind, what more could you ask for. No more long lonely days for my little man, soon he would be out and about with me playing with a new dog (or six!) each day.
I should interject at this point that in March 2016 Grizzle was approximately 18 months old. He was never a ‘humper’ nor did he run off after females in heat particularly. He was still going out with the previous dog walking company, however, there was a change with the walkers and I could observe on the webcam a change in him. He was nervous prior to the visit with wide eyes and ears back. When my partner returned from work he would find him shaking on the couch. We will never know what happened during this final month and I am conscious not to lay blame on the new walker for his behaviour (then and now), yet I mention it as it forms an integral part to the story which is being told.
At this same point in time Grizzle used to play with another local doggy named Hamish. He was a French Bulldog and would have been coming up to five or six months old. His owner would walk past our property so they could play … and boy did they! In and out of the house, chasing each other, picking up sticks and wizzing around the canal happily. One day, however, after ten minutes of such antics Grizzle went mad at young Hamish. This happened more than once as the owner was keen to “make them get along” – truth be told we were all a bit surprised and did much mulling as to what the cause could have been. The decision we made was to get him neutered by way of chemical castration. This is essentially an implant which mimics neutering as it reduces the levels of testosterone in the dog. It took awhile to take effect but after approximately six weeks Grizzle’s balls shrunk and he cocked his leg less. However, he still disliked Hamish!
It was May now and business has begun with lots of dogs coming over for day care and boarding. Although none of them were aggressive in nature, a fair few were dominant and, in reflection, made Grizzle feel nervous. You always look back with 20/20 vision and see things that were completely oblivious to you at the time. For instance, I had two lovely little male (miniature) Schnauzers over to board for a week, I joked at the time that they were “little furry sergeants” because of the way they stopped any playing going on by charging up to the dogs and barking in their face. One of the other dogs that also stayed in May was huge and every time he wagged his tail it would slap poor Grizzle in the face. While this is all going on Grizzle’s hormones are flying all over the place and with new dogs coming in and out of the house, joining him for walks, etc he must not have known what was going on.
I feel dreadfully selfish and ignorant in how I handled the month of May and June. I was blind sighted by the need to accept all the customer inquiries and assumed that my dog who loved dogs would carry on loving them and be fine with his new life. But he wasn’t fine. He’s not an early riser and loves nothing more than quiet snoozes on the couch. Yes he loved to play but what I hadn’t considered is what he loved to do when not playing. He likes routine, he likes his walks to be about swimming and chasing sticks. That’s it! He’s not a “normal” dog in that he won’t just trot down the road and go for a walk because that’s what dogs do … no, he likes his walks to be about games and entertainment. I didn’t cater to this in that first month or two either. He was brought along on all the walks because I thought he was enjoying himself. How wrong was I.
The result of my mistakes is what we are now dealing with: a dog who adores playing with the dogs he knows (all those around where we live and any he met between 9 weeks and June this year), yet hesitant, wary and scared of a lot of new dogs. I say ‘a lot’ and not ‘any’ because he does still get on with dogs he meets out and about but it’s 20/80 I would say, with more winding him up than making him feel happy and relaxed. He doesn’t even give them, or him, a chance to sniff and meet on neutral terms. He’s straight in with a bark in an attempt to scare them off. It’s like he just doesn’t want them near him. In my head I saw it as his way of saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH MOM!!
We got the picture and brought in the big guns by way of a 1 on 1 behaviour training session with Ellie Haines from Haines Hounds (if you’re struggling with training your dog do give her a ring, she’s fab). Having my reflections confirmed by an outsider just brought the whole thing home even more. This was a creation of my own doing, yes I think something happened with the new dog walker back in March … yes doing the chemical castration couldn’t have helped but importantly I hadn’t considered the emotional and physical needs of my own dog and that’s pretty bad. I am a huge animal lover and thrive on seeing them happy and healthy, animal welfare is such a huge part of why I started the business, yet here I was neglecting the needs of my own dog.
Ellie suggested we reduce Grizzle’s time with all dogs, unless they were bombproof and not reactive in any way. Did you know that reactive doesn’t just mean aggressive? Your dog is reactive if they lunge and bark at a cyclist or jogger, if they bark excessively at the postman or just random people walking by, if they charge up to any dog in the park circling it and barking (tail wagging or not). Most of the dogs I walk, board or have in day care are reactive in some way. This posed a little challenge and I did find myself taking Grizzle out on walks he shouldn’t have joined us for and the other dogs barking and lunging – friendly or otherwise – seemed to compound the problem for our little man, in his head it was reaffirming that these “others” (in this case dogs) were some kind of threat, he felt it and the dogs he was being walked with must have too which is why they were barking like mad. Let’s all bark … and lunge … and cause mayhem!
I think it took the problem getting worse for me to see it for what it was and take it really seriously. I also turned 32 on the 1st August and did a fair bit of soul searching as to what these last couple of months had been about and decided that it was time to stop worrying about what’s around the corner but instead to focus on providing a top notch service in the remits of what I could physically do with having a dog who is reactive of new dogs both in his territory and out on walks. I started to look for help with day care and boarding as the safety and happiness of our client’s dogs is of paramount importance. I moved some dogs from day care over to walks and am no longer taking home boarding clients into our own cottage until further notice. Grizzle doesn’t join all the walks, in fact he goes on very few now. Instead I, or my partner, wake up early to take him on an individual walk first thing in the morning, doing all those things he loves so much. The same in the evening. During the day he takes long lazy naps alone in bed or on the couch. And do you know what? Instead of missing the doggy activity he seems grateful for the peace and quiet. He takes himself up to bed when we come back from one of our little group walks, even if he enjoyed being out with a particular pack, he does seem to just want to get away and be alone.
This new arrangement has taken a huge weight off my shoulders. It’s not what I had originally planned, or indeed wanted for my dog, but it’s the situation we’re in and I’m going to make the best of it. Business is booming and I get to not only spend hours in the day playing with my clients dogs, cats and other small furries, I’m also able to give individualized attention to my own pets; instead of his issues getting me down I now see them as an opportunity to truly observe canine behaviour and practice what I learned in my Foundations course earlier in the year. I’m also more in tune with the emotions of dogs and believe more than ever that pet care is more than providing food, water and a daily walk. Owners, and critically us pet care professionals, have a duty to be paying due attention to what’s going on WITHIN the animal. Emotions, feelings and states of mind impact the physical health of the animal so if they are awry and skewy we can expect things like frustration, fear-based anxiety and aggression to present themselves, along with a host of other physical symptoms of stress. I’m dissapointed in myself that I didn’t get to this place without all of the above, however I am simultaneously grateful that I did grasp it in time. I am confident Grizzle will improve and come to love all new dogs again one day, yet importantly I’m not worried even if he doesn’t. We have come up with a system that works for the business, for us and for him and we will continue to love him as we always have done.
I have titled this blog post as Anger Management as this is the new way I describe the rather odd behaviour we practice when we see another dog (we’re doing Mark & Move from Grisha Steward – essentially Grizzle see’s a dog, we click and move away from the target (i.e. the dog) and treat him with a really high value snack. This helps him associate the trigger with moving away and something good – the treat!). People always look at us and shout out “oh don’t worry, my dog is friendly” … instead of feeling stressed by it (as their dog continues to approach us) I now laugh and say “well mine might not be, he has Anger Management Issues which we’re working through”. Everyone chuckles and it lightens the mood. It’s easy to get frustrated with the behaviour of your own dog, people or dogs in general … forever throwing pebbles in our way tripping us up. I don’t want to feel bad on behalf of my dog and I don’t particularly want to make others feel bad because of theirs. So I turn it into a joke and we all have a bit of a laugh at our dogs expense. Isn’t that a far better way of behaving? I like to thick so.
To end this rather long blog post I should say that on Thursday last week I decided to take Grizzle up on a 7 day challenge. His ‘dad’ (my partner) is away on holiday and I felt it was as good a time as any to see if we could make it through 7 days without him lashing out or growling at another dog. If you’re interested in following Grizzle’s journey (out of curiosity or perhaps you have a reactive dog yourself) make sure to look out for all blog posts titled ‘Anger Management’ …
I look forward to sharing more of our journey with you!
Jog My Dog is a small, friendly and professional company offering home boarding, puppy visits, doggy day care, cat visits and dog walking services in Milton Keynes and the surrounding villages of Bow Brickhill, Brickhill Sands, Little Brickhill, Great Brickhill, Aspley Guise, Woburn, Woburn Sands, Brogborough, Linslade, Stoke Hammond and Soulbury.
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