Planning a Vacation With a Reactive Dog

Planning a vacation with a reactive dog isn’t always easy, but there are some tips I will share that helped us have a wonderful vacation with our reactive pup, Oreo.

  • First, rent a cabin/house instead of a condo or hotel room if possible. This will ensure less noise and intrusions.
  • When renting a place make sure it is reactive dog friendly, by that I mean make sure it meets your dog’s needs. Sometimes rental companies or owners don’t disclose to you right away that your dog has to be in a crate when you leave, or other dog related issues. Oreo is deathly afraid of crates, therefore we did some serious house hunting before we found the right one. Read the contract carefully.  If it’s in the contract you must follow the dog rules.
  • Bring your dog’s favorite things! Anything that can make your pup more comfortable is great. I brought Oreo’s favorite toys, her bed and food bowls.
  • Make sure to bring something to keep your dog busy if you are away. We were away for many hours at a time exploring the Smoky Mountains and Oreo was free walking through the house. I brought her kong and another toy stick I could stuff with treats. I made sure they were extra special treats like pieces of cheese.

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  • Make the trip a vacation for your pup too! Don’t forget to walk/run around with your dog and explore new areas. However, make sure you watch for other dogs/people or whatever your dog is afraid of. We stayed in the yard and walked around the “neighborhood”, which wasn’t crowded. Also-I brought some special new toys for her-ended up she didn’t really need them since she loved the place-but it would’ve been handy in case she was stressed.
  • When renting a house, make sure it is semi-private. You don’t want to be worrying about your dog barking & stressing while you are on vacation. Find a place where you aren’t right up against a neighbor. Maybe they have a fence, maybe a large yard. In our case we had a house at the end of a road. The other houses weren’t so far away-probably only 50-80 feet away. However, our deck we sat on faced the quiet woods. There were bushes and trees between some of the houses. This ensured we could all relax in quiet and she couldn’t look out windows and see other people/dogs.

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  • Bring something to calm your dog down-just in case. I brought Oreo’s ThunderShirt. I used it when we first got there-but she didn’t really need it anymore-she loved the house. In fact-she behaved better there-super quiet with not many people or animals to drive her crazy!
  • This probably goes without saying-but if you are vacationing with other people-make sure your dog is comfortable with them-otherwise leave your pup home.
Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

Oreo loved hanging outside on the deck in the quiet.

We went to the Smoky Mountains for the week with my parents & Oreo. I was very worried so I over packed dog supplies. I prepackaged all of her food in portions with her medicines to make it easy. We made sure to walk her and spend time outside with her. Every time we left I left the tv on for noise and put some treats in her Kong. She hardly barked the entire time and didn’t seem stressed at all! Don’t forget if you are driving a far way (we drove 10 hours!) make sure to stop at plenty of rest stops to take fido out and give him/her water. If you plan, you can have a fun trip with your pooch!!

Here are some pictures from the vacation.

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Do you remember thinking THAT? Reactive Dogs Need MORE LOVE!

Do you remember that moment when seeing a dog lunging, barking, and baring teeth thinking, “Oh my gosh, that is a horrible dog! Why doesn’t the owner yell at it or train it better? What a bad dog!” Do you remember thinking THAT? Okay, well the thoughts might not have been exactly that, but I remember hurrying my dog away while giving sidelong glances at the owner of a reactive dog passing by. At the time I didn’t know what “reactive” meant or that “reactive” was even a term to describe dogs.

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What is a reactive dog? Well a reactive dog isn’t a dog who barks a lot, or a jumping kangaroo dog. Reactivity is seen when a dog overreacts to something. When a dog is scared they hide, bark, lunge, snarl, etc. If you’ve heard of flight or fight, this is where it takes place. A reactive dog will TAKE ACTION. It won’t stay frozen. You may see it freeze for a few seconds, but it will quickly decide whether to run & hide or try to scare away whatever it is truly scared of.

Before Oreo I had a childhood dog that lived 18 long years with me. I loved Snowy, the white-highland terrier. She was was stubborn as all heck and loved playing a good game of chase when we were 10 years old around the neighborhood for hours. She was your average behaved terrier, one with little behavioral problems who you could trust around many people. Did she bark? Sure. Did she overreact and seem to “lose it”? No.

When my husband and I decided to get a puppy, we didn’t think we’d have a lifetime of training ahead of us. We, like the average dog owner, thought we would take her to a few classes and she would be well-behaved. Do you remember thinking THAT? Well, how wrong we were indeed. As a puppy I tried to give Oreo many experiences with other dogs, training, and people. As a teacher and person, I am someone who “follows the rules” to the best of my ability. Being a good dog owner, I pleaded with my husband to take a walk with Oreo before we went shopping at the mall when she was 9 months old. That walk changed everything. A few weeks after that walk Oreo started showing signs of being reactive. See on that same walk, the walk I thought I had to take her on, she got attacked by another dog.

Oreo when we first got her

Oreo when we first got her

A week or so after the attack we took Oreo back to the vet to get checked out again. I remember sitting in the waiting room with her & instead of her cowering on my lap or on the floor next to me, she was now wildly lunging, barking, & snapping at a passing dog. When we got into the area where the vet examines Oreo, she snarled and hid under the chair, not wanting to be touched. This was very unlike her, a shy, but easygoing, sweet tempered dog. At puppy training she was recommended as a therapy dog.

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Things definitely changed.

Those were the first signs and as they progressed to an event I call the “culminating one” (I’ll save that for another post), I knew I needed to do something. We called in a local trainer, who came into our home and Oreo was very calm & great. However, outside in the neighborhood she cowered, then barked and lunged at dogs in other apartments. He told us a few tricks and went home.

He didn’t seem concerned, but I WAS. I now have at least 20 or more publications & books on reactive dogs and training. I can’t thank Ali Brown enough & her training & book (Scaredy Dog!) which turned my life & saved Oreo’s life. I remember thinking dogs like Oreo were bad. Those dogs couldn’t be lovable, they must be like that all the time, unlovable. How wrong was I? I believe reactive dogs need MORE LOVE because they are afraid, because they do need self-confidence. Does this mean hugging them? HECK NO!!  What I mean is attention, training, doing things fun for them, building confidence, and spending time with them helping them learn ways to cope with the scary world around them.

It’s been a long rode, from thinking dogs were bad, misbehaved, to really seeing what is going on inside a dog & its’ emotions. As humans and dog owners we must ask ourselves WHY a dog does certain things & how we can help them. We must give our reactive dogs MORE LOVE because boy do they need it!!

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Management vs. Training

Can any amount of training or management be stressful?

Yes!

Managing your dog means not allowing your dog to be in stressful situations. For example, if your dog is stressed out by parents, don’t bring your dog to the party. Management is thinking through what you will allow your dog to see/do/etc and where they will be…basically controlling the situation. When are times I manage my dog? I manage my dog every single day in many different ways without even thinking about it anymore, it comes naturally & part of the routine.

  • Avoiding crowded parks & areas
  • Avoiding big parties
  • Turning away from an oncoming dog
  • Getting more distance between us and a dog while on a walk
  • Bringing the dog to another room or out back when someone is at the door
  • Leaving her alone when she is sleeping

Can some management be too much? Yes, of course. There is a balance between training & management. Some people choose to manage more, other train. I like to have a nice blend of both. Everyone should do what works best for their dog & themselves.

If someone over manages this can lead to stress of the part of the owner and sometimes the dog. For example, if your dog is scared of other dogs that doesn’t mean you should lock your dog in the house and never let them go out or see another dog. You will need to use training in conjunction with management to allow your dog to move forward. With too much management, a dog cannot grow.

Can you over train your dog? I don’t think dogs can get tired of training if you do it correctly. If you use positive training & make it fun, your dog will love it! However, if you push for long periods of time and use negative punishment your dog may only get worse. Training should be in short periods, especially training which pushes them mentally or physically. If you see your dog getting stressed, stop and try another time-training is supposed to be fun!

For example, if you are training your dog with parallel walking with another dog 10 feet away, do a few walks back and forth. Observe how the dogs are reacting and if they are both paying attention to the owner and looking relaxed, move a few steps closer. Do a few walks back and forth (maybe 20 feet or so). After this probably only around 10 minutes have gone by. However, if your training your reactive dog, you know they may not be physically tired, but they are definitely mentally tired. Take a break of at least 15 minutes, but only do this a few times a day. Some exercises are particularly stressful for dogs, you need to gauge your dog’s stress levels.

Training & management=success. Too much of either could lead to disaster. You want to make sure you use management so you don’t put your dog in a stressful situation that may make them regress. Additionally, you want to train so management is easier and less. Both work hand in hand.

DSCN4337Oreo is relaxing here while her grandpa & dad are building a garden. In this situation she is managed because she is on-leash, but she is also getting training since her mom is standing nearby with treats when she sees a dog. Oreo doesn’t love strangers, but with time she learns to be relaxed and enjoy their company.

 

As reactive dog parents, we need to ask ourselves questions constantly that many other people don’t even take a second to think about.

  • Should I take my dog to the party?
  • How can I avoid that dog/person/bike/etc as I’m walking so that my dog doesn’t get over threshold?
  • How can I bring my dog to the vet without causing too much stress?
  • What will I do with my dog when I have people over?
  • Should I consider anxiety medicine for my canine?
  • Do I need window film so my dog doesn’t bark out the window all day?
  • What do I have to cover the car windows so my dog doesn’t lose it?
  • Did I remember dog treats on my walk?

The questions could go on forever and we are always asking them. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as any dog owner will ask and remind themselves of various things from time to time. However, we are often on high alert for things that stress out our dog, especially when there is change or they are outside their normal environment. I wanted to take a minute to thank all of the pet parents out there dealing with reactive dogs. It definitely isn’t easy and we are very stressed at times, but remember you are saving a dog’s life, your dog. You are taking the time to train your dog or manage the surroundings so your dog can have a happy life, even if your dog doesn’t get to go with you everywhere.

Sometimes we forget to appreciate all of the work we do until someone points it out. Recently I was at the vet and got an amazing compliment. My vet told me how amazing of a job we (my husband and I) have done with Oreo. She said it’s made such a difference and Oreo doesn’t need to be muzzled or anything during her vet exam. Furthermore, she told me without us, she knows Oreo would’ve been dead in another family and we have saved her life.

Life is crazy and there’s always things to worry & stress about, but little reminders of why we do what we do (help reactive dogs) make it all worth it. Okay, the dog kisses, happy wagging tails, and smiles also help! 10371611_10202676837374547_1549858418175138866_n

Should We Care?

Should we are what other people think of our dogs? Only minutes ago I was sitting on my porch while Oreo lounged in the spring-growing grass towards a neighbors dog that appeared from behind a car. The neighbors were taking their dog for a walk and emerged from behind their car with their dog on leash. I wasn’t expecting this, didn’t hear them as I was engrossed working on typing for a book I’m working on and of course Oreo lost it. Her threshold was over and there was no time to call her to attention or tempt her with treats. My laptop rolled off of my lap as I scrambled to pull her back on the leash.

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At this point I knew I couldn’t bring her into the house since she weighs too much for me to drag her in, plus they nearly passed our house. “Attack dog huh?” was the question the neighbor asked through the loud barking as they passed. I was too entangled with my job of keeping my dog in control to answer. When the neighbor’s dog finally was out of sight I the barking stopped and Oreo did a few paces around then laid back down into her casual spot. “No, we don’t want that, ” I heard from the neighbor. I have no idea what they were talking about, but for some reason I think I know. The neighbor is due any day now, and they have been talking about putting a large wooden fence up (which I would love, then we could get a fence and save some money by connecting it!). I can only guess perhaps she was saying she wouldn’t want her child attacked (who would?).

Oreo was scared. She’s reactive, so she reacts. I failed in my job to get her attention before she reached her threshold. However, I’m not going to pine about it-there was nothing I could have done, animals and people always appear from behind objects, which Oreo reacts to the worst. She does not like surprises, especially big scary surprises that remind of her of the attack from her past.

So why did I care what the neighbors thought? Well I automatically felt embarrassed because I thought I looked like a fool as I scrambled to hold onto my dog. I grew up with a mother who definitely cares what people think. I don’t usually care too much, but with Oreo I am more protective. I wish people could see how caring, kind, and loving this dog is. She is all kisses and cuddling inside (with the occasional leave me alone stare or warning if she is sleeping). However, I know people who are knowledgeable about reactive dogs know exactly how I feel. I highly recommend a reactive dog class that is positive. Not only do you learn how to give your dog courage, manage, and train your dog, but you also find companionship and comfort knowing you are not the only one and people do understand.

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Snow Safety and Fun with Your Dog

mattWhat better to do than run around with your pup on a snow day? Well…maybe cuddle with your pup with some popcorn in hand, watch a movie & sit by the warm fire. However,  my husband and I took time to run around with the dog. With a medium sized dog and over 3 feet of snow, well this can be dangerous.

You know your dog so watch for signs that something may be wrong including:

  • Shivering (cold!!)
  • Limping (salt,snow,ice can get stuck in their paws and injure them)
  • Whimpering (cold, hurt)
  • Snow over their head/reaching their head

Oreo used to be super thin. Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine-she is “pleasantly plump” now, but when she was thin she would shiver in the cold.

  • If your dog is very thin or doesn’t have much hair consider a sweater/coat/wrap for your dog-especially if you notice them shivering.
  • If you walk on the road during the winter and your dog is bothered by the salt consider getting boots (more expensive) or pawz rubber boots (less expensive).
  • Don’t leave your dog outside long-it’s too cold, either walk them around, have some fun with them, or let them do their business and bring them back in-no dog deserves to be left out in the cold (it could be deadly!)

Have some FUN!!! 

  • Build a snowman-have your dog help! Okay…well my dog will try to eat the snowball I am rolling, so it may be more fun for her.
  • Throw snowballs for your dog to chase/catch. Oreo loves chasing snowballs and trying to catch them (please be careful you aren’t hitting your dog with snowballs).
  • Run around in the snow with your dog-play chase!
  • Throw a ball, play with a toy in the snow
  • Play hide and seek! Hide your dog’s favorite toy in the snow-let your dog sniff it out. I would recommend a kong or something you can fill with a smelly treat you first let your dog sniff, then hide.
  • Take a walk on freshly fallen snow and check out nature and the neighborhood. Enjoy the quiet and peace when no one is around and the roads haven’t been salted.

What fun things do you do with your dog when it snows?

 

My Dog is Deadly Contagious

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As I was away enjoying a few days with my mom in the Poconos, I got an urgent call from my husband seemingly upset. He rattled off a tale that I have been fearing ever since Oreo got attacked…a person who just doesn’t understand.

As many of you know, we live in townhomes, which we have been trying to get out of FOREVER! We finally sold our home back in May, but are currently stuck in a short sale. We do have a date we have to get out though-end of September is the moving date (YAY!). Anyway, he was enjoying a nice walk on the walkway behind out homes (about 50 feet away from our back door) with the dog and out of the corner of his eye he saw one of neighbors open his back sliding door and let the dog out. The neighbor is newer, but has mostly followed the rules about leashing his dog. My husband kept going on his leisurely walk with Oreo until he saw a golden retriever mix heading straight for them. Apparently the neighbor brought his dog out without a leash, surprise, surprise.

This is the scary moment, where I would say, “HOLY SHIT, IT’S HAPPENING!” Luckily, my husband is stronger than I am, and he told me that lifted her up way above his head as the dog approached. Oreo couldn’t see the dog since it was like Simba being held up in The Lion King. The dog below didn’t growl or snarl, but barked and waited below my husband to greet Oreo. However, Oreo was not in the greeting mood-she was looking around wildly trying to find the dog, growling and snarling.

“Don’t worry my dog is nice, she just wants to play,” was the response from our neighbor. Wow, how cliché is that? My husband yelled back, “My dog is not nice and will attack your dog!” The neighbor took his time getting to the dog, calling it-with no response. He finally reached his dog and left without a word. No sorry, no it won’t happen again, NOTHING!

Ugh! I have heard this blogged about countless times-people who think if their dog is nice, it’s okay. What if my dog isn’t nice? Should I have a blinking sign or shirt made that says stay away my dog will tear you apart? Maybe then, people would get the point…probably not. Our neighbor didn’t seem too concerned that his dog would be attacked. I would be running to get my dog and apologizing profusely if I were in his position.

Not surprisingly I was enjoying reading “The Whole Dog Journal” on my porch in the back yesterday with Oreo laying at my feet, when who comes out unsupervised? The golden mix pooch. At least he was leashed this time, but his leash was long enough to cross 3 townhomes and no one was supervising him (the rules in the neighborhood don’t allow dogs to be outside without someone with them). Oreo of course went ballistic as I pulled her inside then asked for tricks and gave her treats…I can’t wait to move & I bet Oreo can’t wait either!

The morale of the story is to have a plan. Matt and I have talked about this many times after Oreo was attacked-we wished we had a plan before she was attacked. We decided that we would risk getting bitten by Oreo if she would go crazy and bite us to get down (which hasn’t happened..) and risk getting attacked by the approaching dog. We decided we would rather be attacked than the dog. That is our personal choice, where many people would not risk it. I told my husband to yell to the owner of the loose dog that our dog is not friendly and will attack their dog. However, I see that doesn’t work as effectively as I thought. I did read somewhere where someone suggested that you should call out, “My dog is highly contagious.I thought I could take it another step and say, “My dog is deadly contagious.” (haha) I read recently if you are near a car you can try to get on the roof of a car if a dog is actually attacking-I always keep that in mind. Whether the dog is friendly or not, if your dog is reactive towards dogs, you must have a plan.

Do You Watch or Take Action?

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What do you do when you see someone using hurtful training techniques, being rough with a dog, or harming a dog? Or do you take action??

This question came to my mine while at my sister’s house and witnessing inappropriate behavior toward a neighbor’s dog. We walked up to get my sister’s dogs from the neighbors who were watching them. They just adopted a female black lab who is around 6 months old. She is what you picture a typical black lab-full of never-ending energy. As soon as we walked up the hill to their house the dog bolted right towards us, jumping and snapping at our fingers. I decided to ask for a sit, however, the dog doesn’t seem to know what sit means. So, I decide to turn my body so the dog doesn’t get any attention from me for jumping like a jack-rabbit.

This is where I cringe. The neighbor-we’ll call him “Bob”. Bob runs over and starts yelling at the dog “NO!! BAD DOG” and grabs her collar and yanks her hard to the side. As soon as Bob lets go of her collar she goes right back to jumping on us to greet us. Of course this is where I curse myself, I should’ve had treats in my pocket as I usually do. As the dog jumps on us Bob grabs her skim behind her neck and reprimands her with harsh words and a tug of the skin. Bob then lays her on the ground and holds her dog for a minute covering her muzzle. (Ahh! At this moment I want to push him off the dog and scream at the top of my lungs). Luckily, he let go before I could push him.

My question to you is what would you do in this situation?

A. Punch the guy and tell him he’s a jerk
B. Educate him on dominance and tell him about positive training
C. Run the other way
D. Offer to help with training

Although some of the answer choices are silly, we run a fine line telling someone else how to treat their dog. You don’t want to scream or sound like you are scolding them, otherwise they will shut down towards positive training and never know the error of their ways. However, you don’t want to let the training (if you would call it that—I’d call it ABUSE) go on. What I decided to do was ask him about training and he mentioned he needed some help, so I offered to help him and told him a little bit about positive training and starting with some education on rewards instead of punishments. Next time I see him I’m heading over there with my clicker and treats to hopefully transform their thoughts on “training” and what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, many of the people in the rural area up there see nothing wrong with holding their dogs down and following some outdated and abusive trainers tactics-that’s where he learned them from. Surprisingly enough you wouldn’t guess his profession–he’s a minister!!! I sure hope a minister would find much more pleasure giving the dog rewards instead of using hurtful methods of punishment.

When I’ve seen people using choke collars I want to run up to them and tell them the damage they are doing to their dog and how horrible it is…it’s so hard to stand by and watch people abuse their dogs like that. What do you do?

Have you ever encountered someone hurting their dog with negative punishments? What did you do??

Sizzling Summer Reminders

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With record high temperatures hitting the west coast and a heat wave here on the east coast, it’s important to remember some safety tips in summer for your pooch.

Heat Concerns

I know my dog loves to lay in the sun. My old dog loved to lay on the hot pavement. These can cause major health problems. Long periods of sun exposure can cause overheating, skin cancer, and other health issues.

1. Find some shade for your dog to lay in!!

2. If you are hanging outside for a while with your dog, provide a bowl of water.

3. A small swim pool could be fun and a great way for your dog to cool off!

4. Don’t leave your dog outside in a dog house-it will overheat and trap hot air.

It gets very hot outside. I read somewhere that you should take your shoes off on a hot day and leave your feet on the pavement for a few seconds. If your feet burn, your dog’s feet will burn…don’t take them out on the asphalt or pavement then.

5. Take your dog for a walk in the early morning or evening, when it is cooler.

6. DON’T LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR!!

7. Since dogs are outside more often in the summer, make sure your dog has some kind of tick/flea preventative.

8. Keep your dog away from poisonous flowers/plants and chemically treated lawns.

9. Know the signs of heatstroke:

Early Signs:
-Heavy panting
-Bright red tongue and gums
-Fast breathing
-Having trouble balancing

Advanced Signs:
-Shock
-White/Blue gums
-Lethargy
-Uncontrollable urination or defecation
-Noisy breathing

Hopefully you have a fun and safe summer with these tips, but if you are worried your dog may have heatstroke you should do the following steps…
If your dog has signs of advanced heatstroke-take them to the vet immediately.
If your dog shows early signs try to cool your dog down:
-Give them ice chips to chew
-Hose them with cool water
-Apply ice packs to the groin area
When your dog’s temperature is between 100-102, stop trying to cool your dog down, they are stabilized.

Go Ahead, Treat Adults Like Children (They Just Don’t Get it!)

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Speak up for your pup because sometimes people don’t get the message!

It came to my attention this past weekend that I needed to treat my mom like a child when it comes to dogs.

Did I like treating her like a kid, repeating the same thing to her many times to ensure she would listen? No, absolutely not. Was it necessary? Definitely!

Many times we don’t always say what is on our mind when it comes to our dogs. We worry about what people might think of us, if they will be mad, laugh, or get upset with us if we do or say things that don’t seem “normal”. For example, this past weekend my parents were watching Oreo. My brother and sister-in-law were stopping over for a few minutes. I told my mom to put her in the bedroom when they came over. “It’s just Den and Lila, she’ll be fine,” was my mother’s response. “No, she won’t be fine. Please put her in the bedroom, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” I replied. “Oh come on Jess, don’t be ridiculous…” The conversation continued like this until I basically had to annoy her and get her to comply. Yes, she was doing us a favor watching the dog, but Oreo is a bite risk if left around strangers (she doesn’t see them much at all). I called the night before my brother was coming over to remind her. Did she get angry? YES! She told me not to treat her like a child, that she knows. I tried to explain why I reminded her, yet she didn’t quite understand.

That’s the point, PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND. We need to stick up for our dogs and for what makes them comfortable or uncomfortable. They don’t have a voice, so we need to speak for them.

If I didn’t speak up to my mom Oreo could’ve easily bitten or had a bad experience that couldn’t worsened her reactivity. Maybe she would have been fine with them, but why risk it?

Sometimes we have to treat other people like children, beacause they just don’t get it. People who aren’t associated with dog training or have had a reactive/scared dog just don’t get it. What’s worse is that they don’t believe you. When you tell people your dog will NOT be okay in a certain situation you are most likely met with the comment, “Oh well she’ll be okay, don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” This is where you have to be your dogs’ protector. You can protect your pup many ways, but one of the most powerful ways is to speak up even if you feel uncomfortable. Trust me, things will work out better and after you have stuck up for your dog (even if you’ve offended someone) you will feel better and so will your dog.

So go ahead, treat someone like a child if they don’t understand. Stand up for your dog!