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Training a Reactive Dog – A Labour of Love Part Two : New challenges…will it ever get easier?

Published on 13th January 2018

Part Two : New challenges…will it ever get easier?

We are now 9 months in to dog parenthood and Binx is showing some really positive changes. Given that I know him much better and that constantly scanning our environment wherever we go is now second nature to me, I can generally relax a lot more when we’re out walking. However, as lots of new parents will tell you, “the challenges never go away, they just change”. True to this, we are now proud parents to a rebellious, somewhat moody teenager. As his confidence picks up, Binx has started taking liberties both at home and out on walks, and some of his old habits (which we thought we had solved) have reared their ugly heads.

Although, after much long line training, Binx’s recall is generally good he has recently been known to run away when off the lead. This leaves a stranded, somewhat panicky, owner shouting out recall commands whilst trying hard to sound jovial. As with lots of dogs, if he is on to an exciting scent then I need to be more interesting than the smell he’s chasing to get him to come back to me. This has occasionally resulted in me running in the complete opposite direction, laughing and whooping maniacally. I can smile when I think how I must look to others. These days, I have lost nearly all inhibitions when out walking.

Binx is naturally brilliant at retrieving, which has turned out to be a great way to exercise him, but true to form he does sometimes decide not to give up the ball, no matter how tasty the treat offered. A ball thief often emerges if another dog is playing fetch and we are not, leading to many an apologetic word with its owner.

In the house, Binx will sometimes bark at us to get attention (food, play etc.) and it is one of the hardest things to ignore. But ignore it we do, gritting our teeth or grinning inanely at each other to pass the time until he stops and can get a reward for being quiet. He also has recently decided to get vocal at the vacuum cleaner, despite having quietly tolerated this for several months, and he’ll stand and bark at things through the garden gate. So, it was back to the drawing board on how to deal with this habit…

After about 6 months of being seemingly very happy with his bed in the kitchen when we’re out the house, Binx one day decided that he would rather have roam of the whole house. Being such an intelligent (and somewhat determined) dog Binx worked out how to open door handles. This led to a swift trip to B&Q and a swap to a doorknob, and, once he’s given up trying to escape, we’ll need to replace the now rather scratched door. He certainly keeps us on our toes.

Training walks are still very much ongoing. Some days Binx is brilliant, and I can walk the whole length of a street without him getting too worked up and he’ll walk beautifully on a slack lead, and sit and wait to cross the road. It’s during these moments that I might get a comment “what a well behaved dog” and I feel really smug knowing that my efforts are paying off. On the other hand, he does still get really reactive and there doesn’t always seem to be rhyme or reason as to what, when or why. He is always friendly to other dogs off-lead but on the lead Binx is still frustrated and struggles with his reactivity. At these moments I resort to getting Binx to re-focus with an easy command and ply him with treats. It’s not uncommon to get through a whole pouch of treats during a short walk if he’s not having a good day, or if we come across lots of triggers. When he’s getting stressed out, it’s incredibly hard to keep my patience, especially after a long busy day at work. I sometimes find myself gritting my teeth or taking deep breaths to try not to get cross. Walks sometimes have to be abandoned, and I have been known to put on relaxing music and burn lavender oil at home to try and calm him down.

Another obstacle is that Binx HATES the car. Right from the very beginning he was frightened of it. There must be something nasty in his past that has put him right off car travel. He is very reluctant to jump in, pulling away from the car as soon as we open the boot. I have worked tirelessly to counter-condition this, moving forward baby steps at a time and only when Binx is completely happy, and have even resorted to giving Binx his dinner in the boot on a few occasions. We’ve tried DAP sprays, herbal anti-anxiety tablets, and all the usual treats, and have gone full circle having Binx in the boot and on the back seat. Even when he does jump in (for a tasty piece of sausage) once we get moving he whines and is very restless. I watch with envy as other dog owners just open the boot and their pup jumps straight in with glee. In spite of the inevitable exciting new place to explore at the end of the journey, Binx is still not a happy traveler. This makes finding new territory to explore with him a real challenge.

There are still certainly plenty of highs and lows to living with Binx, and it is unquestionably two steps forward and one step back. His training and routine do still take up lots of my time and energy, and sometimes I wonder what my boyfriend and I talked about before we got the dog. Every so often I have to cast my mind back to those early months, when we couldn’t even get past the end of the road before Binx would get skittish and we’d need to return home. Helen from Social Paws keeps us positive, and reminds us of the progress he has made to-date. We have managed to take Binx on a couple of café trips, and outdoor markets, which is a huge step forward for us and helps us build the bond. Despite feeling like Binx’s training is never going to end, when once I lost tears and sweat over him I can now sometimes smile and laugh at his funny little quirks.