My Dog Taught Me To Trust Him

Firstly, I have been so rubbish at blogging lately, so I apologise for that! Everything has been somewhat manic.

This particular post is an apology to my dog.

Trevor, I am sorry. I let you down a lot in the first few months I had you.

In the last few weeks we have made HUGE leaps forward with his reactivity towards other dogs. Initially he would pull on the lead, straining to get to the other dog and once he got there, he would snap at it. I hadn’t got a clue why this was happening! I asked on Facebook groups, I asked trainers, I read books, I talked to anyone who would listen but there was no rhyme or reason to dogs he would snap at and dogs he wouldn’t snap at. Off lead he was fine. Excitable, but fine! He didn’t bark at other dogs, didn’t growl, didn’t snarl, didn’t run away, just pulled like mad to get at them and seemingly snap them on the nose.

It has taken me 10 months of ownership but it hit me this week that I am the problem. Specifically my leash handling. I finally realised the consistent similarity between all negative dog interactions has been leash tension, so I have done an experiment which has challenged the trust I have for my dog. I only do it if I know the other dog and trust it and its owner, or if a situation is unavoidable (a loose dog running at us etc) but I drop the leash. I remove all tension from the situation, drop the leash, allow 3-5 seconds of sniffing hello, a cheery ‘Come on then!’ and Trevor turns away from the other dog to collect his reward for politely greeting. For a week now we haven’t had a single negative response from Trevor, and a few dogs have grumbled at him for being rude and he has listened. Finally we are getting somewhere and the socialisation he so desperately needs is now a positive experience, not a stressful one.

We have some work to do to ‘unteach’ this tension, but we are getting there. He will happily say hello to most dogs and even sits in the back of the car off leash with one of his friends now. Before if a dog approached I tried counter-conditioning, I tried BAT training, I tried flat out running away, but all of those things involved leash tension. So I taught him to walk on a loose lead, and if he walks on a loose lead, his reward is getting to greet the dog. I believe this is called the Premack principle. As a result, other dogs are now a positive experience!

We are still working on off leash excitement as he was evidently never taught what appropriate play is, but thats another hurdle. For now I am happy that my dog has taught me to trust him, but it took me 10 months to get there!

So I am sorry, Trevor for not trusting you more, and teaching you to be tense around other dogs

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