DEALING WITH THE BLIPS
A few of our sensitive dogs have had difficult experiences with other dogs that have been out of control on walks recently.
CONTROLLING THE ENVIRONMENT
We can only go so far to control what happens on walks and it can get trickier as our sensitive dogs become more confident. As soon as we start gradually exposing them to other dogs, we risk coming across dogs that are out of control. And this seems to happen increasingly in places where dogs are meant to be on-lead.
ONE ENCOUNTER CAN UPSKITTLE MONTHS OF WORK
Having an unfamiliar dog come bouncing up to one of our sensitive dogs can make him or her feel very uneasy around other dogs. This often un-does months of work building confidence and teaching coping strategies. Even more difficult to deal with is getting chased and bitten (which has happened to two of our sensitive dogs lately). It can cause deep-seated damage. And, again: it's likely to un-do all the months of hard work our families have been doing.
This bothers me. I'm not much of one for having a rant on social media. But we are getting increasing numbers of dogs coming to us who have been bounced, harrased or attacked by other dogs who are out of control on walks. Letting a dog approach an on-lead dog is irresponsible and thoughtless- especially if they're clearly trying to get away.
BACK TO BASICS
So how do we support our dogs after they have had any kind of set-back? We go right back to basics and give them a 2 week decompression period where we make everything in our dog's world:
SAFE: avoid triggers completely. If there is anything that has triggered your dog in the past (cars, bikes, people etc), avoid them again for 2 weeks (or as long as needed to start gradually build confidence again). Then gradually re-expose in safe places where you won't come across off-lead dogs. If your dog has dog friends who are safe and calm, these can be good experiences during the 2 weeks of decompression, but make sure all interaction between them is Thinking-Dog: Calm, Connected, Comfortable = self-controlled.
SMALL: make your dog’s world smaller. Keep to familiar, short walks and replace the length of those walks with calming, nourishing Sniff Trails in the garden. Avoid anything that is likely to stress or over-arouse your dog for 2 weeks until her/his system has settled again. Avoid taking her/him out to places - pottering around the house and garden will help calm everything down again. If there are dogs that your dog is happy to spend time with, keep these encounters short and calm. Small, short sessions together can re-build confidence.
SLOW: take time doing the above before very slowly extending walk length and re-exposure to triggers. Re-exposure may take weeks with some dogs - they're all individuals and your dog will let you know when s/he is ready to venture a bit further.
DEALING WITH THE MOMENT
Our dogs need us to deal with upsetting encounters in a way that makes them feel safe. If another dog scares or damages your dog, the most important thing your dog needs is for you to get her/him away as quickly and calmly as possible. No matter how much we may want to yell at another owner, or explain to them how their dog has affected ours. This is the last thing our dogs need. Because, as soon as we do that, we're filling the air with our raised adrenaline and cortisol, which our dogs can smell and which adds to their upset. We're also continuing to expose them to the proximity of the other dog, which will be adding another layer of upset.
If there is more than one of you walking your dog, you all need to walk away. Don't have one of you stay behind to engage with the other dog's people. This will add a futher layer of upset to your dog because you will be staying around the danger area. No matter how angry we feel, we need to look to our dogs and get them away so that they feel safe.
Do whatever you need to do to help yourself calm down. When our dgs are bothered by something, it generally bothers us and some of us can feel upset or angry for some time. Sensitive dogs tend to feel very attuned to their families and our moods can have a profound impact on them. Once you're home, have a big mug of tea and a huuuge wodge of cake! Whatever it takes to get you back to feeling ok.
SAFE SMALL SLOW
Our families have put the above strategies in place (not necessarily the cake bit....) and we're seeing dogs and people (!) start to feel more settled and confident again. It will take time with some of them, but they're all getting there 😊🐾
And here is Alf showing us the polite way to be around other dogs. Plus how much he loves his dad!