When I first brought Risa home, she was absolutely terrified of people. At the time, we lived on the third floor of an apartment complex. As you might expect, we had to travel the hallways and stairwells fairly frequently. Passing people was a common occurrence and a very scary event for Risa. The halls were narrow and, every time we got close to a person, Risa would bolt to the end of her leash in a frantic attempt to get as far away as possible. This happened when we were on the stairs as well; I’m amazed I was never pulled down.
It was very frustrating for me. I was certainly not the trainer I am today and found myself angry with her for her responses rather than sympathetic. Despite my actions in the halls, I did work with her on becoming more comfortable with people. I encouraged her to take treats from people we saw at the pet store. I invited friends over and had our fellow students at training class work with her. Still, I did nothing to help her overcome her concerns when we passed people in the hall. I simply never thought about it.
As time went on, however, she began to realize that the people we passed were not out to get her. After all, most of them simply ignored us. With no effort from me, Risa decided they were no threat. In time, she began to reach out and ‘sniff them on the fly’ as we passed. At the time, I didn’t want her sniffing people as we walked by them. I didn’t want a dog who felt the need to sniff every single person in the world (not to mention not everyone wants a dog doing that to them). But I didn’t want to tell her she couldn’t do it either. She was finally interested in people. Risa was showing curiosity rather than fear. So, while I didn’t like the behavior she was offering, I had no idea how to stop it. Fortunately for me, it eventually went away as she gained even more confidence around people. Risa no longer feels the need to check out everyone she sees. She understands that most people are just part of the scenery and are no threat to her.
At this point in time, I would consider Risa a recovering reactive dog. She’s pretty well-managed and generally non-reactive. But she still has moments when she falls off the wagon. 🙂
Looking back, I’m seeing a few parallels between Risa’s current actions in regards to passing other dogs and her improvements around human beings. Right now, Risa seems to spend more time trying to sniff dogs as we pass them rather than put on an aggressive display. (Her other usual alternative is moving away and/or offering calming signals which I also find acceptable.) I feel the same way about her sniffing dogs as we pass by as I felt about her doing the same with people. I would rather she not do it. But I cannot ‘correct’ it because it’s actually a great thing! Curiosity is the exact opposite of fear!! I do, however, feel better when I think about how she used to do this with people and no longer does. While I have actively spent time creating positive associations around dogs and still work on this daily rather than simply doing nothing as I did with people, I am confident that Risa will stop investigating dogs on walks some day. Until then, I will smile at her desire to check out the scary rather than hold onto her fears.