I’ve mentioned before that Risa is my teacher dog. Sometimes I feel like she’s out to teach me everything one could possibly experience with dog ownership! From fearfulness, reactivity, raw feeding, homecooked dog diets, cancer, GI problems, traditional/holistic medicine, chiropractic care, dog sports, dealing with frustration, clicker training, etc. . . I’ve learned a lot from her. The newest thing she feels I need to learn is how to deal with a dog who wants to say “Hi” to everyone.
Yes. You heard me right. My fearful, reactive dog now has difficulty not going up to people and dogs she doesn’t know. “How is this a problem?” you may ask. Part of this new development is nice. After all, she’s more likely to investigate a dog who gets too close rather than try and aggressively chase him away. This allows me to relax a bit more (which is a nice change!). However, she’s starting to want to check out everyone and every dog. If we see a person, she’s drawn to them. When a dog is nearby, she wants to see who they are–especially if they turn away from her. Her nose is drawn to their rear like a magnet!
I find it hard to get upset with her; curiosity is the opposite of fear. But I worry she’s going to try and sniff the wrong dog setting off a reactive meltdown (possibly for both dogs). She also may find a dog who, after the initial greeting, wants to play. I know she doesn’t want to play with every dog she meets and this forwardness on the part of the other dog could set her off and potentially cause more negative experiences with dogs which she doesn’t need. It’s also a problem because it’s causing a loss of focus and concentration when she’s supposed to be working with me. It doesn’t help that people are unintentionally reinforcing her curiosity by petting her either.
It’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve had to tackle this issue with several of my foster dogs. The main issue with Risa is, as always, focus. She needs to learn when it’s okay to meet and greet and when she has to work. But the blame can’t fall onto her. I’m not always clear with her on when it’s okay to greet and when it’s not. When I do allow her to say “Hi,” I’ve forgotten to release her with a “Go say ‘Hi'” 90% of the time. So I need to be more consistent. I also need to find people who can follow directions and not continue petting my dog when I’ve made it clear I want her working with me and not visiting. (This is probably the hardest part because, even in our training classes, people feel obligated to pet her when she ditches me to investigate them!)
Who would have thought I would have this problem with my dog? It’s great to see her more comfortable and confident. However, I also have to keep in mind that she is not confident. Yes, she is still fearful of people and dogs. Some of the people she investigates are fine until they try and pet her. Then she backs away. Some of the dogs she meets are also potential playmates. . .but she won’t play with a dog she’s just met. It’s sort of sad, really, to see a dog initiate play with her and watch Risa turn and walk away. It just takes her time to warm up to new friends. After several meetings, I have no doubt she’d be willing to romp with her new buddy. It just won’t happen right away.
I also know other dogs, in general, still cause her some stress and anxiety. We’ve been practicing group stays in our obedience class (even though I have no intention of doing them in competition) and she’s done really well. However, if another dog even shifts position, she shows minor stress signals like lip licks. I reward her heavily during these sessions as I know it’s incredibly difficult for her and I want it to be a positive experience. But it’s just further proof that she’s only more confident in general. . .yet still a fearful dog at heart.
Makes me wonder what else she’s out to teach me next. I still have a lot to learn. 🙂