So it has been a very busy year with lots of changes and improvements. There have been lots of ups and downs but we are nearly there.
A year ago I started the journey of doing behavior sessions with a trained behaviourist we did four sessions to start with to give me the skills needed to help my dog and me along the way with the added benefit of me being able to contact her at anytime with any questions I had. Which to start off with I was texting her constantly with questions or updates with what was going on and seeing if I handled a situation the correct way thankfully she had a lot of patience for me and reassured me quite a bit that we were doing ok and making progress although at the time it really did not feel like it.
First things first I had to learn to read my dogs signals, from the little twitches of her ears to her tail moving a certain way. It took a couple months to learn how to read her and to know what she was telling me but now majority of the time I know what’s up when she tells me. The easiest way to learn what they are telling you is when in different situations study them and learn what they do in each step they take. Sometimes if your not paying attention you can miss important signals and then when they do react it will seem out of the blue or unreasonable when in actual fact they warned you.
Each dog is different so will improve in different ways or with different training techniques. The one that will always work is remaining calm throughout the walk. Our dogs pick up on our emotions and although it’s sometimes difficult to admit we can make our dogs react a lot worse because of the way we are feeling. If we are waiting for a reaction then they will give us one. To start off with when they are reacting badly majority of the time it can be very difficult not to react in that way ourselves but we have to try to remain carefree and calm throughout the walk.
I know with my girl Khaleesi it took a few months to see improvement and to not feel like she was either a lost cause or that she was too much work every time we went outside the house. However I stuck with it because I knew with time she would get better no matter how bad she was in the moment I knew she could only get better. Don’t get me wrong she had never attacked nor bitten another dog or person but that didn’t mean that every time she lunged barked or growled at another dog I still felt my heart sink and got the feeling that we weren’t getting anywhere. Well a year on we’ve made huge progress and I’m so proud of how far we’ve come. It’s rewarding to know that my behaviourist uses us as an example for other people with reactive dogs to see how far you can go if you put the time and effort in and boy did it require a lot of effort.
Don’t get me wrong she has a long way to go! She still occasionally barks at other dogs, especially if an off lead dog is running up to her face (that’s her worst nightmare) or if a small dog is running around nearby she gets scared as she was attacked last month by a small dog. The owner allowed the dog to run up to her face off lead and Leesi barked twice to try get it not to rush up to her face but because she barked the dog attacked her. Eventually the owner caught up to her dog and got it off but she was surprised her dog attacked saying it had never done that before. Thankfully she was ok but developed a blood shot eye a day after which is now all healed. Hopefully the owner will now not let her dog run up to another dog that is on lead.
If you see another dog that is on a lead, put your dog on lead. It doesn’t matter if your dog is “friendly” the other dog may not be, or may need space away from other dogs.
A big part of her training was group walks. Whether it be big group walks that my behaviourist organised or whether it be a smaller one with 2 or 3 other German Shepherds it all played a part. To start with she wore a muzzle and stayed on lead at the back, then she was allowed to go on a long line and then she was allowed off lead – still with a muzzle on. Nowadays she doesn’t wear a muzzle at all but to start with she did as she needed to get used to playing with other dogs and she’s a bit nippy when playing, she sometimes still is but if it’s too much we stop them playing so that it doesn’t get out of hand. She has a best friend a blue GSD called Petra who is a few months older and are both eager to play but also like trying to get the other one in trouble! We don’t let them play when they first meet on the walk as they are too excited and the play is too rough (it can get out of hand very easily if Leesi misreads the situation) but once calmed down they both play brilliantly with each other.
I took a chance at the beginning of this year and messaged a lady who had four German shepherds that lived nearby if we could meet up for a walk and explained that my girl was reactive. She agreed and we go walking once maybe twice a week, she owns Petra one of Leesi’s good friends who she can relax with. She has told me before that although Leesi had improved quite drastically when we met that Leesi was one of the most reactive dog she’s met and although it’s all a display it looked quite impressive. Thankfully she didn’t turn and run away she gave us a chance and after 10 minutes Leesi calmed down and we had a lovely walk to start with Leesi had her muzzle on but after a few walks together she didn’t need to wear it and we’ve been teaching her how to behave around other dogs and to play nicely. She’s still learning but she’s getting there and is so much better playing with other dogs now.
She is a lot smaller then other shepherds but what she lacks in height she makes up for in speed! She is definitely my pocket rocket and she loves to run. I haven’t yet found a dog that can keep up with her but she will slow down for other dogs or they will cheat and cut corners to be able to catch up with her. She really does love running and it’s helped her a lot with reactivity. We do canicross together and I also have a dog runner come when I’m at work and she will take her with other dogs as well. She started canicross a year ago and to start with was very careful with how she introduced other dogs to her and often got her to wear a muzzle. She quickly became fast friends with the dog runners black lab Loki who is very happy go lucky and whenever she sees him has to have a good play with him they both also have a big love for water so like to go swimming together too.
Now a year on she actually uses Leesi to teach new dogs learn the ropes of canicross or bikejor. When she’s with Emily who does the canicross ect she is a complete star and will behave as if she is a normal dog that isn’t nervous, part of Leesi’s problem is that she is also a bit protective of me and she also isn’t running all the time with me so her mind isn’t always busy making it easy for her to focus on other dogs more.
We are slowly getting there though through a lot of hard work, patience and time she is finally nearly there. We still have a way to go but it’s just small things now, like trying to stop her barking altogether, and increasing her ability off lead around other dogs. She can see a dog when she’s off lead and she’ll stop and wait for me to call her back but she will only wait a couple of minutes and if I don’t call her back she will run up barking at the dog so we definitely need to work on that but slowly she is getting better at it. At least now she can meet new dogs and with a proper introduction after 5 minutes she will be fine and is happy to play with them.
I try to introduce new dogs to her every now and then but as she is young I also like her to have consistency in her life. So some times we walk with young dogs where she can play and sometimes we walk with older mature dogs that she can learn from and grow with. All in all she’s like a different dog from last year or from earlier this year and I can’t wait to see what she is like 6 months down the line.