When you have a reactive dog, there are inherent responsibilities. Of course, there are tons of responsibilities for even the kindest of souls, but it’s heavier when your dog poses a risk for another person or dog.
A couple years ago, all three dogs were standing at the back door. I was chatting on the phone with my mom. John was out of town. It was a beautiful day, so I let them out and continued my conversation. I heard Lucas start barking. For a few seconds I tuned it out – he barks a lot – but this little flag went up somewhere in my brain. I told my mom to hold on.
He was barking – furiously – but it wasn’t in the yard. It was far away.
I dropped the phone and ran outside. Our gate was open.
Now, having Lucas, when we moved here in 2008, we promptly locked the gate and put the keys in the house. Some time later, because of significant erosion, the latches no longer lined up so we secured it with zip ties. On this particular day, I discovered too late that the zip ties had snapped.
All I could see were all three dogs careening down the middle of the road, straight toward a landscaping crew. The three guys were flipping out. I don’t blame them. At all. Here are three HUGE dogs barreling down the road at you? I’d flip out, too! One was brandishing a leaf blower, which was causing Lucas’ barking frenzy.
I yelled and asked the guy to grab at least one of them – he yelled back “NO!” – so I called Emmett, Mr. Reliable, who about-faced and tore back home.
I called Cooper, who hadn’t gotten as far as the other two yet, and he turned around and ran back, but he turned too soon – instead of into our yard, he barreled straight down the line between our fence and the neighbor’s house. I didn’t realize that right away because I was sprinting after Lucas.
My dog-reactive dog. My dog-reactive dog who once attempted to bite a stranger in the very park he was running toward. My dog-reactive, bite-attempting dog who is terrified – TERRIFIED – of noise-making lawn equipment like leaf blowers and mowers and trimmers.
All of which he was running toward, barking his face off.
And then… by some miracle… the Dog Gods were watching over us… he got distracted by something exciting on a porch a couple houses down. Instead of continuing toward the landscapers and toward the park and far, far away from me… he veered… he stopped… he sniffed.
At which point, I said his name in Firm Tone. Called him. He didn’t come. But that distraction gave me just enough time to grab him.
By the time we were heading back – all of this happening in one barf-inducing minute or two – Cooper had realized he ran the wrong way and circled back. I brought Lucas into the yard with the other two. Closed the gate. Called John and told him to buy steel bike locks.
Then, I sat in the grass and cried.
Truly, it took me several hours to fully calm down. My hands shook. My heart pounded. Tears flowed.
And then I realized how miraculous the whole thing was. We live in a dog-heavy neighborhood, a mere block from a park. There are kids, dogs, bikes, walkers, joggers, anybody you can imagine out all the time. There wasn’t a dog to be seen. They were running down the road, and there were no cars.
But what would’ve happened that day if someone HAD been walking a dog past at that moment?
I honestly can’t even think about that. What would’ve happened. It kept me up at night for a long time.
But this whole long story is to say: Being a responsible pet owner is so incredibly important. But no matter how hard you try, no matter how vigilant and diligent you are, accidents happen. I am the person who won’t let Lucas walk into the garage and jump in the car without holding his leash because what if – WHAT IF – a dog is in the alley?
I live my life with Lucas expecting there to be dogs everywhere. Everywhere. I plan relentlessly. He has his harness and his leather buckle collar. We have trained and trained and trained. And when we took all the classes at one facility, we found another and took their classes. We take cheese everywhere. We walk him where we have good lines of sight. He’s improved tremendously – more than I ever hoped for him, really – but despite that improvement, Lucas is still a dog-reactive dog.
And I am responsible for him.
I know this isn’t a helpful post. It’s not useful, and there are no tips or tricks or how-tos for being responsible for a reactive dog. But people with dog-reactive dogs are so hard on themselves. I read posts and articles where people question themselves and their decisions and “what if” situations – just like I did with this one – until you feel so down, despite making progress with your dog!
The bottom line is what I know you all already do: Just do your best. Have the right equipment. Train as much as time and money allow with force-free methods. Skip walks if they’re unsafe. Be grateful for how wonderful your dog is – even if the rest of the world doesn’t get to see it. We all make mistakes. The trick is to try to stay calm, learn what you can, then move on.
And buy saw-proof steel bike locks for your gate.