A story of a Reactive Dog

Oscar’s story

Animals do speak, but only to those who know how to listen

Orhan Pamuk

the Beginning

Oscar came to live with us at 8 weeks old, he moved into a 4 dog household consisting of two 10 year old Brussels Griffons, Scrappy and Talulah, a nine month old Dogue De Bordeaux, Elsa and Malik a 9 year old Rottweiler. He fitted right in, Elsa loved him, Talulah provided motherly discipline and Malik and Scrappy accepted him into our home and got on fine. Oscar used to walk with his housemates, he’d happily approach other dogs, say “hello” and walk on. He loved to play with Elsa and also loved snuggling up to her.

When Oscar was about 5 months old,we were on holiday in North Wales. Malik had been struggling to walk and when we took him to the vets, we discovered he had a tumour on his knee and in his stomach. We had to make a sad decision to have him put to sleep. We were fortunate enough to be able to take Elsa, Oscar, Scrappy and Talulah into the vets to say goodbye and see Malik at peace.

When Oscar was 6 months old, tragedy struck. Elsa, at 15 months passed away. This was so awful that it still raises a lot of grief and sadness just thinking about it. She had a virus and had been to the vets several times over the weeks. We had to go out one afternoon to visit a friend in hospital, on our return we found her dead in the armchair. It was so horrific, I have no words to describe how we felt losing our beautiful girl.

After Elsa

Oscar continued to have his walks with Talulah and Scrappy as well as come along on some of the group walks. He had enjoyed being and playing with all the other dogs who came out since he was old enough to walk with them.

I would say that losing two main dogs in his life, in such a short time, had a massive impact on Oscar. This, and going through adolescence, most likely caused him to become reactive towards other dogs virtually over night. I’d also like to add, that not knowing what I do now, we probably didn’t handle things as well as we could have done. I have learnt so much about a dogs emotional state over the years and in hindsight wish I had known then, what I know now.

The reactivity seemed to happen overnight. Oscar went from a happy go lucky puppy to a scared reactive teenager. He could walk past several dogs, but would suddenly react to one, lunging on his lead. He found it difficult to cope with anything out of place on the roads, if we walked him into town and there was a traffic cone, Oscar would totally freak out. One morning when I was out with him, he actually attacked a dog, he had been off lead and I put him on his lead as the dog approached. Oscar managed to pull the lead out of my hand and I had to pull him off the dog. A lot of emotions flying, human and dog.

We had a few incidents when Oscar pounced on another dog and bit them. One of the dogs was a dog he had walked with since being a puppy, so totally out of the blue, after that we did not let Oscar near any dogs intentionally. We would walk in remote places, keep Oscar on a lead, or put him on a line when we knew there wasn’t anyone about.

Too Scared to Walk Him

As Oscar grew and got heavier and stronger we got to the point where neither of us wanted to walk him on our own. We would only take him out together and go to places that were open, where we could see if anyone else was around, or we would pay to go to a secure field. It was so stressful, even getting him out to the van, was like going on a SAS mission, making sure the coast was clear, hiding if we saw anyone. If we were out in public space, one of us would walk ahead to make sure the coast was clear. We would go out at ridiculous times, incredibly early or very late. You also learn that this is when all other people take their reactive dogs out. All in all, it was becoming too stressful and causing lots of arguments between us.

Two days before we were due to go on holiday with Oscar, I was out early in the morning. Oscar was on a long line, unfortunately he spotted something before I did and ran. The line slipped out of my hand, giving chase, I heard a scream before I actually saw a woman with her dog, Oscar was on top of it. I have no idea if Oscar attacked, or if the other dog went for Oscar first. Either way it resulted in a large vet bill and I’m sure, all involved were suffering from terrible shock. This put a complete downer on the holiday in Pembrokeshire, we had been looking forward to. In hindsight, poor Oscar suffered this terrible ordeal, with no recovery time, was put in the van and taken on a 6 hour drive to a place he didn’t know. The only positive out of this, was that the place we had rented to stay in, was quite remote, with it’s own driveway and garden, with just fields around.

Finding a Solution

We were now determined that Oscar would never be put in a position where he could injure another dog, or cause himself such emotional distress again. When we got back from holiday I wanted to revisit dog behaviour and find a way to help Oscar. I found a Canine Body Language workshop running in Brighton. I attended the workshop run by Alex Wilson at XTRA-DOG Training, the course was fascinating and it was interesting to meet a variety of people, all attending in order to help their own dogs or dogs that they worked with. From attending the workshop I had a desire to learn more about communicating with dogs and signed up to The Dog Training College (DTC) to complete the Canine Body Language Specialist Course and I have carried on my learning journey with them completing the Puppy Specialist Course, Reactive Rascals. After this I completed another puppy training course with School of Canine Science (SOCS).

https://dogtrainingcollege.co.uk

In 2020 we embarked on work with a Dog Behaviourist to help Oscar. Gemma O’leary, who lives in Gloucestershire, provided the sessions via zoom. I was a little skeptical at first, wondering how she could help without meeting Oscar in person, but she was wonderful. Over the weeks we worked with on his reactivity and our feelings towards taking him out, we saw an amazing improvement in not only Oscar’s confidence, but ours as well we were enthralled out how quickly he could learn new things, without long tedious training sessions. The rule was to keep sessions short and sweet, allowing Oscar to process his learning.

https://www.gemmasdogtraining-behaviour.com/

At the beginning of this year I enrolled on the DTC Dog Trainer Certification Programme. I am coming to the end of their 6 month course, this has covered such a wide range of topics and had some of the worlds leading experts share their knowledge. Force Free is the way-to-go, for ensuring your best friend is treated and taught in the most suitable way for them to learn. It is based in science and years of knowledge into the best methods for teaching your dog. I say teaching, as your dog has a brain and is an emotional being, in a similar way to a child. So just as we don’t expect our babies to know everything lets understand that our dogs need to be taught how to live in our world, in a similar way that our children do.

We have come on a long journey of learning, Oscar is now 6 1/2 years old and I can say that he is a much calmer happier dog and has a great quality to life. In a way I’ve had to unlearn what I thought I knew about dogs and open my mind to a new way of thinking.

If you have a dog that barks and lunges, bites you, or people you come into contact with, tries to attack other dogs. If you feel ashamed to go out, have to go out incredibly early in the morning or late at night, have to jump into hedge rows, hide behind cars or other inanimate objects, then I’d be happy to share how Oscar came from being reactive to calm.

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