Why you know more than your vet about what is best for your reactive dog

So it’s been over a year since I wrote a blog about Buddy’s journey. So where do we start about whats happened over the last 12 months?

It’s all been very hard to share but I can talk more about it now that his behaviour has improved and we are in a better place. And I really wanted to share why, as an owner of a reactive dog, YOU know what is best for your dog better than anyone else ever will.

Buddy is 2 and half now. And early 2021 we attempted to visit the vets for his yearly injections now that they were seeing people in the practice again as before I hadn’t wanted to leave him alone.

After a conversation on the phone, they agreed that they would come out to the car park and vaccinate him while I had him in a middle position from behind. He would be muzzled and hopefully, it would be over and done with so quickly he wouldn’t know.

When I arrived the vet thought she knew better and wanted to see Buddy inside. She wanted to give him a once over as she hadn’t seen him for so long. I said that he didn’t like being touched by me let alone a vet so it wasn’t a good idea. But she said she would stop if he wasn’t happy. She then said I wasn’t allowed to stay in the room with him.

She promised that the moment he was upset she would stop.

Basically, the whole event ended up with me having to listen to my dog snarling, barking and snapping in the next room at which point I had to ask the reception desk to go and ask the vet to stop what she was doing.

The vet asked me to come in and agreed that Buddy wasn’t happy with me out of the room.

But it was all too late.

Buddy was backed into the corner. Terrified. The damage that had been done. All of the work we were doing to build trust around people just crumbled. It was ruined. By these strange people with masks and visors that were attempting to do something scary to my fearful and anxious dog.

I felt like a failure for not advocating for my dog. I should have put my foot down. I should have done more.

I also knew that now I had an even longer way to go to get anywhere near back to where we were. I was devastated.

After the visit Buddy was reacting more to people than ever before. I was finding it hard to even get from the front door, to the car, without him lunging and barking fearfully at anyone he could see from the house. And even at a distance.

I wouldn’t let anyone coming into the house be in the same room as him. Friends or family. He was in a pen or a crate or another room because of his reactions. Over the summer I even kept his time with my parents, who he knew well, really short as I could see him get fearful after being around them for too long and would need a rest to empty away from them.

He was on edge. He was constantly predicting what someone might do every time they moved near him. And the same went for us. When I tried to put a lead on him, occasionally he might give a little head snap. Every movement Buddy was watching and wondering what was going to happen. I needed to re-build my relationship with him.

I have spent the majority 2021 doing just that.

I stopped going to in-person training classes and we trained mainly from home. I put time and energy into Buddy understanding that he could trust me. I got my son and husband more involved than ever before. There are lots of changes we made to the environment at home to make sure there were no reasons for him to worry. We made sure bones weren’t left laying around. That things couldn’t be accidentally chewed and then guarded. Often a lack of confidence translates into other behaviours such as resource guarding and Buddy had displayed some guarding. I needed to protect him and us.

We moved Vets to an amazing practice that deals with a lot of reactive dogs. Anxious dogs that have come from abroad where little is known about their history. They displayed amazing understanding with Buddy and were happy for me to bring him in when no one else was around for a sniff and explore. We didn’t get to the point of anyone actually touching Buddy and he snapped when a Vet was close too close to him.

Buddy was still showing too many fearful signs that I decided that I still needed to take it back a step. If he was still barking and lunging at strangers on a walk, then it was going to be very hard to get any kind of trust in a new environment such as a vet practice. We needed to work more on confidence and disengagement amongst other things.

The vets asked if I wanted a referral to a behaviourist. I already work with an amazing dog trainer who although not an ‘official’ behaviourist, specialises in dog behaviour and has more knowledge about collies than any other trainer I know.

I did wonder if it would be worth talking to my trainer’s coach who was a Vet behaviourist about medication. I mentioned it to my trainer and we agreed that in Buddys case it would be an idea to get an opinion. It was covered under my insurance anyway so I booked in.

I saw the Tom Mitchell at Behavet and we discussed Buddy. He suggested that medication may be the way to go to take the edge off of Buddy’s anxiety. We have shown that we have come a long way, but with Buddys history and hyper vigilance, medication may take the edge off of his anxiety to help the training sink in.

So roll on 6 months and I’m pleased to say that it absolutely has.

In fact this week we have managed two walks from the front of the house, with people walking past, with no lunging or barking, nor any lunging or barking at people we see around our local field.

At Christmas he was also able to be in the same room and approach and ask for fuss from both of my step daughters, and one of their partners. The last time Buddy saw him some months ago he made it very clear he was not happy that he was in the house!

Buddy is still anxious, still fearful and still reacts to noises (and most definitely movement!) but his control, and his disengagement is coming along amazingly well. He knows he has me as his safety net and is finding his own coping mechanisms in tricky situations.  I’ll explain more in future blogs how and what we’ve been doing.

But what I wanted to share first and foremost is that you know your dog better than anyone else. If you don’t feel comfortable dong something with them, then don’t. Be your dogs advocate. Reactivity is just a label and I don’t like using it. But it’s a label that people understand. They are very special, very sensitive dogs, and we must look after those sensitivities and nurture our dogs. Big stressful negative events, like the one that happened to Buddy, take many positive events to correctly re-wire those pathways.

If you have an anxious or fearful dog you can come and join our free facebook group. It’s for emotional support, a shoulder to lean on, and to celebrate those little wins that only we understand.

3 comments

  1. What a cracking dog, all your efforts will be rewarded. I only have to look at Buddy’s eyes to see that all he wants is love and security, you will get there, we had a few problems with our rescue but she turned out to be a family member and was in fact more popular than us or so it seemed. We lost her last year after 16 years and can’t bring ourselves to have another dog….yet.

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  2. Your story with Buddy is amazing Sam. The understanding and effort you put into taking care of his needs is amazing. He is a lucky dog to have you in his corner. Thanks for sharing this. Your honesty always helps me not to feel alone and gives me hope.

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