One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with as an owner of a recovering ‘reactive’ dog is other people’s unsolicited advice.
If you own a dog like Buddy you will know exactly what I mean! There is always that one person you know (or total stranger) who just loves to tell you what to do and knows everything.
It might be a family member who’s had dogs all their lives. They have seen it all. Their dog barked a lot? They soon sorted them out and they will tell you exactly what you need to do. Or they tell you that you aren’t firm enough. Or your dog is trying to ‘dominate’ you.
Maybe it’s someone who has already been through training with their dog. It worked for their dog so the same training should work for your dog but you ‘just aren’t doing it hard enough’
Or the super annoying comment. ‘He’ll never change you know. You just have to accept that he’s the way he is and that’s it’
It might even be online when you haven’t actually asked for advice. Maybe you were just celebrating something that was seemingly small for other people but it’s a huge win for you and your dog. Which is then dampened by some unsolicited advice about what you can try next time. Or where you might be going wrong. Suddenly you are bombarded with lots of dog training comments on the best way to ‘fix’ your dog.
So what do you do when other people offer advice about your reactive dog that you didn’t even ask for – and to be honest – don’t even want! Here are a few things you can say or do in those moments so that you protect your optimism, continue to have a good day and not dwell on anything that someone might say to you. These are the kinds of things I say and do – feel free to use them!
You are already working with a trainer/behaviourist
I say this a lot.
One I usually use with strangers. When my dog is barking/lunging or has done something that feels pretty embarrassing. And its followed up with a bit of advice from someone I don’t know, I tell them straight out that I’m already working with a trainer and a Vet Behaviourist and it’s actually going really well. If you are not feeling particularly positive or great in that moment (and trust me – I’ve been close to tears in moments like those) Just saying out loud how great the training is going and that your dog is just having an off day, fills you with confidence too.
It’s also usually enough to stop any conversation from escalating. The last thing you need in that moment is to hear lots of different ideas that are going to take you away from what you are already doing with your trainer and question what you already know.
Smile, nod and move the conversation on
This is often when it involves a family member. You can’t get away. Maybe you are in the same room at a family gathering, there are lots of people about and you just don’t want to get into an argument or discussion about your dog’s training plan. You’ve tried to tell them you’ve got a trainer and its all going great, but it’s just not sinking in. Best thing to do? Smile and nod, and then change the conversation.
Remember. You know what’s best for your dog. You and the professionals that you are working with. You spend more hours with your dog than anyone else. So just let it go, let them get it off their chest and then move on. You don’t need to be rude. Some people genuinely do think they are helping. They don’t often have any idea of how it actually feels to be on the other end.
Tell them how it is
I’ve had to do this before. A few times. You don’t have to be mean or rude – its just being assertive.
Someone was convinced that they could stroke my dog. That it would be fine. I asked twice for them to stand back. But they bent down and got really close arm outstretched towards my dogs face. They told me ‘don’t worry if he bites me it’s my fault’
I had to be really assertive as in that moment, Buddy was experiencing a lot of stress and would have been totally unpredictable. I had to make it very clear that this was not cool!
They caught up with me a little later in the day and told me that eventually, at some point, Buddy would get stroked by someone and probably snap or bite. It’s going to happen sooner or later.
In that moment something switched. I wasn’t going to be told by anyone, anymore, about what my dog is and isn’t capable of.
I told this person that Buddy wont do that because he doesn’t need to be in that position in the first place. He doesn’t LIKE people he doesn’t know stroking him. Why should he? It’s his choice entirely. Because he isn’t a toy. Or a ‘thing’. He’s our family companion. He’s an intelligent animal that is doing bloody brilliantly building up relationships with people we see regularly, why would I risk ruining that with someone he doesn’t know.
When you are confident in your training, and confident in your methods, you will have complete confidence to tell people: This is is what I’m doing, this is why, and really it’s none of your business.
Those are the moments when you have to act quickly. You shouldn’t have to give an explanation, but you have to be assertive and advocate for your dog.
Practice Self Care
This is probably the most important one. As an owner of a dog that reacts badly to certain situations, life can feel a little stressful at times! Life is busy. Everyone has their own challenges. But having a dog that has extra needs is additional pressure.
So its vital that you make sure you get your self-care in so that you can be cool and calm in those moments. This self care doesn’t involve your dog.
Yes we love our dogs, we love spending time with them, and that in itself is a beautiful and fulfilling activity.
But to really and truly recharge you need to do some things where you can switch off entirely. Go for a walk on your own. Have an early night and a bath and read a book. Go out with friends. Whatever that thing is that truly fills you with joy.
That saying about putting your own oxygen mask on first is very true. The more charged you are, the more confident you will feel, and it will transfer to other areas of your life. I know as its something I’ve worked incredibly hard on for the past 12 months.
Lastly find like minded people.
We have a community over on facebook for owners of anxious and ‘reactive’ dogs.
Come and join us in a non-judgemental place where we share our ups and downs together. This isn’t a training tips community (we got fed up of the tons of conflicting advice thrown around in groups and forums) many of us have our own trainers and behaviourists. But if you need a specialist and reputable trainer then we can help with that too.
Brilliant article Sam. I totally agree with everything you said. I loved the phrase “recovering reactive dog”. I’m going to steal that and use it from now on.
You are so right about not bombarding people with advice. I often read where someone has posted a struggle and lots of others chirp in with advice. I think oh no that would just overwhelm me and I would feel like a total failure. I’ve learned to apply that to lots of other situations and just “keep my mouth shut”.
Anyway thank you again for writing this Sam you were spot on.
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