You may not know this, because I don’t often talk about it, but Hazel is a DINOS. A DINOS is a Dog in Need of Space. Of the many issues we’ve worked on, and the behaviors we’ve trained, her tendency to be reactive on-leash is one that has mostly fallen into the “management” bucket and I’m okay with that. Here’s why:
- Hazel is, by and large, the dog that I want and need her to be. Even though I am a dog trainer, her leash reactivity is an issue I’ve chosen mostly not to address.
- Sometimes, I just want to go for a walk. I don’t want to train, I don’t want to need eyes in the back of my head, so we’ve found locations where we can do just that. We have a good time, we avoid freak-outs and we’re good with that.
- There can be a lot of emotional “stuff” that goes into having a leash reactive dog. From less enjoyable and frustrating walks (for both of us), to comments from the public (Mind your own business, dude), to a dog who- plain and simple- is always ready for the next bomb to drop and ever-ready to lose her sh!t. That’s where Living with DINOS comes in.
The course, designed by the brilliant Jessica Dolce, is not about training your reactive dog. It’s about helping you not only cope with, but thrive with your dog. As she is today. Not how you’d like her to be next walk, next week, next month, next year. Jessica has expertly managed to get to the root of the issue for us humans: our emotions around the problem. And let’s face it: if you’ve got a dog who is lunging, growling, barking, and hopping all over the place at the end of her 6′ leash- you’re gonna have some emotions around it. It’s embarrassing (Yes, my dog is acting a fool at the end of her leash. Thanks, I hadn’t noticed.), it’s confusing (She loves playing with other dogs! I don’t get it!) and it’s exhausting (I just wanted to her to pee, that’s all. Why did that guy have to appear from nowhere?). Whether you’re still in the stage of thinking your dog is just a jerk on-leash and this is the way it will always be (and it may be, unless you put in some work and/or get creative about walks) or have found some solutions to making life more manageable and enjoyable for you both, the contents of the course are like a giant breath of freshly cut grass on a stress-free walk where you and your dog are soaking up the great outdoors. Not only is the material in the course brilliant, the community of people just like you and me is absolutely incredible- and one that maybe we didn’t know we needed until we found it.
In the course, you’ll learn simple dog walking tips, you’ll learn ways to manage your own stress, you’ll learn about the importance of seeing your dog as she is today. This last bit is so important because if we don’t start with what the dog can do now, we’ll never achieve our goals. They’ll always seem out of reach. We’ll always look at what other dogs can do and wonder why ours can’t (and maybe even get mad at them in the meantime, which really isn’t fair!). You’ll learn why we tend to fixate on the negatives and how to get out of it so you can more enjoy the dog in front of you. You’ll learn how to focus on you- your end of the leash, so that you’re not ever-ready to lose your sh!t the moment you walk out the door.
All of this is important because most of us really want to enjoy our dogs more, but this piece- the part about us humans and our own reactions and emotions- is so often overlooked. By dog trainers and by those of us living with a DINOS. This course gives owners of reactive dogs the chance to sit back and think- rather than always trying to fix, or panic about the next walk. One of the things that’s been so helpful for Hazel and I over the past few years is finding places to walk where I know we won’t encounter other dogs and very few people. Though Hazel’s reactivity falls more into the category of being a frustrated greeter, there are things that will set her off in a way that are more fear-based. Frustrated greeters are limited in their ability to get closer to someone because they are tethered to a human by a 6′ leash . Dogs with fear-based reactivity want to make something go away. So, the woman walking towards us with a loose, relaxed walk who asks to say hello is likely to meet a dog who twirls and leaps and sniffs and whines (OMG! OMG! Need to say hello! Can’t get there fast enough!) The man walking towards us, in an orange safety vest, looking like he’s on a mission is likely to get barked at and maybe lunged at if we are too close (That dude needs to go! And believe me, I increase distance as quickly as I can, while happy talking like a fool). Train track walkies are our favorite.
Because I’m a dog trainer, I’ve had the benefit of learning that not everything my dog does is in relation to me. She’s not reactive because she wants to be, or because she wants to make me look bad, she’s reactive because she thinks she needs to be. I, as a human with a bigger brain, have a choice in how I deal with that: I can punish her for it (by yanking on her or yelling at her- or worse), I can avoid it (by never taking her for walks), I can manage it (Like I do. TTWs for the win!) or I can work on it. Understanding the reasons why is important because then I can take the appropriate course of action. Does my dog need to meet every person or dog she encounters? No. Am I going to force her to be comfortable with the orange vested man with the purposeful walk? No. Why? Because I don’t need her to be. My bigger brain has helped me develop Get Out Of Dodge skills and the fact that I meet her where she is (Oh, you’re uncomfortable- let’s go! No problem! Yippee!) have allowed us to be successful. And my measure of success is simple: Did we both have a good time? If so, Yay! Go us!
Living with DINOS is a resource that I didn’t even know I needed. Because I’ve been able to generate solutions for Hazel and I along the way, I had forgotten the work it took to get here. And there’s nothing like good information about ways to re-connect with ourselves and our dogs and the truth is, much of the information applies to things well beyond leash reactivity (Hello, mindfulness, I’m looking at you and yes, I put my phone away on walkies *except to take pictures 😉 ). And, because we are all human, finding our tribe is always cause for celebration! This is an A+ community of people who get it, who get you and who get your dog. Jessica has masterfully created a supportive environment, one in which everyone feels safe to let their freak flag fly. Talk about a big sigh of relief.
A small, side bonus is that after about 5 years of saying dEEnos in my head, I now know the acronym is pronounced dInos. I know this because of the fantastic expert interviews that are also part of the course. Basically, I cannot say enough good things about this course. Now, take a good look at yourself in the mirror and then take a look at your dog. Brush yourself off if you had a rough walk this morning. Tell your dog that you know it’s not her fault. Promise yourself that you’ll learn how to deal with your own stress better. Promise your dog that you’ll do that so that you can better enjoy your time together.
After all, that’s why we have dogs, isn’t it?
UPDATE: Use discount code YPBY2017 from now (Monday, 2/20/2017) until Sunday, 3/19/2017 and get the course for only $25.