Reach For The Stars: A Positive Outlook

Duo is a very reactive dog.  He was worse years ago when we became a failed foster for him knowing the only option for him was likely euthanasia. Well, no…I think we just got used to the Duo-isms and quirks, though I’m not totally sure what honestly happened.  The simple (and sad) fact is that he has been reactive from the start.

Duo’s reactive behavior varies somewhat but it is usually focused on other dogs (although he did blow up at a tank of feeder fish this weekend… *eye roll* ..’cuz those fish were totally going to massacre him!) and usually if there is a barrier that allows him to act like Billy Bad Ass.  The facade he puts on really isn’t all that great.  He puts on a good show – especially with my parent’s old and obese Labrador who sees through his bluff every. single. time.  You would think he would learn, right?  Nope, not Duo.  He keeps trying and gets a good what for for his troubles.

Taking him to my parent’s house is one thing.  If he blows his top there, they know he is all bark and no bite.  However, taking him into public…yeah, that’s a whole different can of worms.  We usually end up getting a lot of looks.  People stare and then walk the other direction while we work to bring him out of his meltdown.  It really isn’t a pretty sight and he looks absolutely evil when he does it.

Thankfully, he came to us with a relatively firm grasp on the basics of obedience – sit, down..come…okay, maybe not that good on recall!  That, thankfully is even starting to improve with patience (a lot of patience!) and time.  If he hadn’t come with the basic skills he would have been an utter nightmare.

That being said, he is utterly terrified of overly harsh training methods. Corrections on a pinch collar that any of my other dogs would take and go “That all you got?!” causes him to hit the floor with his tail tucked between his legs. You can also forget about an electronic training collar (even with the tone or vibration feature) because his fear becomes an almost tangible beast at the sight of it.  It’s honestly the most pathetic thing I have seen in a long time.

We don’t know what exactly happened to him before he came to us in May 2009, but it scared him pretty badly. It has taken us almost three years to build up his confidence enough to really begin to touch on his fear-based barrier frustration. (We had originally thought it was dog aggression/reactivity because of what we think his breed history might be until we realized he was fine with other dogs unless a leash, a fence or even a crate door was blocking him.)

Now that we have eliminated what doesn’t work with him we are going to give something semi-new a try – clicker training. Duo will be re-introduced to the clicker again and we will work from the ground up once more to see if we can get him to be civil in public versus the rabid honey badger he currently is so he is able to enjoy more liberties like the rest of the pack.

Along with a more positive approach, we are going to give the Freedom harness a shot too. Our friend Liz over at Pit Bull Zen swears by it for her own reactive girl, Inara. With knowing how much work Liz has put into Inara and seeing the results in person, I have no doubt that we are making the right choice for our rescue ragamuffin.

With time, patience and work I have no doubts we will get him where he needs to be – even after all he has been through. The only direction we have left to go is up and we will aim for the stars.

Amazing what time and patience does.
Left: Rescue intake photo | Right: Two year anniversary with us.

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