We are now all use to the term social distancing and keeping 2m away from people. It’s a term I would rather not know, however because of social distancing and lockdown it has made it slightly easier walking a reactive dog.
Now as I walk Frank, my own reactive dog, people cross the road and move in another direction. Which to be fair they always use to do because I put a muzzle on Frank. But now they are avoiding me because I might be the problem and not my dog. What a very refreshing change!
I still pop a muzzle on Frank though. There are 2 very simple reasons for this. If he gets over aroused on walks, which can easily happen if we have one off lead dog come too close, then the muzzle saves my knees from being bitten. When Frank is triggered, he goes into full flight or fight mode. As I’m anchoring myself down and holding him on a short lead its my knee that gets it. He has bitten me twice in the past. I learnt my lesson and now he has a muzzle.
The second reason is that some people assume that any dog who has a muzzle on is pure evil and ready to attack anyone and everyone. It’s a far from true assumption but I use it to my advantage to keep off lead dogs away from my anxious, fear reactive boy.
As we are now in lockdown less people are about. I’ve even started to relax more on my walks with Frank because I know there is now a much smaller chance of Frank seeing, let alone, meeting another dog.
I’m only walking locally to me; I’m not driving him anywhere. I’m being selective around what time I take him out, choosing 6/7pm as most people have been out and are likely having their dinner.
It makes me so happy to see him sniffing and peeing up every bush going because he is stress free in our walks. He is just being “dog” like. He isn’t anxious and worried what’s around the corner. It’s a wonderful feeling, and it will be over once we are out of lockdown, but Frank and I are enjoying this newfound freedom for now.
I would rather not be in a lockdown, its temporarily closed my business and stopped me earning, but the silver lining for me is that I can have “normal” walks with my dog.
If you are a reactive dog owner, are you still walking your reactive dog in the same places you always did? Hands up, I could be found skulking around the industrial estate after dark with Frank. It was an easy place to take him. I don’t let him off lead (unless I hire a dog field) so I didn’t need fields, and I didn’t need daylight because he was staying on lead.
But now I’m in a lockdown I’m taking him to new places in my village. Check him out by the stream the other day. Look how actual happy he looks! (I take his muzzle of for photos)
I know its hard to break that great, solid, routine you have got set up with your dog. It was a worry for me too when I started taking Frank out on “normal” walks. But I didn’t want to flaunt the rules and drive him to our normal walks. I also wanted to use my one opportunity a day to get outside to its advantage. I’ve not long moved to the village where I now live with Frank, James (my partner) and Mosie (James’s self-confessed angry cat.) The lockdown has been a perfect opportunity for us to explore our village. And Frank is doing it as well.
As I said early on, I take Frank out around dinner time. By this time of day, he is tired. If you go earlier give your dog a warm up first. Now you maybe wondering what the hell a warm up for a dog is. Well its exactly that! Basically, it’s a way of zapping your dog’s energy before you go out. I’ve successfully used it for reactive dogs, puppies and excitable dogs on my professional walks.
Things to try:
- A game of tuggy. Pet shops are still open so find one that is size appropriate for your dog. Then play tug and let them win sometimes. If tuggy is not there thing then play with their favourite fluffy toy.
- Set up a mini agility course in your garden for your dog. Use objects from around the house for your dog to go up and round, washing up bowls, small step, bench, washing line pole. The options are endless. Lure them round with some high value treats and work on one part of the course a day. Once they have mastered that part, move on to the next till you come to a point that they can do the whole mini course. Once at that point, change it up again.
- Train your dog. Teach them a new trick. A middle. Target touch. A check in. Whatever you want really. This is the ideal time to help your dog master that one thing you always wanted them to do. Lots of dog trainers will be going online now so you could invest in a one to one session with them and they will talk you through some cool things to teach your dog.
Just be mindful that on the warm up, whatever it is that you choose to do, you do not over reward with food. You won’t normally hear me say that but as you will be taking your dog out for a walk afterwards, you need to avoid them getting bloat (a serious life-threatening condition) or being sick. In this instance you should limit the food reward and use fuss and/or play as the reward instead.
How long should you do a warm up? In my opinion it should be no longer than 15 minutes. Once your dog is calming down and/or starting to tire that is your sign that it’s time for the actual walk.
If you would like some more warm up ideas/brain games, then check out my eBook Engage and Entertain.
If you are still nervous about trying a new route, take someone out with you. James’s has described his role in Frank’s walks as being like a member of the President’s security detail! When we get to a crossroad or anywhere a dog could suddenly spring out from, James goes ahead to check that there are no dogs coming along. If they are, we divert or use parked cars to stop Frank seeing the other dogs.
If there was ever a time to try a new walk with your reactive dog, its now. Give it a try, do a warm up, take some high value treats out with you and a “bodyguard.” Who knows, maybe, just maybe you will find a route that you can use again and again after lockdown ends that isn’t a creepy old industrial estate late at night.
Sally Cousins is a self confessed mad dog lady!
After being mum to several rescue dogs she decided to turn her passion in to her career and set up her own dog walking business back in 2015.
Sally not only runs her business, she also writes for her own blog and also does guest blogs for other dog businesses. You can also find Sally chatting as a guest on dog related podcasts.