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  • Writer's pictureCassidy

A Rescue, a Golden, a Puppy. Oh my!

Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast

Hello and welcome back to the Spicy Dog Mama podcast. It's episode two if you are back for another round or if this is your first time listening, I'm your host Cassidy - dog mama to Rey. That's pretty much my only credentials here. On the last episode, I talked on reactivity. And in bits and pieces, I shared some parts of my story. So I thought that I would dive in and give a bit more of a background on... not really who I am, but more so what my journey consisted of with a fear-aggressive rescue, the hyperactive Golden, and the puppy. But also having all three of those dogs at the same time.

So I'm hoping in one scenario or another, maybe I can relate to you, or you just enjoy hearing what I have to say. But it's very exciting and also absolutely terrifying to share my story. There are things that are hard to say on a platform full of strangers, but I'm on here to be real with you.

Everything really starts in June of 2018. I had just started a work from home job. I had just bought a house. The obvious next step was to get a dog. Honestly, I actually had that figured out far before the house had closed or my contract was signed. I was constantly looking at rescue sites, and when I came across Reese's face on the website, I immediately fell in love. And I knew that his background involves some abuse and he was very fearful and he would require a lot of patience and love and training to help him through that fear.

Prior to owning Reese, I didn't have experience with a reactive dog. I didn't know what it was like or honestly what it would fully entail. But I was willing to jump headfirst into it. I knew that he needed some help. If you want the full background on Reese's rescue story, you can check out my blog, I do go into a lot more detail specifically about finding him and the steps before taking him home. So I'll put the link into the description.

But basically Reese was the type of dog that the sight of a man would set him off; he would put on this big show, barking and lunging. He did not want them to come anywhere near him. And he wanted to express that the only way he knew how. He didn't know me, he didn't know that I was there to protect him and to advocate for him. In his mind, it was his job alone to keep himself safe.

Now it was also assumed that Reese did not have any prior experience with other dogs. But when I took him on one of our first walks near where we lived and we were passing another dog, everything was fine until the dog approached him and gave a little sniff... and Reese exploded. I was walking Reese on a head Halti and he was spinning around. He was barking he wanted to get away I was incredibly embarrassed. I didn't know that he would react this way to another dog. And I would take him on walks on the Halifax waterfront and wanted to try to socialize him. I did not know what socializing a dog really meant at this time. So I was approaching dogs and saying okay, let's do a little sniff. And there was barely three seconds between the first sniff to when he would explode. And due to my improper socializing, the threshold got bigger and bigger. He would then... when the dog tried to approach he would explode. And then a dog coming within five feet, he would explode. We got to the point that he did not want to see a dog at all, because he didn't trust me because I had messed up. I was trying to introduce him to dogs that he wanted nothing to do with.

During this time. I was also trying to find a trainer for Reese. We got turned away from one that did not like his breed. And then the cost for trying to, I'll say "rehabilitate", Reese. It was way out of budget. I was 22 years old. I had just bought a house. I was not in a position to throw a few thousand dollars into this dog. But I did find a trainer who is used to bully breeds and he was great, but it was basically an adolescent course for dogs. It wasn't specifically for reactivity, but it was still nice to take Reese somewheres where we can focus on just obedience training in a group of dogs.

But Reese would react anytime a dog would look at him too long or move too quickly. He would not let the trainer come anywhere near him; he was absolutely petrified to be there. But I did learn a few things about body language- I didn't notice when Reese would stand in front of me as if to protect me. So I was able to learn how to reposition him so that he didn't get the idea that it was his job to protect me. But I still didn't get the tools or the training that I needed to help Reese with his reactivity and overcoming his fear. So I actually joined another eight week or so program for building confidence in reactive dogs. And I learned a lot at this course. But I actually had to end early when I tried to do what they told me to when Reese was reacting towards another dog. He was not willing to give me any eye contact, he was not going to focus on me. He unintentionally shredded my wrists with his claws trying to get away. So I was not comfortable using these methods. And I left the course early. I truly believe for so many dogs that courses really valuable. But it wasn't working for me and Reese.

And at this time, I was also dating my ex, Riley's dad. And of course, we wanted to see how the dogs would do together. This is about September of 2018. I've already had Reese for three months about. So we did everything wrong. We brought Riley over to my house, which Reese has now grown accustomed to being his house. And we brought Riley onto the front lawn, we brought Reese out of the house. Reese was visibly upset. All of the signs were there. And this is one of the hard things to say because I truly messed up, if I was working on my trust with Reese and him knowing that I would take care of him. I absolutely failed. We brought Reese out of the house and he had not yet acted aggressively towards another dog. So I thought okay, what if we just wanted to he just says Hi, maybe there'll be okay. So while Reese is very clearly uncomfortable - that's an understatement - we brought him towards Riley. And this was the first time that Reese bit a dog.

That was hard to say, I know that that was my fault. Reese should have never been put in a position Riley should have never been put in that position. But it was that moment that I said, You know what, no, I'm doing the wrong thing here. I don't know what to do. I need to get that help. So at this point, I sought out training at Unleashed Potential K9 in Halifax. And within the first five minutes using his training methods, he was able to communicate with Reese. And for the first time I saw Reese let his guard down and focus on his handler. And keep in mind that Reese is terrified of men. But he was actually trusting this man, around other dogs, around strangers, to tell him what we want of him - that he's okay.

And I could not believe it. I had such hope. He had also explained that Reese wasn't inherently aggressive. He wasn't out to get dogs. But he's scared. He was fearful in that situation that he should not have been in, I did not advocate for my dog the way that I should have. And Reese felt that he needed to take action to make sure that he was okay.

But I also had to be mindful that Reese is fearful of dogs, but he's also fearful of strangers. And I had introduced him to different men in my life. And we did things very calmly, very slowly, they would offer treats; he actually loves people. But now it's in the back of my mind. If something does happen, Reese might feel the need to bite. So I have to advocate for my dog, I have to make sure that he is never put into that position again. But most importantly, that he trusts me- that he doesn't feel that he ever needs to take action, because I will now.

For the sake of telling my story- at this time, me and my ex had broken up. Not at all related to the dogs. But fast forward. Reese and I have done about eight months of training and he was doing incredibly he was able to go on pack walks with dogs with no explosions. He even had a girlfriend. Shout out to you, Bella. And of course your mom Courtney, we miss you guys so much. We cannot wait to have a visit with you.

But with slow introductions, many walks together and just practicing neutrality. These two were amazing together. We trusted them so much without muzzles just to walk side by side, not letting our guard down, of course, but he had a friend that he also trusted and that was huge on our journey. And I didn't know that so quickly we would even be there.

So at this point now I realized that Reese still isn't the dog that wants to go out on busy adventures, he doesn't want to be in large crowds, he does not want to come across dogs that he does not know. So I'm not going to try to train Reese to become the dog that I want when he wants nothing to do with it. But I did want an adventure, buddy. So at this point, I was considering another dog. It is August of 2019. And I'm considering my options. In my mind. Getting another rescue was way too risky. Reese didn't trust dogs. And if I were to bring another rescue into my life, if I didn't know the history, the integration could have been weeks or months, they might not have ever been okay in the same space. And that wasn't fair in my mind to Reese, and it wouldn't have been fair to another rescue.

So I truly thought, and I stand by my decision, that getting a puppy is the safest approach for Reese. And for Reese. I was right. I would not say that any reactive dog, you can just bring in a puppy. But when I brought my little stinky, Rey, home, I was introducing Reese to his best friend. Because I'm not an expert or professional. I will leave out the details of how I introduced them and how that went. But I had trusted Reese 100% with Rey, he was so good to her. She absolutely adored him. I knew that with having a puppy and Reese that I would have to do separate walks and train them separately. And I was so willing to do that. Reese had come so far with his reactivity. And I was so excited for the adventures that we were going to have. But also during those weeks in between me meeting Rey and knowing that she would be mine. I had started to rekindle things with my ex.

So now I've only had Rey for two days. But on day two, she's now meeting Riley, and they're hitting it off. They're also best friends, they have a blast together. We also knew that we had to start over with Reese and Riley. So we started things very differently. We went on a lot of walks together, we started with that. No contact whatsoever, lots of space between them and they were able to just walk together.

And due to life throwing curveballs as it does, my ex and Riley actually came to live with me and Reese and Rey. So at that point our life became managing the dogs constantly. We could not let Reese and Riley free roam together. It was a matter of kennel training, which they were all used to. And using baby gates. Luckily my house was four different levels. A really weird duplex. But anyways, we had the space and the rooms to separate the dogs. So that was great. We were making progress, we would have Reese again attached to his bed with Riley up there. Riley was great. He knew not to approach Reese and to give him space. And they were able to coexist for the most part with the management. We did not ever once, let them just be free together.

But back to Riley, I now have this dog living with me who is so hyper and not very well trained. He was a friendly boy. He was super lovable, super goofy, but he was hyper. He was so excitable; he was a huge trigger for Reese. But I also did not want my puppy learning these behaviors. I can go into a bit more detail specifically about Riley as I probably will. There's also a few blog posts in his honor on my website, Reesesnpieces. But he was honestly the kind of dog that when you walk in the door, he is grabbing the hat off your head or he's grabbing your sleeve or he's grabbing your shoe, your purse, a pizza box, whatever you can get his mouth on.

So my life became managing this household full of dogs that could not just be together. And not focusing my attention on my fear aggressive dog and not trying to raise a puppy, but instead focusing on this hyperactive golden. Now I'm still working from home so I'm quite easily able to rotate the dogs. I would have one dog in the office with me; Rey could also be free with either dog she was able to be with reasonably with Riley, but she was a little demon. She was very destructive... rest in peace Blundstones. So I would do a lot of kennel training during the day with her. I would rotate the dogs from the living room, to my office, to the bedroom. We had a dog's room.

And we did a lot of training and coexisting we would take the dogs on walks together I would rotate between having Rey or having Reese and it got to the point that I was actually able to walk all three dogs together for a very short stint. It was not worth running into another dog. But I have video evidence of me holding all three dogs in a heel. It's beautiful. But I also shouldn't have been walking Rey with Reese because she was still in those fear stages. And she had seen Reese react a couple times. But I'm trying to raise three dogs here. I was mostly on my own in the training. My ex just didn't have the knowledge or experience with reactive dogs that I did. So it was a mix of me, not trusting Him to do the training. But also, I don't think he was comfortable with it. It didn't help that I didn't have the confidence in him either.

But with these months of progress, we tried to have the dogs in the backyard. And I kept Reese in a muzzle and on a long line, while Rey and Riley were playing together. But at one point my ex came over to me and Reese, and Riley followed, and Reese went after him. He was muzzled. Riley did not go on the defense, he just wanted to get away, but enter Rey. She sees her two best friends get into a scuffle. And she runs in there to try to break it up. I should not have let that happen. I shouldn't have let Rey see it, I shouldn't have had Reese in a position that he could get to Riley that way. I consider that specific situations as one of the things that may have led him to Reys reactivity. And to this day, she still gets so anxious when she sees dogs playing or zooming or wrestling. And I think she just thinks it's a fight; I have witnessed her tried to break up dogs just playing and she's currently in training at Playful Paws in their specialized daycare program just to watch dogs play and not react.

If I jump ahead to June of 2020. Reese had passed away. Oh, it's been a while since I've gotten emotional over my boy. So now I have just Rey and Riley. And there's no more switching them around the house. We're still using the baby gates, we're still doing kennel training, we're still doing a lot of management. But life is still so stressful because at this point, right was at her peak reactivity. I was mourning the loss of my sweet precious boy. And Riley was still a ridiculous, hyperactive, golden. On top of that my relationship was not doing very well. And I was so stressed that even seeing Riley's fur in the corner would take me over the edge. I was sweeping multiple times a day. I'm a very clean person. I like my house in a certain state. And where that shouldn't have bothered me... but I was so frustrated by Riley, so frustrated in so many aspects of my life, that just seeing those tumbleweeds was too much for me.

It's also COVID. So we did a lot of adventures with the dogs, just Rey and Riley, we would go out into the woods, the goal was to just not run into other dogs. We would play in the backyard a lot. And just sticking around home. That's all we could do. But Reys reactivity had gone too far, without me seeking professional help. I needed somebody to show me what she needed. So we start training at Mango dogs with Ted and Amy. And Rey, like Reese did - with who knew... professional help, and somebody who was used to seeing different dogs with reactivity - she came so far! I knew how to communicate with Rey because she learns differently. But I had the tools I needed to help her and we were coming so far.

So it's now January 2021. And my ex is military and he's being sent out on a seven month deployment. So my one goal during this deployment was to consistently train Riley. He is a good boy. He's so good. He's so friendly, so lovely. But he needed more mental stimulation, he needed to learn how to behave. And that was my goal. Consistency and training is key. And that is not mind boggling news. Nobody's being blown away right now. But I did not have that in my household. I knew that when I was training the dogs, it was very different than when my ex was training the dogs.

And believe me when I say that I turned this dog around. I had Riley by myself for about four months, but I had to send him to Ontario with my ex's family when we broke up again. And I sent so many videos and notes on our training and what we were doing and how they could do it. It was very simple stuff and they messaged me saying "who is this dog? What have you done with Riley? He listens to me." Wow, who knew, and it was the biggest compliment. I love knowing that I had made that kind of progress with Riley.

Now at this time, I'm also selling my house. I am moving into an apartment in the city. I'm on the 14th floor in the most dog friendly building you will ever find in Halifax, there are so many dogs here. And before moving, I was having panic attacks. My anxiety was through the roof, I was thinking I would be taking the stairs for 14 flights because, is Rey at the point that she can be in an elevator with another dog? Is she going to bark and we're gonna get evicted because somebody thinks she's aggressive, I was so stressed. And also, I just have to say thank you to Rey for bringing me through one of the darkest periods of my life. I was very depressed, having lost Riley, having had my engagement fall apart. And putting all of my efforts into training her and helping her - and I had gotten Rey thinking that I would put so much time into her that she would be, what I, a perfect puppy. That was my ignorant thought process.

And now I was able to put 100% into her. And in this last year, she has done so well. She is incredible, she is thriving. And she deserved this from day one. And I kick myself for the choices that I made that were selfish and not in the best interest of my dogs. But I can't regret the past because I'm happy with my life. Right now I am content. And I've learned so much this last year, I have made incredible friendships. Not to say life doesn't have its ups and downs. But we're doing pretty good right now. We have a podcast, it's pretty cool. But I also know that Riley is doing really well, which brings me a lot of joy. We somewhat keep in touch, I was able to see him recently, and he's got some white around his eyes, it really threw me off to see my my boy aging.

But in a nutshell, that's the last four years for me. And that is still just the surface. I hope that maybe I've been able to relate with you. I just want to be real because I feel what is really helpful is to hear the mistakes, to hear the low parts of this journey, and where I went wrong, how I learned from it, where I've come from, and where I am now. And maybe you can learn from my mistakes or you'll just shake your head at me and say, who even let her have a dog? I don't know. I know that I'm just doing my best over here. And I know that we're all just doing our best.

In hindsight, I really should have made notes for this podcast. I decided to just wing it and tell my story in a way that I know how. I think this is good. I hope you enjoyed listening to it. I would love to hear your thoughts if you did enjoy it. If you enjoy the podcast if you want to hear more: rate and review, share it with your friends, tell me what you thought.

Be honest with me, be open. My instagram, you can find me on there at SpicyDogMama. You can reach out on my blog If you want to see cute pictures of Rey @mylittlepibble- if you scroll enough you can find Riley on there. I post Reese from time to time as well. If you've made it this far. Thanks so much for listening. And next episode. I have my first guest so I'm super excited for you to hear me talk to a really good friend of mine. to hear what she has to say on her journey with her dog. So stay tuned for next week.

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