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  • Writer's pictureCassidy

Is It All In How You Raise Them?

Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast

Hey Spicy Dog People and welcome to Episode One. I'm your host, Cassidy, and I first just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reached out in support after I released my trailer last week, I am absolutely blown away by the positive feedback and encouragement that I received. So for the first episode, I guess I want to touch on 'what is reactivity', also a phrase that we've likely all heard - "it's all in how you raise them" and how that well intended phrase can actually be a little hurtful.

I really just... I'm recording this first episode, the day after I recorded the trailer and I didn't even know that I was doing a podcast until I recorded the trailer. It's- It's wild. I'm learning as I go here.

So what is reactivity in dogs? A quick simple definition is when a dog has an overreaction to a trigger in their environment. It is most commonly other dogs, it is often other people, they can be reactive to moving cars, or random items like strollers, garbage bins, for sale signs, something that's out of place. The reaction from the dog- it could be barking, growling, lunging. But also reactivity is not to be confused with aggression. Most dogs with reactivity are not aggressive.

Reactivity can result from too little or too much socialization, a lack of training or maybe improper training. Maybe it was a negative experience that they had. It could be in the dog's genetics. One of the main drivers for reactivity is fear, anxiety and nervousness. Maybe they had a traumatic past. Maybe they went through abuse, maybe they were attacked by a dog. Maybe the smallest thing happened that cause them to be afraid. It can be one or many different things that causes a dog to develop reactivity. Some dogs are inherently nervous from a very young age. Some don't show it right away. Some develop it over time.

But it's very common in dogs; it's just sometimes not as obvious to other dog owners. Because reactive dogs might have a more restricting lifestyle. They're not the ones that you see at a dog park out on the busy trails going for hikes, or you don't see them out in the crowded streets because there are so many triggers, whether it's loud noises, or people or a bunch of dogs. If you're a reactive dog owner, you relate to the restricted lifestyle and you might have grown accustomed to it. You are used to walking your dog first thing in the morning before the sun's up or super late at night when the sun is down and nobody else is walking. The rainy days the dreary weather where the trails are going to be empty. You're so used to spending your life looking over your shoulder constantly avoiding your dog's triggers at all costs.

When I adopted Reese in 2018, he was a year and a half years old. He was assumed to have never been socialized with other dogs until he entered the rescue. And he became extremely reactive when I tried to socialize him or even just walk by a dog on the street. He was also so fearful of men or strangers due to his abuse. I found myself constantly defending him and his reactivity saying "he's a rescue." Reese was a bully breed mix. He had the muscles and he was a bite risk. However, he also had a horrible past and I want people to know he's a rescue. You can't judge him - It's not his fault - He's had a really hard past - He's been through trauma. He was such a sweet boy and he loved hard. I imagine if he didn't go through what he did. He would be such a good boy, because "it's all in how you raise them." Right?

That phrase, I get it. I know why people say it and they say it with love. They say it to defend the bully breeds, they say it to defend the rescues. You know, "it's not the dog, it's the owner." "The problem is on the other end of the leash."

Again, it's well intended. But it's also very hurtful to those who have raised their dogs from puppies, and they've developed reactivity. Maybe their dogs don't like other dogs, they're scared of people. maybe they've bitten someone or something. "It's all in how you raise them", says to those owners, you messed up. It's your fault. You're a bad owner.

But guess what? I'm that owner. I had raised a puppy. And now she's reactive. She was an absolute mess. And I will say in some ways, yeah, I did mess up. I made mistakes. COVID happened when she was eight months old. You know, we didn't socialize enough. She saw bad habits from Reese. I guess it's my fault. I guess I'm a bad owner. Raising a puppy, you're going to make mistakes, I can't control a global pandemic, maybe it's in her genes. There are things that happen that are completely out of our control. And when people see Rey react, or maybe she's actually being very calm, but I don't want her to say hi to their dog. I get asked, Oh, is she a rescue? And sometimes I actually feel ashamed to say, "No, I got her as a puppy". Because surely the only dogs that have behavioral issues are those that have a traumatic past, right? They've obviously been abused, or, you know, they have to be a rescue. Because if you get them from a puppy, they're just gonna be friendly. "It's all in how you raise them."

Maybe you can't even pinpoint exactly what happened with your puppy, but for some reason, they lose their mind every time they see a person with a beard. You know, somebody wears a hat, somebody comes around the corner too quickly. It's for some, you've noticed that it's black dogs, or it's herding breeds or it's small dogs. You don't know what happened. But raising a puppy is hard. Dealing with reactivity is hard. Every person that I know that has a reactive dog did the absolute best that they could from day one, and they absolutely do not need to feel shame from anyone or themselves even unintentionally.

I wanted to talk on how some reactivity isn't fear based at all or maybe not entirely fear based. Some reactivity is born out of excitement- over excitement or frustration- and usually caused by a barrier such as a leash or a fence. I think a large portion of Rey's reactivity started by her own excitement and frustration while on the leash. I thought that when I got Rey, since having Reese and learning so much about reactivity and dog behavior and training that I would raise the perfect Dog. And every dog owner rolled their eyes at me. I get it. Though I never had a rescue a reactive dog before. I had also never had a puppy.

When I brought Rey home at 10 weeks old, I kid you not I thought she was going to pop my shoulder out of the socket from pulling so hard. Baby Rey was an absolute demon with no chill and way too excited about life. I thought, Okay, ma'am, you're gonna learn something today. And I would keep her right by my side in a heel.

Well, I was holding the leash tight beside me. Even if it meant that my arm was in absolute agony because she was still pulling. We would work on heel outside of walks in small batches, you know, rewarding her with treats, correcting her position when she came out of the heel. But then I became rushed walking with other dogs and just wanting to get through the walk and instead of just letting her have the freedom of the leash. I was still forcing that heel kind of thinking 'okay, if she maybe just gets used to being by my side to heel well, you know, become a habit.' And I know as I say that how absolutely absurd it sounds. Can somebody please go slap 2019 Cassidy in the head. So then we would see dogs on the street and I knew better than to let her socialize with every single dog. I knew that leash greetings wasn't even ideal. So in a calm environment, I might let her say hi to some dogs, but then I would avoid other dogs, so not to set a precedent on our walks.

Now I at the time had three dogs and we had a beautiful backyard. So I was also utilizing that as much as possible, because between training a fear aggressive, rescue the hyperactive golden and raising the spawn of Satan, I was exhausted. So we really didn't work on her leash manners as much as we should have. Because I was more focused on just raising a happy puppy. Especially when winter started, we mostly used the backyard, we would do some quick walks, we didn't really see anybody anyways. And then we did off leash adventures with our friends.

When Rey became an adolescent, her reactivity peaked, I'll dive more into her story specifically, but she became so bad on leash. At first, she was okay, I was letting her approach some of the dogs on our walks. Because at that point COVID had started it was the only socialization that she was going to get. But then when I was not letting her say hi to dogs, she would bark and bark and bark, and I'm trying to find her threshold give her treats when she's quiet. But as soon as she saw dogs, she would blow up, and the behavior grew until she was having the biggest puppy tantrum I've ever seen. And it was awful. The noises that came out of her, it was embarrassing. I felt horrible. I was wondering if she was maybe actually turning aggressive towards other dogs. She didn't want to see them. But she was actually puppy who loved dogs too much, and her excitement to see them turned into frustration when she didn't get what she wanted. And then it became just seeing a dog would send her emotions spiraling.

Dealing with Rey's reactivity has been a journey and a half, and honestly far too much to discuss at the tail end of a podcast. It's also an area that is so sensitive. And all I can do is share my story and how I've helped Rey and Reese. And it's honestly not something that I want to go into too much detail in. Because I highly recommend seeking professional help. I'm not an expert. And every dog needs something different. They don't all respond the same way to training methods. They're not all food motivated. What I do wish is that I had gotten help sooner when I first noticed the signs and Rey.

Because I had worked with Reese, I tried my best to do the same things with Rey, but she was not responding to the same methods. And I was completely at a loss because her threshold was no shorter than five kilometers. She would be so reactive at the simple sight of a dog, that was just a blip to me, that she wouldn't be able to focus on me. There was no moments of her being calm, that I could reward her behavior, we would see a dog she would explode, I would turn around and try to go in the opposite direction and get her attention back. But she will be huffing and puffing for 10 minutes down the road while the dog is way out of sight. How am I supposed to work with that? I needed to find a way to communicate with Rey. And it wasn't until that I found myself another professional trainer who was used to dogs like Rey, used to training different dogs that we were on our road to recovery.

Meeting up with people who are going through the same thing and working with their dogs has given both me and Rey the confidence that we needed to get to where we are now. And I'm so proud of her. Also very proud of me. I have been working very hard. But for real. Find the help do your research into different trainers, different training methods, talk to people in your area that have done, work with different trainers. Find what works for you, what works for your dog, and what you're both comfortable with. Again, dogs don't all respond to the same training. So it might be a journey just to find out where to start.

There are also so many resources that you can find to maybe start training right now. And find yourself a community online that can support you and answer some of your questions or just to read other stories and to maybe give you some hope. If you're a Canadian dog dealing with reactivity, you can join my Facebook group we just started a few months ago. We are largely based in Nova Scotia so we plan pack walks as well. But other provinces can also plan their own pack walks- we just haven't really expanded much outside of Nova Scotia. I also think there's a way that I can break out groups within my group but I need to figure that out first. **Written edit - I've figured this out!!** And if you're not a Canadian dog and you want to join the discussion on Facebook, you are more than welcome to join. You do not have to be Canadian. You don't even have to have a reactive dog. If you just want to, you know, be a part of it, we are just all loving and supportive. There's no hate, there's no shame whatsoever.

Well, I really just scratched the surface of what reactivity is. Even though I feel like I have been talking forever between pausing every five seconds to take a sip of water, and correcting myself when I stumble over my words and reminding myself to speak. Slowly.

But reactivity is different for every dog, it's approached differently by every person and trainer. It's a journey, and we are all just doing our best to navigate it. Remember that you are amazing. And your dog is so lucky to have you ,and thanks you for your patience and your love. And remember that they are good dogs, there is hope for each one of them. Do not feel ashamed about mistakes that you may have made, or for your dog's behavior. I know it's hard, it can be embarrassing sometimes, but you are understood by so many people. And it is so helpful to just talk about it. So thank you so much for listening to me. I hope you got something out of this.

Feel free to join my Facebook group that I mentioned called Balancing Reactivity Canadian Dogs. You can also check out my blog, You can find the link in the description and if you want to just see cute pics of Rey, check out her Instagram.

I don't know what is coming next. But I feel as though with all the little teasers in the podcast, I might go do a deeper dive into my three dogs. Having them all at once, having the rescue, the golden, the puppy and my secret to not having a full head of gray hair. Honestly, I don't know how I haven't aged 15 years going through that anyways, to wrap this up - if you loved it or even if you barely tolerated it, please follow, subscribe, rate share, and let me know on Instagram what you thought.

I'm super excited to see where this is gonna go. I have absolutely no idea because again, I didn't know that I was even doing a podcast until yesterday. But I already have so many people who are wanting to get in on the discussion. So I have high hopes for this. And I thank you again for following along.

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