Managing Reactivity with the Spicy Bahama Mama
Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast
Hello and welcome back to the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast. It's episode seven and I'm your host Cassidy, dog mom to Rey my stinky, reactive bully. I'm super excited about this episode because I got to have my second guest interview! I chatted with my friend Emily, who I met at training earlier this year. She's dog mom to Dolly a rescue from the Bahamas, or as we like to call her: The Spicy Bahama Mama. She tells us about their experience with reactivity, and how they manage their day to day to give Dolly her best and most fulfilled life.
Emily and Dolly have been a huge part of mine and Reys growth that I've mentioned in earlier episodes, from pack walks to structured getaways, and just being a supportive and encouraging friend has helped us so much on our journey. Reactivity does not look the same for every dog. And I think that we have so much that we can learn from each other as we share what we've gone through where we've struggled and how we've overcome it. So let's listen to Emily and Dolly's story.
Cassidy: Why don't we start off with you just explaining a bit about who you are, a little bit about dolly and a brief intro to your story.
Emily: All right, so I'm Emily. I'm working from home as a software engineer right now. So when I got a job working from home, I decided it would be the perfect time to adopt a rescue dog. Because I needed a co worker. So what better co worker then a Rescue? So December 2020, I got a rescue dog. Dolly is a street dog from the Bahamas. She was about eight months old when I got her. And it's been a wild ride getting her.
C: I mean, if it's anything like my experience getting Reese as a rescue. Yeah, it's not necessarily what you expect. But first off, what made you decide to get a rescue.
E: So I'm not really sure why I decided to go with the rescue. It seems like the obvious choice, or the most ethical way to get a dog. But that was before I knew that ethical breeding was a thing. There are definitely ethical ways to get a dog. But it just seemed like the obvious choice. There's lots of dogs out there that need homes, and I wanted to get a dog a home. So I decided to go with a rescue dog. I felt comfortable getting a dog that could potentially have some problems. But I wasn't really educated on all the politics that go on in the dog world with the different types of training and breeds and genetics and all that. So I kind of went in blind, had a lot to learn and I hit the ground running with it: getting a problem dog. But it all turned out. I wouldn't change anything.
C: When you found Dolly, were you aware of some issues that she might have?
E: No, not at all. So, her bio said 'friendly with all dogs and all people'. And after her decompression stage and everything she went through, it turns out she's selective with all dogs and all people. So she went through a lot of changes in the first year that I had her. We moved twice. And I think those two moves were actually transition periods for her.
The first move corresponded with her first heat cycle, which I wasn't at all prepared for since I was told she was spayed. And going through puberty kind of had some changes, because I wasn't prepared for her getting attention from other dogs that she didn't necessarily want. She was getting a lot of extra attention during that time. And she had to stand up for herself and tell those dogs to back down because she wasn't interested in the attention. And that was before I realized I was the one who needed to advocate for her. So her first heat cycle, which again was the first time we moved that I had her, that's when her dogs activity started showing I started noticing she wasn't friendly with dogs. And then later on down the road a few months later, we moved again, a different environment. So we live in a semi detached unit, and I noticed she was having some problems with her male landlord. Whenever he would walk by she'd kind of give a low growl and she didn't want any attention from him at all. So yeah, her selectivity with men was also something I had to learn how to deal with.
C: Was it the same with women?
E: She's never had a problem with a woman. I'm not really sure why that is or if men are just more intimidating to her.
C: So back to when you first got Dolly. So you said that she was getting attention from other dogs. Were you taking her out to see other dogs? Was this just on walks?
E: Oh yeah, we would go to the dog parks and she loved it. She would have a blast running with the other dog. And you know since it told me on her bio that she was friendly with all other dogs, so I was like, Yeah, sure, why not go to a dog park. She never actually had an issue in the dog parks. The first issue she had with dogs was actually on leash. There's off leash dogs that rushed her while she was on leash; it was during her first heat cycle and it was before I realized she was in heat. So we had about three really friendly happy go lucky Golden Retrievers that came up and were surrounding her. They were all super interested in her and she just kind of started to cower. And I didn't know what to do, I just kind of stood there and let it all play out.
And eventually, she told them to back off, she gave them a correction, and it worked, they all got out of her space. So after that her reactivity started, she would see another dog coming, she would assume that dog is going to invade her space, and she would try to tell it preemptively to back off. So after I realized I was the one who needed to not let her have those on leash interactions, her reactivity died down a ton. Because she's more selective. She just doesn't want to interact with everybody and anybody. So now that we've established the fact that she doesn't have to, we can walk by other dogs and other people, no problem.
C: That's so good. It's sounds a lot like what I went through with Reese, like, I wasn't keeping him away from the dogs. I was letting other dogs approach. Yeah, definitely one of those learning processes for sure. Which is hard because your dog can lose trust in you.
E: It was confusing for sure, for me, because I was letting her do on-leash greetings prior to her heat cycle and she was fine. She loved meeting other dogs. And a random dog would walk by and be like, Hey, can our dog say hi? And they'd be like, Yeah, sure. And we'd let them meet. And we never had any problems. I was super confused when we started having problems. And then once I realized what was actually going on, that she was in heat, a lot just kind of clicked in my brain. And from that point forward, I think we really started progressing. I started learning about her, and started listening to what she actually needed. And after that, things got a lot better.
C: Did you seek any guidance during that process when she was reacting?
E: I honestly didn't really receive any guidance until her selectivity with men started showing because that, for me, was the problem I felt needed to be addressed. So I honestly didn't do a whole lot of training to socialize her with other dogs properly, I just accepted, maybe she doesn't like all other dogs. And then when she started growling at my landlord, I was like, Okay, we're not having any of this. I don't want to get kicked out of my apartment, because they think my dog isn't friendly. So that's when we sought out a private trainer. And they taught me how to socialize her properly.
C: So it wasn't so much the dog selective that you were getting a trainer for, it's more so the fear towards people?
E: Yes, I wanted to learn how to manage the people selectivity. And then, as a byproduct of that, socializing her with other dogs happened at group class. And as you know, we met and we started socializing our dog. So she's come a really long way since I started. I'm honestly not sure if I would have reached out to a trainer for her dog's selectivity, because I just accepted the fact that maybe she didn't like dogs. I'm really glad now that I've taken the steps to start socializing properly with other dogs. Because she actually does have fun. She loves running around with her dogs that she knows. And she wouldn't have gotten that opportunity if I didn't go seek out a professional trainer to help with her human Selectivity. So I'm, in a way, I'm glad it happened. I'm glad I had to go to a professional trainer. So she's living your best life now?
C: She's doing great. And you were okay with the fact that she maybe wouldn't socialize with dogs ever. And you were gonna work with her outside of that, but it is so nice to see now that she does still want to play with dogs and run with dogs.
E: Yeah. And she wouldn't have got that opportunity if she never had the issue with people. So I'm really glad that it happened.
C: Yeah, not necessarily going to take her to the dog park to meet all the dogs there.
E: No, we won't be doing that again. And I mean, after I realized that she actually did enjoy socializing with other dogs. I signed up for the Playful Paws Program. I think you might have shared it on here before. So that was really great for her. It's a specialized daycare program that has a handler one on one with a dog to teach them how to interact with the rest of the pack and teach her that she could play with other dogs. So it was really nice seeing videos of her during that program where she was running and playing with dogs she had just met.
C: Yea that's so helpful for you, just to give you that confidence. What would a proper introduction look like for Dolly, with both dogs and then you can also touch on a proper introduction with people.
E: So socializing her with other dogs for us looks like parallel walking. So we don't let the dogs interact with each other directly, there's no contact. So for a brand new dog she's never socialized with before, she can be within a few feet of them. And as long as that dog isn't reacting, she's fine to just carry on the walk and you know, get used to each other's presence. Most dogs she honestly doesn't care about. And that's both good and bad. It only becomes a problem if there's a dog she's not interested in, that is interested in her, and then she will correct them to tell them to get out of her space. But if she's interested in the other dog, and they're interested in her, she'll usually just start a play session with them.
C: Yeah. And I think we've seen that specifically with Rey and Dolly. I think Rey is just begging for Dolly's attention. And so yeah, they're not there yet. But that's okay.
E: I mean, all they need to do is exist neutrally with each other. And we'll both be thrilled with that, which they pretty much already do with each other, which is great.
C: Exactly. If they're not the perfect pair for each other, that's okay, too. So Dolly is fine with women introductions, but if you wanted to introduce her to male in your life, how would you do that?
E: It looks different depending on if were on our property or in our apartment, or if we're out in public. Out in public, she doesn't really care. If a man were to want to pet her, she would tolerate it, she would probably just stand there, she wouldn't necessarily enjoy it. So I wouldn't actually get permission for a random man to pet her. But on our property in our apartment, she has a really solid place command. So when someone new is coming to the apartment, I'll put her in the place command. And she'll stay there while they come into our apartment. And I'll ask him not to interact with her at all, just to basically ignore her and pretend she's not even there. And this is actually really easy for her to do, which I thought would be hard to get her to stay in place when a big scary man comes into her apartment. But it turns out, she feels safe there, she would rather not have to interact with them at all. And as long as they ignore her, she will just ignore them. And once she's relaxed, and she realizes they're not a threat, then we can start building a relationship between them. So usually that involves lots of treats, because she's a very food motivated girl. And then after she learns that new people mean she gets lots of treats, she's usually fine after that.
C: That's incredible. Because getting them to hold the place command with somebody coming in is a different story. And I had two different dogs, Reese who was fearful of strangers, and then Rey who's pumped about every human that exists, it's hard to keep her to stay, because she just wants to say hi. But for Reese, he's afraid, his motivation is more 'I want to get them out of the house'. So it was really hard to teach that one. But for Dolly, it's amazing that she keeps that stay. But she also knows that the safe space for her to be as well.
E: And it took me a while to realize the value in the placement as well. Because when I went to our private trainer, that's what they were teaching us, that was their solution for dealing with her selectivity towards men. And I was like, Okay, that's great. But I want her to be okay with men. And I thought our training process would involve her meeting a bunch of men and learning that they're not scary. And after she realizes they're not scary, then she'll just magically be cured.
But it turns out, that's not quite how training goes for these types of things. So after I realized that she actually did want to stay in place, and she didn't want anything to do with the people coming in our apartment. That's when it all started to click for me that she's always going to have a little bit of doubt about strange people. And that's not something I'm ever going to be able to cure her of, I thought that she would just be a friendly dog after I finished training. And it turns out, the training is a lifelong thing for this type of selectivity. But it's really nice to be able to have her tucked out of the way when new people are coming in the apartments because I wanted a friendly dog that would just be jumping all over people saying hi wagging his tail, all that type of thing. So it's very stressful watching her to make sure she is going to stay in place and she's not going to break the command. But yeah, it's kind of nice just having her chill and quiet.
C: Well, most people with the super friendly dogs, they're trying to teach them how not to Jump all over their guests. On my last episode, my dog isn't social and that's okay. I mostly, well, I was completely talking about social with other dogs, but I think it's also super important to talk about how they're not social with other people necessarily or other men. And that's also okay.
E: And that was a huge realization for me. Because I thought dog training was either a dog was trained or they're not trained, I have a background in software. So my whole world is true and false. So I think I went into the dog training with the same mentality. So you know, when I got Dolly I was YouTubing dog training videos, and I think the first thing I was trying to teach her was loose leash walking. So I YouTubed, loose leash walking. And the first two videos were completely different techniques. And I was like, What is going on here? There's not just one way to train your dog? And this is before I even realized there's different methodologies in training. So that was a big realization for me that I had to find the training method that worked not only for me, that I understand, but worked for Dolly.
C: Her leash walking is incredible. That was one of the first things that I noticed about her was that she walks so well on leash and I remember you had said that when you first got her, that was one of the biggest areas that you focused on.
E: Yeah, she had no concept of what a leash was when I got her. So that was, you know, I thought that was all the training she was going to need was loose leash walking. So that's like, I put all my energy into that.
C: Hey, it's definitely not a bad thing.
E: And we definitely went through a phase where her loose leash walking was non existent too after she was spayed. Her mindset about everything changed. She was just so much more excited about the world. So she would want to go smell everything. And she would see dogs that she was familiar with. And she would get excited to see that. And so it was a journey to get her back to a nice heel/ leash walk. But everything started to even out now. So it's been a few months, it's been good.
C: Do you wish that you had've done something or anything differently when you had first gotten Dolly.
E: So when I got Dolly, she was on bedrest due to heart worm treatment. So that was another barrier we had to do with not a lot of exercise. So we were doing a lot of obedience training in the house, trying to keep her mind busy, with little games and whatnot. So I think we really established a pretty good relationship, especially the first month that I had her. So I don't think I would have changed that at all. I think it worked out in our favor that we had a little bit of downtime to really build that relationship before I took her out into the big scary world. So she got really comfortable in our apartment, and she learned she could trust me and then took her outside and started introducing her to new things. I'm sure I would have taken it so slowly if she wasn't on bedrest, that really slowed down her decompression period, which is honestly probably best for her relationship that she has with me, which is really important part of our training is that she trusts me, and that I can lead her into unfamiliar scenarios and that she knows she's going to be safe if I'm there.
C: So if you were to get another rescue, you would kind of do the same thing.
E: I definitely would, I would take the same approach. Of course, it depends on the dog maybe. But for sure, I would take it a lot slower with any rescue dog than I was planning to do with Dolly if she hadn't been on bedrest.
C: I think that there's so much that you need to know about rescuing a dog that isn't necessarily out there when you do it. I know when I brought Reese home, I didn't know about the decompression period. And I definitely just brought him right into the world. It's nice that you were forced to do that and build that relationship with her. And now you know, if you were to get another rescue, how you would approach it as well.
E: And another thing I would have done differently is no dog parks and no leash greetings. Even though I don't think those things directly contributed to her reactivity today, I realize that there's a lot of potential for something to have gone wrong.
C: So when she went through her heat and you were moving and you started noticing reactivity or her behavior changing, did you kind of have to go through trial and error to figure out how to help her through that.
E: So I realized that she just didn't want to interact with other dogs when she started being reactive towards dogs. So if another dog was coming our way on the street, I would just make space and we would keep walking. And everything would usually be fine. You know, she might bark or lunge a little bit, but her reactions were never severe. They weren't scary. But for the time being, I just accepted that she wasn't friendly with dogs.
C: So for you it wasn't so much about training her or teaching a new behavior but just instead changing the situation or the environment that she was in.
E: Yeah, exactly. I think she's definitely living a fuller life now that I can take her into scenarios with other dogs. It's been great.
C: Yeah. Throughout all of this, and when you started socializing her with other dogs, when did you incorporate a muzzle into that?
E: Good question. I'm gonna bring up another fun fact about Dolly. She absolutely loves dirt. If you gave her a cheeseburger and a bowl of dirt, she's beelining it towards the bowl of dirt. So that was part of my motivation for starting to muzzle train her, which I didn't even consider until I had friends with muzzled dogs. And I realized the value the muzzle can have. I was scared even though I wanted to muzzle her to prevent her from eating dirt. I was scared of the stigma that people would see my muscle dog. And you know, they would think she's really aggressive that she's a bad dog. And I just didn't want to do it. But then after, like I said, I met you guys, and you have muzzled dogs. I was like, okay, that's not a big deal. I'm gonna do that too. And, you know, it's probably 50/50, 50% of the reason she's muzzled is for eating dirt and the other 50% is for socializing with other dogs, I can put her in scenarios that I would have been terrified to put her and even though she was ready for the scenarios, with the muzzles there as an extra safety net, it just gives you a lot of confidence to be able to help her live her best life.
C: Absolutely. People will say when they see a dog with a muzzle, why don't you just train your dog? It's like, well, this is me training my dog. And if you believe that your dog can feel how you're feeling, if you're feeling it that much more confident. I think that it'll help them feel more confident as well.
E: I think that all dogs I have going forward, I'll probably muzzle train them, whether it's just another type of training, you know, to mentally stimulate them. For whatever reason, I think it's a good tool to have.
C: It definitely is, yeah.
E: It gives you the confidence as an owner that you're doing absolutely everything you can to ensure a good outcome. So I think my perception of muzzle dogs has completely changed. A year ago, I would probably see a muzzled dog and I might judge them. As opposed to today. I'm 100 times more comfortable in a group of muzzled reactive dogs, then I would be in a group of really friendly happy go lucky dogs.
C: So what is a big win that you and Dolly have had?
E: We've had all types of big wins recently, she surprised me by going into the water. She caught me completely off guard and just waltzed in the water. And I tried so hard to get her to just put a foot in prior to this. So I had just given up thinking that she would never be a water dog and she would never enjoy playing. But we were on a pack walk a few weeks ago. And Rey and Archer and all the other dogs there were in the water and she just walked in, like it was no big deal. And she had been doing it all her life. And it just makes me so happy to see her learning that there's so much more to the world. And she doesn't have to be afraid of things. It was just really rewarding to see her be that confident and doing something new that she'd never done before.
C: Do you think she would have done it if the other dogs weren't there?
E: I don't think so.
C: Do you think the pack mentality or just seeing other dogs behave a certain way helps her in other areas as well? Is she more or less reactive? When she's with other dogs?
E: I think so. So dolly actually spent a lot of time living in a huge pack when she was .in the shelter in the Bahamas. I have videos of her with probably 50 to 60 other dogs. So I think she was used to just being neutral around other dogs. So when she's in a pack of dogs she trust and they're all neutral towards her. I think that's when she's probably her happiest.
C: Well that's pretty good. If she was in a group of dogs that were not so neutral, would she feel differently? Would she want to leave or try to just
E: Yes, she she would be the dog that wants to take charge. If she was in group of unruly dogs, she would 100% be the one taking charge of them. I have no doubts about that.
C: Was there ever a time that you did try to get a male to say hi to her?
E: Not really. So usually when a new person comes in to our apartment, and she learns that they're not a threat to her, she'll just go to bed. But we had someone come in and she was actually seeking attention from them, which was awesome for me to see. She does this little thing where she'll tuck her head under your hand and kind of throw it back to get your hand on her head and she was doing that to him. And I was like Oh my god, she actually wants him to pet her what what's happening right now, so that she was seeking out attention from someone she had just met, it blew me away. It was just like when she went in the water that came out of nowhere that she surprised me that she had the confidence to do something like that.
C: I had Reese who was super fearful of people. So having Rey who loves people so much, it's really a battle. Because I love that she loves people. So training her to be calm is like, okay, but I also love how much she loves. With Dolly you expected to have the dog that was super friendly jumping on people as they come in. And would you kind of feel that as well, if they're so excited to say hi to your guests? Like, how do you tell them to stay on place?
E: I can totally relate to what you're saying. If I have another dog in the future, who just loves people, I'll probably just be so relieved that I don't have to be worried about safety. And even with Dolly, theres the few people that she really likes, AKA Archers mom, the meatball lady, she'll jump up on her occasionally. And I know I should start training her not to jump on the meatball lady, but it just makes me so happy that she's so excited to see her. And I really haven't gotten to the point yet where I've started correcting her for that kind of behavior, because it's just so nice to see her have the confidence that meatball lady's not going to hurt me. I love meatball lady!
C: That's one of the things that we learned at Mango Dogs was that, you know, pick your battles with Reys reactivity. Do I want to work on her reacting? Or do I want to work on her heel? If she's pulling, but not reacting? Can I live with that? So similarly, like okay, Dolly's jumping on people, but she's happy to see them. So we're gonna let that one slide. So what do you feel is the biggest boundary or obstacle in your journey with Dolly?
E: The biggest boundary would definitely be myself and my lack of knowledge of dog training prior to getting her. Like I said, I hit the ground running with it. But if I had a plan for socializing her properly with dogs from the get go, and knowing that I'm a quiet person, I have a quiet apartment. I might have had more people coming and going when I got her just so she knows that that's something that happens that strange people come into the apartment, and nothing bad happens from it. Again, there's a pandemic.
C: Definitely a big obstacle. What is your biggest takeaway from owning Dolly from when you first got her to now, a piece of advice that you might pass on to somebody else, either getting a rescue or ending up with a reactive dog or just getting a puppy?
E: My advice would be to just try not to have too strict expectations for what your life with your dog is going to look like. Especially with a rescue and you just never know what you're going to end up with. You don't know the dog's background. And so you might need to make adjustments to your life in order to let your dog live their best life. And what you think is the best life for them might not be the life they want. You just have to do everything we can to give them the life that they want and the life they're comfortable with.
C: Well, thank you so much to Emily for taking the time to talk with me about her story so far with Dolly. It has honestly been a pleasure getting to know them both and so rewarding to watch their progress. Dolly is such an incredible girl. And where there are so many similarities and areas that we relate to each other. We are still on such a different journey. And our dogs require different management to help them with their reactivity. And this really allows us to learn from one another. I'm so beyond thankful that our paths have crossed and that we've been able to train our dogs together. Again, it has been so helpful and encouraging for me and Rey.
I hope that if you are on a similar journey with your dog working through reactivity, that you have a community or friends that you're able to train with or just to have people that you can talk to who understand what you're going through and can provide some hope or encouragement. This is why we started the Facebook group Balancing Reactivity Canadian Dogs, for owners to have a safe place to share their stories, ask questions and encourage others and to find people nearby that they can train with. I'll put a link into the description if you'd like to check that out.
Next week's episode, I'm going to be talking about my reactivity journey. No not Reeses, not Reys. Mine. I've mentioned it before in other episodes that I just may be more reactive than my dog. Or at least I used to be, hence the Spicy Dog Mama. I want to share how I used to react to other dogs and people and how I had to learn and grow in that area, so that I was able to be a calm handler and a guide for my dogs to help them.
As always, if you enjoyed this episode, please like rate review, make sure that you're subscribed or following, however your streaming platform works. I'd also love to hear your feedback. Reach out on Instagram @spicydogmama or you can send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always follow Rey on her journey @mylittlepibble.
Thank you so much for listening. I hope that you have an incredible week. You are doing amazing.
Facebook Group - not just for Canadian dogs, not just for reactive dogs! Anyone can join and be a part of the discussion - and be kind :)