My Dog Isn't Social - and that's okay
Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast
Hello, and welcome back to the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast. It's episode six and I'm your host, Cassidy, spicy dog mom to my girl Rey. I hope that you enjoyed last week's episode My Letter to the Friendly Dog Owners. I just wanted to say what I know that most reactive dog owners are thinking. We want you to understand what we're going through, and also why we say or behave the way that we do. We're under a lot of stress, it's hard, and we really just want you to sympathize with us and sympathize with our dogs know what they're going through and what you can do to actually help us while we're working with our dog's reactivity. For today's episode, I want to talk about the not so social dogs, the ones who may be dog selective or don't really like any dogs at all. And how that is, very much so, okay.
I wouldn't think that anybody when they're getting a puppy or adopting a dog, that they imagine a life of solitude or avoiding other dogs or other people. And maybe they do, maybe that's the life that they actually want. But, at least for me, I definitely imagined getting, even my rescue, Reese, and hoping that he would have dog friends that we would be able to go out, be with our friends who have dogs and you know, just have a good time. And especially when I got Rey as a puppy, the whole goal was to raise her to be super friendly, to love everybody, and every dog that she meets, to be my social butterfly that could go with me on adventures, and be with other dogs, no problem. And of course, that is not the way that things went.
Reese was fear aggressive. He, as far as we knew, didn't socialize with dogs prior to being adopted. While at the shelter, he was around dogs and he would play a little bit, he would get really worked up. But he was able to be in the kennel with other dogs. But then when I adopted him and he started coming out of his shell and building a relationship with me, that's when he really started regressing and becoming more and more reactive to other dogs. And I explained more about that in another episode. But briefly, I didn't help him with his anxiety and fear of other dogs. I tried so hard to socialize him (in the wrong ways) that his reactivity did get worse. And when he had the opportunity- when I put him into a position that he should never have been- he did end up biting my ex's dog.
And then Rey, as we know, she loves dogs, she doesn't necessarily want them in her face. Or she doesn't like the over excited dogs. Rey thrives with the dogs who are calm and neutral, who pretty much mind their own business. And if dogs are getting overexcited or worked up or just playing too hard, that really bothers her, she gets very anxious, she tries to break it up, she thinks it's a fight. She's my little control freak. And she's just not the dog that you can send into a room full of other dogs that she doesn't know that are very excited having a great time. That's not her scene, she does not love that.
She's not the dog that I'm walking on the street and a super excited puppy or older dog is racing towards her; she does not want that dog in her face. And she will let the dog know usually before it even gets close enough. And for so long, I just so badly wanted her to be a social dog. I wanted to see, what could I do to help her love those scenarios, that we could come across dogs and she doesn't get upset by it or at least she remains neutral, which we are really coming there. But what I actually wanted was for her to just love and be super social with every single dog, and it's not going to happen. And I shouldn't make that happen. We are so okay with how she is right now, she has her dog friends that she trusts, she takes some time to warm up, she's pretty good with every single dog she meets if they meet properly and and are given a good socialization period, just walking side by side no interaction, and if they respond well to social cues. But that doesn't mean that she wants to be with every single dog. There are dogs that better suit her energy, dogs that are... that energy is better suited for her and we're doing just fine. She has those dog friends and she loves that, she has a great time. She just graduated from the Playful Paws Specialized Daycare which was a wonderful program.
So briefly, what they do is they go in one-on-one with a handler, and they introduce her to dogs slowly at her pace, she is wearing a muzzle. And they just help her to learn to socialize and Rey did really fantastic there. She came a long way with not trying to break up dogs playing. She had her handler who was just teaching her to be calm and redirecting her if she was getting too worked up.
And since graduating, the dog is either graduated to the full daycare or they're just done the program, and they had the honest conversation with me that Rey did great, she's done her program, but they don't think she's suited for the daycare. And honestly, my goal was not to have Rey be a daycare dog. I know that's not a good environment for her, and I'm glad that they were honest with me because she was doing well, she was not reacting, but she also wasn't honestly enjoying herself; that environment wasn't right for her. So we're going to continue with the small circle of friends that we have, I will introduce her to dogs that I think are a good fit for her and will do so slowly.
Just the other night, she got to meet a new friend. He's a Golden Retriever named Jackson. He's just young, but he responds really well to her cues. He's very submissive, but they still were able to have a good time together, he was a little overexcited on leash when we first met, so they did not have a head to head greeting, they just walked together. And once we walked for a little bit, and we went to the park, they were able to be off leash, and had a great time. If he was being too much, she would correct him and he would walk away, it was a perfect pairing for my girl.
But on the other side of some fences, there was a large group of dogs playing. And we had to bypass those, I wasn't going to put Rey into that situation, a bunch of dogs- super happy- but running around wrestling, making noises. I knew that wasn't right for Rey. But the two areas were not completely closed off. So there was an occasion where one of the dogs actually ran over to our side of the fields through the opening in the fence. And I don't know that dog, I don't know how Rey is going to respond. And I calmly went over, me and my friend, and we just wanted to grab the dogs and separate them. Very calmly not yelling or anything. And before we could grab Rey, she did try to correct this dog, who thankfully just backed off and went back to their side, it could have been an awful situation if Rey tries to correct a dog who doesn't respond well to that, and maybe corrected her back or, you know, tried to start a fight.
And being with my friend who has this golden retriever who is so happy, so goofy, so lovely, and he's just absolutely friendly with everybody. It's hard being the owner with the dog who you have to watch, you have to be overly careful about. When we saw dogs walking through, I had to pull Rey off to the side and distract her so she didn't get worked up or tried to run over. And I had that moment, you know, resenting my situation. Wishing that I was the owner with the friendly golden retriever. I was that owner once... but I don't need Rey to go to daycares. I do not need Rey to go to dog parks or off leash trails. But of course, it would be really nice. If I wasn't worried about an off leash dog running up towards us and how they might behave. She doesn't jive with all dogs and one dog coming into her space. And getting close to her friend, she gets very protective. His hackles were up as well. And it was a cluster of the three of them and she just want to let them know she wasn't happy about it. And it ended up being okay. And there's nothing wrong with her giving a correction. But you never know how the other dog in a group is going to respond to it. And it could have escalated, it could have been far worse than it was I mean, it wasn't a bad situation at all, we all left unscathed. The dog ran back to its owner, we were all okay.
But the point is my girl does not just love every single dog she meets. She's not the easygoing dog that lets any dog into her circle and is just fine with it. But I'm also not okay with every single person. And I'm not just going to go to a party or a place full of people and start talking with every single person get to know all of them. I'm not necessarily going to get along with every single person in the room. I myself have social anxiety. That's not an area that I want to be all the time. If I was forced to go to parties every single weekend or go to events where I didn't know anybody.
That's not for me, I have my close circle of friends, I do really well with them, I have a great time. And I don't necessarily need any more than that. So why should I expect that from Rey, she's my friendly girl. She loves her friends, she gets along really well with them, she's happy with that. And I need to be okay with the fact that that's her. That's the way that she is and I can make sure or do my best to only put her in situations like that that she is comfortable in.
Just like anything on social media, you get the highlight reels, you see everybody's best moments, all the filters, [the] camera's on when things are going well, that's what you see most of the time. And whether you have a dog Instagram or not, or you just see other dogs on social media, you see the dogs, you know, either at daycare, off leash on adventures, having a blast, super friendly, super goofy. And if you're a reactive dog owner, the owner of a selective dog or a dog who is aggressive towards other dogs, it's hard to see that and not wish it was you and your dog, you can love your dog, be super happy with your dog, and enjoy your life together. But it's also okay to wish or dream of something that's different, I don't think you should feel guilty about that. I know for me, having a reactive dog has taught me so much. And I'm really glad about what I've learned. So that you know, maybe I have a dog down the road, who is super friendly and could be off leash should not be a bother to anybody, but having the awareness of reactive dogs, I'm going to train my dog very differently, and make sure to respect the reactive dogs that are out there still.
And even though I love my journey, I love Rey, I love our life together, I have those guilty thoughts where I just wish that things were different, even just my friends who have the dogs that are super easygoing, being invited out to dog parks- and I won't go into my full thoughts on dog parks anyways. But it's not a situation or an environment that I want to take my dog regardless of her reactivity. But even despite Rey's reactivity, I wish that it was a consideration. I'd like to be able to go somewhere and not be afraid of my dog's behavior. Or there are many instances where friends are gathering up their houses for a barbecue or the cottage, and I know there's going to be other dogs around.
And I know that if I go there, and if I bring Rey, I'm not going to be able to completely relax, I will be having Rey under such control and watching her at all times, which you should be anyways! But even if I have her with me, if there are other dogs around just playing, she's going to be anxious about it, she's not going to be super happy. And I'm going to be monitoring her and monitoring the other dogs so that, you know, they don't get into her space. And I just wish that I could go to a friend's house, bring Rey with other dogs and it would be okay.
Another area that is really difficult for reactive dog owners is finding boarding for your reactive dog if you're going away. This is really relevant to me right now. I'm just getting back from just over a week's vacation. I was in Quebec visiting my sister. And I brought Rey to my mom's house. She's got a fully fenced in backyard, and Rey absolutely adores my mom. And I brought her there, because I'm in an apartment building. And I could get somebody to come in just walk Rey, but she is still sometimes, she has her reactions either in the elevator or in the lobby. And I'm just so nervous about not being there. I know which dogs she reacts to, or rather which dogs react to her and she might react back. And also just walking Rey. There are very few people that I actually would trust to do this, who understand what she needs. And I'm just very lucky that I'm able to take Rey to my mom's house who watches her and I don't take you for granted mom, I will buy you dinner. I'll do something, Rey appreciates it, I appreciate it so much.
But if you don't have a reactive dog, or if you don't even own a dog, you might not realize just how hard that is. We can't just take our dog to any boarding facility, they have to be equipped to handle reactive dogs, or at least understand the reactivity. It's different for some dogs, they can't even be in a room with other dogs or they would have to be muzzled or monitored all the time. It's just it's not as simple as looking at the best boarding facility in your area and booking a spot for your dog. I so badly wish it were. And a lot of reactive dog owners simply just don't go away without their dogs. It's not an option. They don't have family who can take care of them, or friends who can stay with their dog that they trust. There's no facilities around that can help with reactive dogs. A lot of my experience in the last four years of owning reactive dogs has been adjusting my expectations.
Getting Reese, I knew that there were going to be challenges. I was hoping that we could overcome a lot which we did. We came so far with his reactivity, he was doing really well. But being a social dog was not in the cards for him. Getting Rey as a puppy, same thing as I mentioned, and it has just been me saying "Okay, nope, not yet. Not now not this way, not that dog, not this type of dog. Okay, you know what? Fine. This is what Rey likes, these are the dogs that she's comfortable with, these are the situations that she's comfortable with. I need to be on board with this."
There are moments that I had to not be selfish. Honestly, I wanted to go off with friends and their dogs off leash, I can take Rey and put her into a muzzle. But if she's super anxious, and she's trying to constantly scan the area and look for dogs that are being too much and correct them. Well, first off, that's not her job. And it shouldn't be her job. She's not... she doesn't want that job. She does not want to be the one calming other dogs down or stopping fights. She's just doing it because she doesn't like the energy. She doesn't like the overexcitement. She's a control freak. And she certainly doesn't like it when dogs get into scuffles. But just because she's behaving that way doesn't mean that she enjoys doing it. That's not a healthy state for her to be in, she does not like those scenarios.
So I know when I'm planning to go out with friends and their dogs, I'm very careful about which dog she's with, and what the activities are. Even [when] I recently did a structured vacation with two of my closest dog friends and their reactive dogs, and it was amazing. We at one point, had the dogs off leash, and they were all just minding their own business. But at one point, two of the dogs started racing around, they were having a blast, they were so excited. It was beautiful to see these two reactive dogs have fun together. But Rey was not excited about it. And I leashed her up because I didn't want her to jump in.
But I couldn't calm her down, she was so worked up and there was nothing that I could do to help her. So I had to ask my friends to leash their dogs, I felt so guilty because they were having so much fun. It was a beautiful experience for them. But I couldn't escape, we were in the woods, I couldn't take Rey in the opposite direction, we were walking back to the cars. All I could do in that moment was help Rey, and what that meant was stopping the other dogs from having as much fun. That's not to say that we ruined their adventure, they got to just go back on leash and walk, and it was still a fantastic experience for all of them. But I knew that that situation was not okay for Rey. So I had to advocate for her, I had to step in and ask them and they were of course, so okay with it. They understood why, they also didn't want Rey in that heightened state, we had to help her. And there will be many more opportunities for those two dogs to be off leash together and to try again, because it was really wonderful to see. Honestly, I felt so bad that we had to stop that, but I had to do what was best for Rey in that moment.
But in all this time, I've really realized what Rey wants, the friends that she wants, the environments that she's comfortable with. And she doesn't get to say where I take her, what we do, who we see. So it's completely up to me to do what is right for her. Take her around the dogs that I know she does well with, not to put her in a situation that she feels she needs to step in, to be in environments that she's comfortable with, dogs that are neutral, we can still go on off leash adventures, we have to choose the right dogs, she does really well just one on one. Maybe that's the environment for her.
She has friends, a pack of three dogs who we go off leash, they all just mind their business and Rey thrives on those adventures. You bring in just one dog who is over excited, that changes everything. So I'm very careful now, what I agree to where I take Rey, I'm asking which dogs are there? What kind of energy levels do these dogs have? And those who know Rey are starting to understand as well, who she does well with and are letting me know, you know what, actually, I don't think this is a right fit for Rey. I've accepted that, and I'm so much happier. Knowing that we're avoiding a situation that Rey won't do well in as opposed to me feeling like I'm missing out on something.
Rey is absolutely incredible, she will do well with every single person that she meets. If I take her to a room full of people, she'll be happy as a clam. But she's not an overly [dog] social dog, and that is okay. If your dog is not overly social, maybe your dog actually does really well in certain situations. They can do well at daycare, with dogs that they know in a certain environment. Not so well at dog parks or off leash trails. That's okay. Do what is best for your dog. Nobody else's opinion about what is best for your dog matters. Just do you and take care of your dog first.
Well, thank you once again for listening to me, I hope that you were able to relate to this and you know, feel better about your dog. And maybe you already do. Maybe you're fine. But I needed to say this I needed to help convince myself that I am okay with this. I'm okay with Rey not being a social dog. If this is new information for you, I hope you're taking something away from this, that means something. If you think that somebody else needs to hear this, please share this with your friends. Also, help me out, like, rate and review, follow, subscribe, whatever you need to do on your streaming platform.
And also, I would love your feedback. Let me know what you thought about this. You can reach me on Instagram @spicydogmama, you can comment on my post, send me a DM, you can also email me firstname.lastname@example.org. And to just see wonderful photos of Rey, look her up on Instagram @mylittlepibble. If you're looking for a community of reactive dogs who are going through training, maybe they're recovering. If you want to just hear our stories, ask questions in a safe environment where there is no shame. You can join our Facebook group that I started with my friend Kristin, Balancing Reactivity, Canadian Dogs. This is a space that we want you to feel comfortable in talking about your story or just hearing from others. It's super encouraging, super helpful, we share resources. It's not just for Canadian dogs. If you're anywhere you can join this group you can get in on the discussion. It's a super positive environment. We would love to have you there.
I'm really hoping to get another guest on here soon. I've got a couple of interviews lined up. So not sure if that's going to be next week or what's going on yet. But stay tuned. Have a fantastic week. You're doing amazing.
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