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  • Writer's pictureCassidy

Raising Reactivity with Guest Host, Kristin (Archer's Mom)

Transcribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast

Welcome back to the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast. It's episode three, and I'm your host Cassidy. On this episode, I get to have my first guest interview! And I'm super excited because it's a really good friend of mine. We had actually just met this year at dog training, and since then we've become really close- our dogs are really great friends- and together, we started the Facebook group, Balancing Reactivity Canadian Dogs, which just provides a safe place for dog owners to talk about their experiences, which include training and reactivity, and just to provide some hope and encouragement on their journey. So I hope that you enjoy listening today and hearing from my friend talking about her story with her reactive boy, and their highs and lows. So let's go.

Cassidy: So why don't you start off by introducing yourself, tell us a little about you and a little bit about your dog.

Kristin: Hey, everyone, my name is Kristin. I am the spicy dog mama to Archer. I am a registered nurse, I work within occupational health, safety and wellness, and back in about June 2020, we finally got ourselves a house in the pandemic. And we had full intentions of getting a dog as soon as as soon as time would allow, and by August 2020, we got ourselves a beautiful German Shepherd puppy. He is your classic pandemic dog.

Cassidy: When you say that you have a pandemic dog, that can mean a few different things for people. Did you find yourself having a lot of time for him at first and not so much anymore? Or what does that mean for you?

Kristin: So for me, a couple things. So from the point of him not having complete exposure to people coming to our house, even exposure to going out. And you know, having those social experiences on walks, it was very much looked down upon to get too close to people and right, you know, God forbid, you didn't have a mask. On top of that, working as a registered nurse, within occupational health, I was working extremely long hours on the pandemic to the point that I barely had any time to focus on training. And, you know, when I did, I felt kind of burnt out from my job. And it was really hard to dedicate the time especially to a German Shepherd puppy, so.

Cassidy: So it's funny, you say that you didn't have the time to train him because I've only known you and Archer for a few months. But he's incredible. He's such a well trained dog. It's insane. Honestly.

Kristin: Let's put it this way. So I think everything was good until it wasn't. So you know, having a puppy, I had certain expectations, I guess. And I was prepared for certain qualities, especially in a German Shepherd puppy. And he was actually a really easy going dog from the age of eight weeks when we got him up until about, I would say even six or seven months.

Cassidy: So let's backtrack just a bit. Is this your first dog?

Kristin: Technically, yes, it is the first dog that I'm fully responsible for.

Cassidy: Okay. Yeah. So what made you get a German Shepherd?

Kristin : So I grew up in rural Ontario, basically in farmland. So Southern Ontario, we had, you know, we grew up with Shepherd/Shepherd mixes. So that's basically the only breed I was familiar with. And I guess the other difference was that, I was rural. And we had a lot of space. And, they were pretty calm. Yeah, they were a little territorial, but I love the energy, they were easy to train, they were loyal. And that's exactly what I expected to have as far as a dog. Those were the qualities I wanted. So that's basically why I decided to be like 'you know what, I'm gonna Shepherd.'

Cassidy: Yeah, so you knew that's what you wanted. You knew even though that you were living in the city, you're gonna get the breed and you're prepared for what he is like the German Shepherd Dog. You weren't expecting just a couch potato. You knew what you're getting into?

Kristin: Yeah, so I thought. Yeah.

Cassidy: Yeah. Very good point. You were a little shocked at eight months, you said when things weren't going as you thought.

Kristin: Yeah. So I will say by about eight months, that's when the hormones probably trickled in a little bit, you know, the teenage phase that they, they all talked about which, I guess six months it was... there's a little bit of insight on that. So I was like, 'oh, is this it? like this is, this is all it is?' It was pretty minor, you know, recall was a bit hit and miss here and there. And I was like, wow, well, he's, he's good! And then almost eight months to a tee, he just started to make any eye contact towards a dog and just started lunging, growling barking, his hackles went up. Like he literally looked like he was out for blood. And it started with interactions here and there, we could still walk by dogs at that point, and then it just started to get worse and worse and worse. And then I think at that point, that was when I was like, you know, what? Should he even be in doggy daycare? Is he aggressive? And are they just not telling me that he's having scuffles? Or is he hidden away in a kennel behind back? You know, and I just didn't know what was happening to my dog. So I pulled them out of doggy daycare. And that's essentially when our training reactivity journey really started.

Cassidy: Was there a specific moment that you realized that you absolutely do need to pull them out of daycare?

Kristin: Yes. So I mean, we were getting the weekly report cards from the doggy daycare, there was never any issues addressed on it. And, you know, the pictures would show him playing with other dogs with similar play style, similar breeds and energy levels, and he looked like he was having a grand old time. We kind of didn't have anything else as a point of reference as far as him having any issues. I mean, the only thing that they ever really, truly addressed was that he was digging up some turf and eating some rocks at one point, and fortunately, we are over that phase. But yeah, there was never any issues that we could see through the doggy daycare.

Now, we knew the leash reactivity was escalating. And there's one particular event that comes to mind of where it was the eye opener. So Archer was over at his girlfriend's house. And for the sake of context, his girlfriend is another Shepherd. And they live only a few doors down. He had seen this dog from eight weeks onwards. So did he live with this dog for a short stint of time? He did, and they had a very stable grounded relationship. She has a lot of tolerance for him, especially during his his high energy puppy phase. And they do really well together. So he was over at their place in the backyard, I'm there with my partner and they're having a good time.

And the neighbor comes up to the gate with with her dog. And Archer had met this dog several times before without any issues. Her dog is lovely, and it had been a while since the last time he had seen this dog. I mean, his leash reactivity really had escalated and I don't think that he has seen this dog since that really kind of took off. So of course, his girlfriend as soon as they open the gate, his girlfriend and this dog get into a little bit of a scuffle. Upon entering the territory, and I'm holding Archer back at this point on his harness and Archer's really amped up. I mean, his hackles are probably up but of course, he had a harness on, but he was lunging. He was barking, and the dog comes in his girlfriend's and they're getting some treats.

Everything's all good. And I'm waiting for Archer to calm down before I let go of his harness. So he calms down, the dog starts walking by and they're giving each other a little sniff. And the moment this dog goes to sniff Archer, I just have this gut feeling that Archer was gonna go in for a lunge, so I grabbed on his harness, and sure enough, he goes in for a lunge. No bites all bark, and they had a bit of a scuffle. And I had never witnessed this before. I've never witnessed it with a dog I've ever had. So I was like 'Oh, my goodness, is my dog aggressive?' So I took Archer out and you know, we left, and that was kind of within weeks, I was signing up at Mango Dogs to get his reactivity dealt with.

Now, in hindsight, though, I'm looking at it and being like, wow, I set him up for failure. I mean, did we go to his territory or his girlfriend's territory, it wasn't neutral grounds. Were bringing in this other dog he hadn't seen for a long time, it's a neutered male, with his girlfriend there, and he's an intact male, his hormones are probably at their peak. And was there a little scuffle at the beginning between his girlfriend and this dog, that probably amped him up a little bit more. So I, of course, grab on to his harness... opposition reflex kicks in. And when you're taking away that flight option than the alternative is the fight option. And he basically told this dog off to be like "Hey, buddy, this is my territory back off". And it was probably a bit of an overcorrection on his part. And you throw in the fact that he's a teenage male, and he was probably like, "I'm putting my big boy pants on here". So I set him up for failure. But I wouldn't change anything, because I feel like me taking this seriously, actually, is what contributed to our success today. And, you know, seeking out professional help. So I'm, I'm not upset that it happened. We live and we learn.

Cassidy: Well, I think part of the training with a reactive dog is learning so much about how to train yourself. You've learned maybe grabbing the harness was not the right move. And having a professional say...

Okay, I feel like you have something to add here.

Kristin: I've got a lot of things to add.

Cassidy: Go ahead. Yeah!

Kristin: Like how many times did I I mean, I'm still guilty for it. Because sometimes I just, I want to protect my dog in certain moments. So I want to protect him from other dogs, and I have almost my reflexive instinct is to pull him knowing full well that in my head, I'm like, 'don't do that'. Because he's going to go in the opposite direction. And he's going to react to the dog thinking like, okay, my mom's like, 'let's not interact, because there's a reason' he's like, "Okay, I'll put my big boy pants on."

Cassidy: Yeah, I agree. It's when you pull back on the leash, like, Why? Why is mom so upset right now? What should I do? How should I help her? But I've also seen you react with an off leash dog coming forward and give yourself some credit, you handled that very well.

Kristin: It's taken what feels like forever to get to that point. I will say that sometimes I'm more easygoing when I'm with somebody else. Because I feel like there's a little bit more of that safe space of, okay, I have someone else here, that if I'm going to shoo this dog away, or do something, that I always have that backup person that can either take my dog or step in if need be. So it gives me a little bit of a confidence boost. But if I'm by myself, and depending on the dog, especially if it's like a young small dog, they're hard to control when they're coming full blast at you like through your legs, and you're like, here's my Shepherd ready to bite. And I don't want to be pulling back on your leash while this is all happening.

Cassidy: But you also don't want to give them the full rein.

Kristin:Yeah, and I mean I have done that though.

Cassidy: Okay, you've let him make his own choices. And he's done well?

Kristin: I've done that a little bit more. So this is again, coming with more confidence, I think confidence and trust with him over months of training. We've come a long ways. Like I went from walking him, or, I will say that it got to the point where I wasn't walking him. I was afraid to walk him. I was afraid of people looking at me every single time that he had a reaction to be like 'Wow, this girl like needs to start training her dog'. You know, after a lot of tears, and deciding to not walk him all the time. It was really changing our relationship. I started having some resentment and I hate to even admit it now because I absolutely love him. But I resented him for the sake that I had a certain idea of what I expected in a dog versus what I had in that moment.

Probably the biggest quote that I'm sure you've heard it multiple times from me, but the thing that I always have to remember is, I didn't get the dog that I wanted. I got the damn dog that I needed and I love him to death but my God, I wouldn't know half the crap that I know now,

Cassidy: No, that's so true. And my first dog, he was really hard to have as a first dog. I felt the same way, I resented it. Life was not easy. I couldn't do all the things with him. But I know so much now and I've grown so much that I'm so thankful for everything that we went through. And in fairness, you had German Shepherds growing up, it's not like you just got a breed that you thought looked pretty. I mean, he does. He's very beautiful. But you knew you liked the breed, and you knew you could keep up with the lifestyle of having it. It just things did not go the way that you thought they would.

Kristin: I have a question for you. Okay. If you had a choice to get a reactive dog, again, would you go for it just knowing at this point, how much your relationship builds with a reactive dog?

Cassidy: That's a very good question. It's not a yes or no, for me right now. I'm in an apartment building. I don't think that... I'm looking at Rey over there... I don't think it would be fair in this situation, but I would absolutely have a reactive dog again, I wouldn't wish any dog to be reactive. But I think that I can also offer a lot for reactive dog and really help it which would be wonderful. I had one reactive dog, didn't think I was going to have another - I got the puppy, right, I could train her to be absolutely perfect - and now I do. But again, it's a journey. I'm learning more. Who knew I could learn more after having a reactive dog for two years? Having another reactive dog? And I think it's a good journey for me to be on as well. What about you?

Kristin: I would say that I would completely go for another reactive dog again. Yes, it's stressful. But I have to start looking at all the positives that it gained for me. And for me, it brought out a passion for dog training, but also connected me with a lot of great people.

Cassidy: I almost said that. I don't want to boost your ego. Well, as we were saying yesterday, all of my friends... well not okay, I shouldn't say all my friends, so many of my friends are through my dog.

Kristin: Most of your friends.

Cassidy: Most of my friends, it's true. I spend 90% of my time with other dog mom's and I have no regrets.

Kristin: look forward to my pack walks every Wednesday, this is where I'm at as well.

Cassidy: It's funny how many of our friends are reactive dogs, it's a completely different lifestyle, but it's actually quite relaxing, because you know the other dogs are under a certain control. And it's all structured and we're very relaxed.

Kristin: I also am afraid of becoming the 'my dog's friendly' person. Because I was that person at one point in time, with my little puppy Shepherd going down being like, greeting every dog every person like "it's okay, he's friendly".

Cassidy: I think every person should have a little bit of experience with a reactive dog. Because also people don't know they exist. They either swing from they're friendly, or they're aggressive and they shouldn't even leave the house. And I realized with having Reese how many people just had no clue. They did let their dogs go and I offer grace to these people because you don't know until you know, right? That they'll let the dogs go thinking 'well, every dog here, they're only here because they like dogs.'

Kristin: And there's also this whole thought process that well 'let dogs be dogs and they'll sort it out themselves too'. And I hear that so frequently. And though I love the intention behind it, there's a lot of potential damage for that. I mean, it goes for for humans to like literally, I mean, we have to have a certain foundation and and understand like, what's okay to say to somebody versus what's not okay to say to somebody because if you say something the wrong way or do something the wrong way, you're gonna get a reaction out of them. And it's not always good. And depending on who you're dealing with and where they're at in their point of life and anxiety and stressors, they might have a very strong overreaction. And it's the same with dogs.

Cassidy: They're very similar. Yeah, and I agree with the statement to a point. It is beneficial to let dogs for the sake of learning social cues, but on the other end, if there's a dog who has never been socialized before and doesn't know corrections they can swing way too far the other way and overcorrect, or start a fight or, you know, even Rey, she didn't have the best socialization. So if she sees dogs playing, she thinks it's a fight, and I can't let her run in there and try to break up a fight that isn't a fight. That's not good social cues from her. Yeah, so she's not gonna... she's gonna sort it out her way and that's not the way she should sort it out.

Well, we touched on how good Archer really is, is there a big win in your life recently that you want to talk on?

Kristin: I can say that there's two wins, it's that these were kind of the two big wins for me that that changed a lot of how I viewed him and our trust. The first time, sad as it sounds, the first time I walked past a dog on the sidewalk, like who would say that, you know, it's going to be that difficult to walk by another dog on the sidewalk?

Cassidy: Probably 90% of people listening right now.

Kristin: that's true. But like, I mean, when I'm thinking about what the dog we expected, versus the reality of it, like I wouldn't, looking back I'm like, really, that was like, that's a big deal. But it was, we had started training with mango dogs. And this was about the time that we we started using tools. And it was a little bit more than just the the steak and meatballs. I was staring at him every time he saw a trigger. And I mean, not to say still don't use those high value treats. But it was like, okay, buddy, this isn't appropriate the way you're behaving. So I'm going to tell you, No, you can't do that, and when you're behaving, you know what I'm going to give you all that reinforcement. So we started really using are all the training techniques that we're learning and we passed a dog on the sidewalk. I was stoked. I literally got home to my partner. I'm like, guess what we did today? And I mean, there was a little bit of like a laugh, and eye roll on stuff there too.

Cassidy: But I feel the pride, though. I know what that feeling is like.

Kristin: Yeah. And I mean we are also in our own neighborhood, which is actually a bigger trigger for him to where it's again, his territory. But yeah, when we pass a dog, I was like, Oh, my goodness, this just happened. So that was my first big win to be like, I think we're making actual progress on his reactivity. Because we had been at it for what felt like forever, but it was like probably a solid, I don't know maybe about five months of just constantly giving him again, like steak and meatballs.

Cassidy: You are the meatball lady!

Kristin: Yea dogs love me. And it'd be like 50 yards away, and he'd just see it and literally lose it. And you could just tell people were just staring at you like, Come on girl, like start training your dog. So that was that was the first big win for me. And the second big win, this is this is where I started to have trust in Archer, we decided to do another training session with someone else. I had known that he did a little bit more from a socialization standpoint. And we ended up going to Doggett and saying like, "Hey, can we do a session? He's reactive, but he's improving all this stuff." And he was like, Yeah, let's do it. We went to a full on off leash Park. It wasn't a dog park. It was an off leash Park, which felt like a dog park because of how many dogs were there. I think it was like a Saturday afternoon. So you can imagine how many dogs were out there on a beautiful day. And it started off with Archer on leash, we were at just a baseball field before we entered the park. And he had his dogs there. And Archer was muzzled. We let them off leash and they wanted to see what he was going to do. And he came on so strong with his dog, like full force, like I'm a big boy Watch out. And his dog corrected him. And he was like tail between his legs. Like, okay, buddy, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to step on your toes. You know, so sorry about that. Which was kind of great, too.

Cassidy: He didn't take any further. He just listened to them?

Kristin: I mean, it was a female dog. So I kind of you know, let that go a little bit more just being like, you know, maybe maybe it's because there's a female, but he also took a correction without reacting back to it. So we were like, Hey, we're going into this this park now.

Cassidy: So how did you feel?

Kristin: Oh, I was I was nervous. This is something I don't.... I still struggle to do something like this by myself.

Cassidy: But you had a professional with you.

Kristin: He was recording things, I had a professional. He went in a little bit strong for the first couple of dogs like you could tell he was a little bit like..

Cassidy: He was new to this!

Kristin: He was new to this and I mean his last bit of socialization was at a doggy daycare, but it just got better and better as we walked. Like, he was listening to other dogs cues. I was like, oh my goodness, is this my dog? But honestly, that session gave me a world of confidence because he mastered it, like he went through, there was no issues. There's maybe one time where he kind of was like, 'Hey, buddy, you step away from you know my parents here'. But to be fair, I totally had pulled back on again his collar because we were trying to get him to sit. And it was that whole same scenario that played out what brought us into this hole.

Cassidy: He felt the tension.

Kristin: Yeah, and so again, that's always lessons learned for me, and we're getting better. But that was the time that I would say my confidence went through the roof.

Cassidy: That's huge. Yeah, you got to see how he actually was off leash.

Kristin: He was great, like, there was not any point like, other than maybe the beginning where I was a little bit on edge for things, but there was no point that I was like, he's out to get a dog and kill it. Which to be fair at the start of his reactivity journey. I was like, I don't know.

Cassidy: You don't know. I wondered the same. I wondered that about Rey. Because with the noises that come out of them, the lunging the looks that you get, it's also that. The way people look at you, you're like, Oh, my my dog is aggressive. You start to doubt yourself. So that gave you a lot of confidence in Archer. That's amazing. So proud of him.

Kristin: It's kind of nice to finally be like, are we overcoming this?

Cassidy: No kidding. What do you feel... What is your biggest boundary or obstacle on your training journey with Archer?

Kristin: There is a very big difference living, you know, rural farmland to city living, I would go from I only see one dog in a week, if I decided to go and walk him right. Versus in the city here. I could see upwards to sometimes like 30 dogs on a walk, like how do I avoid that? And is it realistic for me to drive to, you know, a field or random trail every single day to get some energy out? Like, I will say that that was kind of the biggest barrier is going from, you know, rural living to urban living and dealing with reactivity to a whole other level. You know, shepherds are known to being, essentially, living fences. They're always pacing around, you know, making sure that everyone's within that perimeter. And then I'm sticking him into my small bungalow, while I'm at work for eight hours, right?

Cassidy: So he's a German Shepherd. So he does, he's territorial. He's a walking fence. It's not to say that he can't be in the city, he's bred to have a job. So do you give him a different job to do?

Kristin: Not that he has a specific job, but I try to treat his training as his job. So I will actually do different drills with him on the walk, whether it's, you know, a down stay or some recall drills and I'm trying to find opportunities that it gets some quick energy out, whether that's using a flirt pole or playing frisbee here and there, thought about getting him involved with doing like scent detection kind of work. Because I think you would love it, I think he'd be good at it. I don't think he'd be great at something like bite work. And I don't think I'd get him involved with that unless I had a dog with really strong good genetics. But I think he enjoys the obedience work. I think he enjoys all the training that we do. And I think to him, that's his job. Like he loves it. So we use that. And I'm passionate about it. So it works out perfect for us. I think it's so important for people to look at the big picture of how does your dog learn what, what helps them?

Cassidy: Exactly, they're all different. What is a resource that you have gone to or continue to go to that you would recommend to somebody either with a German shepherd or just going through the same thing, or just has a dog?

Kristin: I feel like it's good to read any resource that you can. I read upwards to like 10 different books. I would say one of the really important things that helped me was understanding dog body language. That probably is the best resource for me as far as like, really getting into the reactivity journey. I mean, you can look at every training method there is and every dog is just so different. So I can't really generalize, right. What worked for my dog could be completely different for the next dog.

Cassidy: You can almost guaranteed it will be different.

Kristin: Right? You can't do that. It's the same with people. You can't expect that everyone's going to have the same ability to learn from, you know, auditory versus visual, all those pieces. So that's something that's you know, is generalized like every dog has that to a certain extent.

Cassidy: It comes naturally, they don't learn how to stick their tail a certain way.

Kristin: Yeah, so to me, like, look at every single resource you can get your hands on, you're going to learn by trial and error with your dog. And, like, you can't compare one dog that you had previously to your next dog. They're completely different dogs and they learn differently.

Cassidy: Yeah. I know you took him out to Shubie, the off leash dog trail. So it's a trail, offleash, and you got to see really how he did. And maybe not every dog is even suitable for what you did. Do you think that you over... I wanna say overestimated, but, maybe he's not as reactive as you thought.

Kristin: 100% I mean, it's it's a great feeling to say that out loud. At the time, it was so serious, though. Like, I was I was an emotional wreck all the time. I mean, his reactions more massive. And it was a safety concern. So yeah, like it's I mean, I in hindsight now, I do think that, you know, I think it started out a little bit frustration, to be honest, rather than fear for his reactivity. The reality is mistakes were made. But how do you learn?

Cassidy: He's really good. He takes cues from other dogs really? Well. Yeah. If you've got another German Shepherd, it'd be perfect.

Kristin: That's what I tell myself, like would not enter any sort of reactivity.

Cassidy: That's the reality of reactivity. You can do everything by the book, perfectly, to whatever your standards are. And anything can happen.

Kristin: I guess. One thing I would like to say too, is that our relationship when he was at his peak reactivity before we sought out training, I was burnt out from my job at the time, and I was burnt out from having to walk him every day knowing that every day was going to end in tears. So I mean, our relationship completely changed. And now I'm like, God, how did I ever think so negative about this cute little boy

Cassidy" He's thriving.

Kristin: Yeah, he's doing so well.

Cassidy : Thank you so much, Kristin, for being my first guest on the podcast. I appreciate your willingness to be a part of it, even though it was a little awkward and rough at the start, but I feel like we found our flow and it was so wonderful hearing about her story and Archer as he battles his reactivity and honestly, he is amazing. If you want to follow their adventures, you can find them on Instagram @archer.thesable.gsd. I will have a link in the description. As always, you can find me on Instagram @spicydogmama Rey @mylittlepibble and check out my blog, If you enjoyed this episode, please like, rate, review, share it on Instagram or just let me know I want to hear what you think and how you feel about can I improve? Absolutely. What would you like to hear? I'm also interested in your thoughts. I want this podcast to be something that you enjoy listening to.

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Trainers mentioned

Please seek professional help when training your reactive dog and also do your research into which trainer is best suited for you and your dogs needs.

The methods and experiences mentioned in this episode have worked for our dogs but will not work for every dog, please use your discretion and always make safety a priority.

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