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My dogs made me unpopular

Something struck me when out walking my younger dog faith earlier. She has inadvertently made me unpopular with some of the other dog walkers in my neighbourhood.

I have previously been a people pleaser and it has taken a while to be able to stand up for myself. I am also learning how to stand up for Faith. It takes time to change that yes to a no and to come up with a way you can do so comfortably. My older dog hope has needed minimal advocation, due to her lack of social issues and her high level of training, I can often get her out of trouble whenever needed.

Faith however is a different story. Anyone who has followed her journey knows that it has not been an easy ride. She was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia around ten months old, by the age of two she has undergone three major surgeries, this led to her life being restricted. Due to this, faith can be anxious and at times reactive on the lead if placed in inappropriate situations. This is something we have been working hard on but obviously it takes time. Behaviour modification is never linear, especially when pain is an element.

Since her third recent surgery we have been working hard on rehabilitation, both physically and emotionally. Anybody who owns a reactive, nervous or anxious dog will be aware that other people can often create problems. This is something that me and faith have come up against on a number of occasions. Especially when I was having to lead walk her for short periods multiple times a day. Due to the frequency taking her elsewhere was not always possible. This led to me lead walking her from the house, not something I would often do. We came up against out of control off lead dogs and other dogs whose owners made poor decisions, which impacted their dog’s ability and therefore Faith’s ability to cope.

Advocating for your dog often doesn't come easy, especially if you are a people pleaser like I can be, however over the past few years I have become much better speaking my mind and pre-empting potential problems from occurring. I often work with reactive dogs, discussing with their owners the importance of advocating for your dogs and how this can be done but it’s a humbling experience to be placed in my client’s position. It’s always useful to be put in the learner’s position from time to time.  

Has advocating for my dog made me unpopular with some people? Yes. Am I OK with that? Yes. It is not down to me to make other people feel good or to help other people's dogs when I am not working with them. My priority is my own dog and her well-being. If this means I must politely ask people to recall their dog, put them on lead or to give us more space, I will do so.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m not always super polite but this journey can also be very frustrating, especially when you are putting lots of hard work into rehabilitating a dog and their poor decision, lack of knowledge or just not caring, means my dog’s training may be put back months.

Advocating for my dog does not necessarily mean being rude, abrupt, or having to shout at people. I advocate for Faith in a number of ways. I can work on my dog’s behaviour; training my dog directional movement to give her more space, focus work so she is concentrating on me and disengagement from distractions.

I can use management; enrichment to reduce her stress, nervous dog lead slip to try and make people aware she needs more space, ducking behind cars or other obstructions if the situation is likely to be too much, scatter feeding to disengage her from distraction.

I look at the current situation; I plan where to walk her, what times will be most appropriate. Whether it is even appropriate for her to have a walk or if she should have a walk break. How stressed she is and whether we need a quiet, sniffy walk rather than a training walk. It is also important I am aware of how stressed I am and whether I feel able to tackle training or not.

I can ask other people to change their or their dog’s behaviour; asking people to recall their dogs or to move to another area to give us more space.

Another important way I advocate for her is knowing when to approach the vet for further or different medication when her pain flairs up. As well as dictating that she needs space in the surgery, with no other dogs present. I make the vet and vet nurses aware to not touch her unless I specifically say they can. As well as not allowing them to remove her from me or do anything I know she will be uncomfortable with.

Advocating for your dog can be hard, its like a muscle, it takes time to build it up. My best advice is be kind to yourself. We always talk about how we need to be kind to our dogs, to understand they are having a tough time. You are allowed to find it difficult telling people no.

Practice what you are going to say to people “Sorry, no they can’t play my dog’s anxious” “can you please move backwards to give us some more space to pass through” “Can you please recall your dog, we need space” “No sorry you can’t pet then, we are training” Work on praising people, reinforcing them for helping you and your dog. Look at the other ways you can advocate for your dog which you may be more comfortable with. This will reduce the need for you to have to ask people to change their behaviour.


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