The pet blogging industry has changed drastically over the last 5 years, especially since I started writing Life with Arie. What started as personal catalogs of our lives with our pets on WordPress or Blogger hosted domains with quick pictures off of our phones has turned into a polished, professional industry with glossy graphics, professional photos, and endless endorsements.
While the shiny and new is great, I miss the stories and personal level of the early pet blogs, the ones that discuss the struggle. The truth. I spent a little time on my blog just focusing on the happier elements of life with my pets, leaving out all of the elements that wouldn’t fit into that Stepford family photo. Then, I realized that when I go looking for a pet blog, I’m looking for someone who can relate to what I’m dealing with in our house, good and bad. It’s time to stop editing. I’ve talked about some of Arie’s issues before, but really talking about them is something I haven’t done in quite some time.
I have a reactive dog.
Saying that sentence alone can feel weird. Do any other reactive dog parents deal with this? There’s a shame and guilt that comes with it, and I often feel like I’ve failed my dog in so many ways. Maybe she would have been happier with another family. Maybe she would have been better socialized, and would be playing at the park with other dogs. Then I remember the day I brought her home, and I trust that, even with mistakes in hand, I love this dog as much as anyone could, and I’m working every day to make her life better.
To be honest, I had forgotten how bad Arie’s anxiety and reactivity is for a while. In April, we moved into our first owned home. It has a fantastic fenced back yard, perfect for our reactive girl. Arie’s anxiety at sounds around the house has greatly dissipated since we moved, so my memories began to fade of how bad her reactions are to other dogs, because, well…there weren’t other dogs, just herself and Fulton and enjoying their daily lives. I was able to forget and to live in a place of complacency with it…until we tried to to go to the vet.
Dog reactions in public: Our vet VISIT
Arie was due for her annual, so I made the appointment to take her in. Like I always do, I took extra precautions for her vet visit. We put on her muzzle. We gave her her calming treats. We played soothing music on the way there. Zack served as a look out for other dogs. She was harnessed and kept on a short lead. I had my clicker and treats ready for the “look at me” and reset games we’d worked on. We thought we were ready.
When we got to the vet, the parking lot was crowded. We waited patiently for people to make their way inside with their pets and called ahead to find out which of the two building entrances was dog free. We got out of the car and started to walk up to the building. Then it happened.
A man across the parking lot got out of the car with his dog and Arie completely lost it. I mean LOST it. All recall and attention was out the window as my White German Shepherd honed in on this man and his dog, with a laser focused gaze. The burr on her back went straight up and she started stamping her paws and wailing (really the only word for the sound coming out of my dog) in frustration and fear. We tried to reset and distract her, removing her gaze from the situation, but that only worked for a few seconds before she went back wailing, growling, and attempting to charge every few seconds. Though we had her well secured with us and she was muzzled to prevent risk if she were to get away, I felt beyond helpless, and I knew she did too. It was heartbreaking.
A vet tech came out of the building, assuming we had a grievously injured dog from the sounds Arie was making. “No, no, we’re fine, she’s not hurt she’s just really reactive.” The tech hurried back inside, looking as embarrassed for me as I was feeling and looking scared. Scared. My sweet, amazing girl scares people sometimes, and I don’t blame them.
We knew Arie was too amped up to even try the vet after that so we got back in the car. I called their office and talked to a woman on the phone when she was less than 1500 ft from me to reschedule for a day when there would be fewer people and dogs. Then I sat in the car and cried, letting the frustration and guilt and fear and embarrassment leak out of my eyes because that’s what my body does with the excess emotion it can’t contain.
Having a reactive dog is not the end of the world.
I know that some of you are reading this and thinking “Girl…chill,” while others are probably thinking “That dog is dangerous.” The truth is somewhere in the middle. This experience was probably one of the worst I’ve had with Arie and her reactivity, and was a culmination of a lot of my stress about it all from the last few years. No matter what, we always put safety first. Though Arie has never bitten anyone or another dog, we don’t take risks. She’s suited up like Hannibal, just in case, every time we leave the house.
All of this being said, there is hope for my dog and for me and for my family and I will not lose sight of that. The battle with her anxiety and fear has always been some kind of Tango… Two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, etc. We’ve made a lot of progress with her anxiety in the house, and now need to renew our efforts with outside stimulus. We’re stocking up on treats for the “What’s that?” game with sounds and smells and stimulus to start off in the back yard, eventually moving to the front porch, allowing her to slowly re-learn how to deal with everything out in the world. Eventually, someday, it will pay off; I can’t wait for the day when we can walk down the street, not fearing whether or not there’s a dog around the corner.