Sunday, August 23, 2015

Loving a Reactive Dog

First - let me state that I am by no means an expert on dogs and dog behavior. All I know is how my reactive dog behaves and how I am learning to deal with his reactive behavior. 

When it came time to adopt a buddy for our 6 year old Kizzie, we turned to the Dumb Friends League. I searched the website and fell in love with this little face.

I knew with an adorable face like that he wouldn't last long so we went down that afternoon. Meeting him in person I realized there was more to this little guy (also 6 years old) than just a cute face. Taking him to meet Kizzie I soon realized... he's got A LOT of energy...

But we decided to take a chance and adopted him anyway. Kizzie wasn't sure what to think.

(To be honest... 17 months later she still doesn't know what to think.) 

Within about 30 minutes home he fell fast asleep in his Dad's arms.

In the ensuing days as we got to know our little Koko better we realized he, indeed, was quite energetic

If an animal appeared on television, he went bananas - barking and barking and barking.

If he saw a bunny or a bird or a dog or a person outside, he went bananas - barking and barking and barking.

He didn't appear to know how to walk on-leash and was very wiggly and awkward when we tried to walk.

We live in a fairly quiet neighborhood which proved to be a double-edged sword for Koko. We learned he was very reactive to noise - any noise - a truck, a timer, an alarm, a dog barking, a telephone ringing, a doorbell, a lawnmower, voices outside - any noise. Thunder... oh my goodness, thunder! So a quiet environment can be good for him. A quiet environment also makes any noise - any noise - louder than it would in a noisier environment. So we were dealing with a lot of barking issues. One his favorite spots to "guard" the house and make us aware of anything - anything - going on outside was (still is) the top of the stairs -- in perfect view of a large window above the front door.

Although he loved going for Jeep rides (still does) ~ again ~ any little motion or noise outside would set him off. 

I knew within days I was going to need guidance and help or I would lose my mind. Returning Koko to the shelter was not an option. 

I believe that The Universe puts people and things and situations in your life at certain times for a reason ~ and if you are paying attention The Universe will usually present an answer.

We love our Vet Clinic and, of course, took Koko in within days to have a well-check exam. I explained we were experiencing some behavioral issues and we were immediately referred to Yukari of You n' I Animal Wellness. I thought about it for a couple of days and remember after one particularly stressful day I sat down that evening and poured my heart, stress, concerns - and yes a few tears - into an email to Yukari. I basically had a meltdown.

Long story short, within days we were working with Yukari once a week.

And work we did! For almost a year we met first once a week, then once every two weeks then once every three. We always had homework ~ and by we I mean the whole family ~ Koko, Kizzie, me and my husband. We all were trained.

One of the first things we learned was to make his living space smaller and more manageable. Up went the puppy gates!

It helped! 

We tried crate training. Koko seemed to like it ~ especially when I covered the crate with a blanket. It was his little man-cave.

Kizzie, on the other hand ~ mellow as she is ~ fought the crate. So we put the crates on hold.

There were lots of commands to learn ~ sit, stay, come, down, leave it, look at that! Some are automatic now; some still need some work. He did get "down!"

For those thunderstorms we bought a Thundershirt and it helps a bit. We also have calming treats, Pheromone spray and calming gel. When a storm approaches and it gets dark we turn on all the lights. We play the television loud. We have special treats. We dance. We sing. All of it helps. He still gets a little anxious, but he is much better.

Who knows what the first 6 years of Koko's life were like, but we can be pretty sure he had no training and very little attention. So he's like a puppy still. He loves to play fetch so it has become a daily ritual for us. A very fun, very cute, very beneficial thing to do for him and with him.

We're constantly learning and just the other day bought this awesome travel crate for him to ride in comfort when we go for Jeep rides. We're still working on this one and he seems to like it!

So after a year working with Yukari our trainer-client relationship transitioned into a great friendship. We still see her often and Koko and Kizzie are always over the moon happy to smother her in puppy kisses. 

Bottom line in all this is ~ living with a reactive dog is challenging but it is doable! Enlisting the help of a good trainer - one who believes in training with positive reinforcement - is crucial. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch Koko learn and advance and become more comfortable in his own skin. He is a happier dog now. He's a smart boy and he learns quickly; when it clicks, it clicks. I have learned that consistency and routine are very important for him. It has made all of our lives easier. We're still learning; still working on commands and routine. But it is 1000 times better than it was. He's probably always going to have some anxious tendencies, but I feel so much better knowing that we're doing all we can to make him comfortable.

Is every day perfect? No. Do I still have days when I want to pull my hair out? Yes. The occasional meltdown still occurs. But now I know it is only temporary ~ this, too, shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day. All those cliches apply.

Koko mainly just likes being with us. He loves being with his family and we love him.

And always there is that face. That precious little face that brought him to me. We joke and say it has saved him many times. 

That face that I still fall in love with each and every day. I feel blessed that The Universe decided we needed each other, Koko. 


  1. yes!~ ALL THE FEELS =) I too, adopted a mini-whirling dervish of a barky dog. Ms Boo is cra-cra, anxiety filled, & a level of energy I have NEVER experienced in a dog. But, just like KoKo, she has her saving grace......her highly intuitive em-path abilities. I have always been uber sensitive to animal issues & will cry at the drop of an idea that an animal will be or has been treated wrongly. Ms Boo has this uncanny ability to sense the first intake of breath that happens when you start to get that lump in your throat feeling before a cry. She turns off ALL the Tasmanian Devil in her & allows me to cuddle, kiss, hug, comfort her for my sake that I need to get past whatever upset me. so, yeah.....I,like you, will take all the behaviors that could be another persons reason to 'return the dog'.....for that sweet lil angels caring moments anyday =) Great post Cindi!~

  2. Aw, minta, thank you. :) Your Ms Boo sounds like a special girl. Dogs are so intuitive. They know when we need them. In the same vein, I have to be careful not to show my anxiety around Koko because he picks up on it in a heartbeat and becomes anxious himself. Maybe he's here to calm ME down. :)