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Our dog, Rodrigo, is reactive, which makes walking him a challenge. Over the years, I tried everything to "cure" him and while he got better, he's still a reactive dog and this post shares how I learned to accept this about him and set him up for success.

Rodrigo is a reactive dog. Scout and Zoey are somewhat reactive, but I think their real issue is that I did a piss poor job socializing them. It's probably Rodrigo's issue too. I've learned a lot over the past 10 years and each of our dogs have benefited from what I've learned. But I still can't help but kick myself when I think of how I've failed my dogs. Don't bother telling me not to feel bad, it's a Dog Mom's prerogative to feel guilty – we look back and we kick ourselves.

Rodrigo is reactive to bicycles. He can watch them from a distance without having an issue, but if a bicycle is within 20 feet, he loses his ever loving mind. It sucks, because he loves going on walks. But the stress of walking him is too much for me, for our other dogs, for Rodrigo, and for the poor cyclists who share the space. And, yes, I've tried walking him at dusk and dawn – I spend the entire time watching for a cyclist and Rodrigo recognizes my actions and he tenses up and starts looking for then too. Damn, dogs are smart.

So, after trying everything – trainings, desensitization, looking for the right areas, trying to find the perfect time of day – I gave up and accepted that my dog will always be reactive and I began to focus on setting himself (and myself) up for success.

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Life with a Reactive Dogs

For years, Rodrigo was a challenging dog. We couldn't go to the dog park. I couldn't take him to dog events, even something as small as going to the pet store was hit or miss with him. The looks I would get when he'd flip out. I felt like everyone was telling me that I was a bad dog owner, and a few people came out and sad as much to my face. I began keeping my distance, walking my dogs on leash in areas where we could keep our distance from others. This worked most of the time. And the times it didn't work were when people would seek us out so our dogs could meet. This drove me bonkers! I was tempted to get a leash and harness that said “In Training,” but people wouldn't be able to read it from the distance I kept, and, frankly, most people didn't care.

But the biggest challenge was his reactivity towards bicycles because our property borders a popular walking/jogging/cycling trail. And our property is unfenced. Years ago, my biggest fear was that he'd race out to the trail and knock over a cyclist. Can you say “lawsuit?” So we began working with him at the beginning of every March before people started using the trail. We taught him “bicycle” so that he'd know one was coming and when he noticed the cyclist, we'd give him a treat. It took one weekend (or maybe two) to teach him to come to us instead of running towards the trail.

Today, Rodrigo is 10 years old and isn't interested in running out onto the trail. He's still a reactive dog and I don't take him on walks unless it's in a secluded area (with pepper spray), but with age has come a measure of control.

Kimberly Gauthier and her dog Rodrigoi
Maybe Rodrigo and I will become moguls some day too.

How to Avoid Having a Reactive Dog

The only way I can think to avoid having a reactive dog is to do your homework on breeds and choosing one that best suits your lifestyle, work with a reputable breeder who isn't breeding reactivity into their litters, and focus on socialization and training from a young age. I came up with this because of my experience with my dogs. Rodrigo and Sydney were adopted through a rescue – their mother was rescued from a hoarding in Oregon. Sydney is solid, but Rodrigo has been reactive since he was about four months old and I've always wondered if it's due to the stress his mom was under or an adverse reaction to vaccinations.

A Mother's Stress Can Influence Unborn Puppies

“The puppies’ tiny brains were already developing before birth, and their hormonal systems were being tuned to make them ready to face the world that their mother had been experiencing.” ~ Whole Dog Journal

Rodrigo loves people and loves to meet other dogs. He's the sweetest dog, we adore him, and work to give him and his siblings the best life. But despite his life, he has a laundry list of fears. Some are normal with many dogs, others are a bit random.

  • thunderstorms
  • windstorms
  • hard rain
  • fireworks
  • brooms
  • vacuum cleaner
  • loud noises
  • changing the garage around
  • baby gates

Out of our five dogs, he's also the most sensitive to our emotions, so we can't argue in front of him and I've had to learn to monitor my energy so that my anxiety doesn't influence his anxiousness.

“For animals born into harsh environments full of threats, where fearfulness is justified, a highly reactive stress response is critical and may make the difference between life or death. But a highly reactive stress response is also energetically very expensive, so for animals born to gentler environments with less to fear, energy is better spent on other systems, like growth or reproduction.” ~ Whole Dog Journal

We've learned how to comfort him without rewarding his fear reactions. It's not easy. What works best for him is a combination of CBD oil, diffusing essential oils, and daily exercise.

Behavior Changes After a Rabies Vaccination

The other cause of Rodrigo's reactivity might be an adverse reaction to a rabies vaccination when he was a puppy. That was around when the reactivity started. We used to walk on the trail all the time and then one day, he flipped out when he saw cyclists and he's never stopped.

“Some of these post-vaccination problems include serious behavior changes. These may include sudden aggression, reactivity, anxieties, fears, phobias, etc. Virtually any new “over-the-top” behavior can be seen and have been well described. Behavior changes after vaccination are unfortunately often overlooked by conventionally trained veterinarians. Most veterinarians want to do their best to help your pet. The rigorous scientific and clinical training we obtained during our training should absolutely not be abandoned. Yet some of us have developed closed minds. A closed mind obscures clear and scientific vision. This is especially true when it comes to recognizing and treating dis-eases due to vaccination like the rabies miasm. Proper diagnosis and treatment are not possible if the veterinarian or trainer is not aware of (or “believe” in) the energetic imbalance that can result from vaccination.” ~ Dr. Jeff Feinman

What is Rabies Miasm? “A miasm is when the body, mind, or emotions of an individual manifest signs of the disease without actually having the disease. This means that after receiving the rabies vaccine, your pet would show symptoms of actually having rabies, but would not test positive for the disease. Many people believe this to be a true disease that their dog may have contracted from the rabies vaccine. The problem with rabies miasm is the significant lack of scientific research to back those claims.~

Because there is little research to support this theory, many traditional vets will dismiss the rabies vaccination as a cause of reactivity in dogs. And, to be honest, I didn't think of it until my friend Diane mentioned it to me in the past couple of months.

What I Would Do Differently Going Forward

I don't plan to stop adopting dogs. I love providing a home to homeless dogs. This isn't a knock against anyone who chooses to work with a reputable breeder; it's just a personal preference. With rescue, I can't control my puppy or dog's history, so in the future, I'll work with a trainer who is also a certified behaviorist from the start. This is an investment, but it would be worth it because the amount of stress Rodrigo lives with isn't good for his health. Had I worked with a professionally regularly from the start, he wouldn't be collecting phobias like trading cards today.

And, if I do work with a reputable breeder, I would want to work with a natural rearing breeder (better diet, little to no vaccinations) who practices socialization from the start by exposing the litter to sounds, scents, and sensations from birth.

How I Ease Rodrigo's Anxiety in the Home

When it comes to Rodrigo's reactivity, training only went so far, but it was still important. Not only to make life with Rodrigo easier, but also to prevent his anxiety from influencing Scout and Zoey's behavior. I mentioned above that my focus is to set Rodrigo up for success and that means that I don't take him to places that will trigger his reactivity. Whenever we do go for walks, I keep plenty of space between us and others.

But what about that long list of fears his has developed? For those, we have three steps that work for Rodrigo:

1 – Rodrigo needs daily exercise. He's getting older and slowing down and does more exploring around the property than playing fetch, but that's okay. Getting him outside and moving is great for his body, mind, and anxiety. It's great for mine too.

2 – Canna-Pet CBD oil in capsules provides up to 12 hours of relief in some dogs. I have learned to pay attention to the weather and I add three capsules to Rodrigo's morning and evening meals starting two days before the forecasted storm. It doesn't stop his fear, but it does ease his stress.

3 – King Kalm CBD oil is a gift. It comes with an oral syringe making dosing my dogs easy. One hefty dose for Rodrigo is enough to provide some calm through an evening. As I'm typing, a rain storm is doing an excellent job of watering our new plants and trees. It would also be stressing Rodrigo out were it not for the King Kalm.

Me and the littermate puppies, Sydney, Rodrigo, 8 Weeks Old
The afternoon we brought our littermate puppies home.

Coming to Terms that My Dog Will Always Be Reactive

I love my dogs. Rodrigo is smart, affectionate, funny, and he's my baby. I fell in love with him at first sight. And I am partially to blame for the dog I have today. Once I accepted that he was never going to be one of those dogs that I could take anywhere, life with him became a lot easier. We're lucky, because we live on 5 acres so we don't have to go anywhere and he has plenty of space. It's not ideal because I think dogs should be exposed to new things all the time. But, in our case, it's important that we keep our dog safe and he's safest at home.

There was a time when I found the perfect solution to dog parks and trails – SniffSpot. This is a service that allows you to rent someone's property for your dogs for a 45 minute block of time and it's heaven for the dogs. I found a 5 acre, fully fenced, gorgeous property, 30 minutes away and my dogs had a blast running around. Sadly, the service now requires current vaccinations, which I do not do with my dogs. So the only time I can walk Rodrigo off property is at dusk or dawn.

If you have a reactive dog, don't think that you're a bad pet parent or that it's hopeless. Find yourself a great trainer/animal behaviorist and begin working with your dog now. And always set your dog up for success. It's okay not to have a dog that is the same as others.

Our dog, Rodrigo, is reactive, which makes walking him a challenge. Over the years, I tried everything to "cure" him and while he got better, he's still a reactive dog and this post shares how I learned to accept this about him and set him up for success.

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