It seems like every time I think Kenji has made progress and turning over a new leaf, reality takes a big ole bite of my heart. Maybe it was the fact that he had some pent up energy, maybe it was the fact that he was so happy that the sun finally started to open up. Or, maybe it was the fact that we saw another dog every 10 minutes in our walk, maybe it was the fact that we both started the day off cranky. Or, most likely it was all of the above, but whatever the reason, Kenji’s manners on our walk Sunday morning were terrible. He pulled. He barked, cried, and lunged at dogs. He wouldn’t listen to me when I told him to sit. But overall it was a side of Kenji’s reactivity that I have never seen. For the first time, his reactivity not only scared fellow walkers but it scared me. For the first time, I felt like there might be a bit of aggression in his behavior.
This has happened too many times in the past to count though, mostly with regards to his pulling. As soon as I thought we were making progress and he would go a week of walks without pulling, I’d run to BF with the good news and BOOM, the next morning we found ourselves back at square one. But still, when we take two steps back, I don’t generally become as discouraged as I did this weekend. I just wake up the next morning with even more motivation to work through it, but this Sunday I got home and began to do some SERIOUS research. I realized that maybe we can’t put off seeking professional help until I’m done with classes.
Last week I mentioned that the recent news story of Justice for Cisco caused me to fear a dangerous situation resulting from Kenji’s lunging on walks and therefore I decided to begin working with him until we sought professional help in the summer. But even before that, I was faced with the reality of Kenji’s behavior through a blog post on Love and a Six-Foot Leash on leash reactivity. I’ve been following Love and a Leash for almost a year now and while all posts can speak directly to so many dog owners, their post on leash reactivity really hit home for me. Accordingly, I quickly connected the dots and found that we were in the “realization” phase within the first month of having Kenji, but he was still a puppy and we thought that with age he would grow out of it. And either way, we thought his issue was far from be categorized as “leash reactivity”- or more accurately, I thought Kenji was far from that and BF just assumed he was a terrible walker, without really even knowing what leash reactivity was.
Then came the denial phase, which I was in from October until maybe January. I, too, thought it was impossible for him to be reactive because he loves other dogs and people, and leash reactivity was for aggressive dogs. Well, I was wrong and I found that out through researching pretty soon into the new year but still I didn’t think there was anyway that his leash reactivity was aggressive- and as I mentioned I still didn’t think it was aggressive until this past weekend. I figured he was leash reactive because he wanted to play and was frustrated because he couldn’t play- which might still be the cause – but the point is that this frustration might have begun to manifest itself as aggression.
Then, according to Love and a Six-Foot Leash, comes panic. To be honest, I think I may have been in a denial-panic hybrid phase for most of August until now, in reality. I couldn’t necessarily accept that Kenji was “leash reactive,” because of my assumed categorization of the behavior, but I still
was am in a panic mode for most of all of our walks. I remember the first walk in which he behaved so poorly by the time we got home I broke down in tears- it was in August because BF was working at the Tennis Tournament and had begun orientation for school and therefore he wasn’t around much, so with all of the built up frustration of not being able to leave the house without Kenji (because of his separation/isolation issues), coupled with the frustration and embarrassment he caused during the walk, all these tears came flooding- but still, I couldn’t wrap my head around the issue, especially since I really didn’t even understand Kenji’s behavior or leash reactivity at all. Since then, I try not to but if I see someone/dog approaching us, I automatically grab a tight hold around the leash, which then sends the exact message of DANGER and WARNING to Kenji, which further fuels his reactivity.
Fortunately, we’re reaching the progress phase. On Sunday when we got home, I automatically went to my computer and emailed our first trainer from Training Tracks about beginning private lessons. I also finally began to read the book Love and a Six-foot Leash recommends in her post- “Feisty Fido” by Patricia McConnell (the same author of a book I read this summer to work on Kenji’s separation/isolation!) Now we’ve been emailing back and forth all week and have set up Kenji’s first lesson for May 10th, when BF is finally done with exams and can fully participate as well! Hopefully the trainers will help us move in to the final two phases and help Kenji finally be able to relax and enjoy our walks, without having to worry about other dogs passing by him!
And don’t worry, I will documenting this trip of ours so when peace is finally reached, we can remember how far we’ve come and we’ll never forget to celebrate!