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The Power of Positivity

The other week I was walking Fen and something happened that made me sad, but at the same time totally reaffirmed my commitment to train my dog with positive based methods.  I (so far) haven't written about this in depth, but both of my dogs, to one degree or another, are leash reactive.  Kit walked awesomely on a leash until he was unfortunately attacked by a loose dog while I was walking him.  After that he became reactive towards other dogs, mainly to large (strangely enough) brown dogs similar to the one who attacked him. 

That was a few years ago now and Kit, for the most part, is awesome on leash again!

Fen is only two years old.  We socialized him tons when he was a puppy, but when he was around 9 months old he started becoming reactive towards both strange people and dogs.  He also became fearful of random objects, such as holiday decorations, bags of trash left out on the street, etc.

ASAP Fen and I started working with an awesome positive based trainer.  I already knew quite a bit about reactivity through dealing with Kit's big brown dog issues, but Fen's reactivity was quite a bit worse and his triggers much more numerous.

After over a year of working with Fen he has made amazing progress.  He's not perfect, I'll be the first to admit that, but the number of things that set him off during walks has dramatically decreased.  Random objects outside, even strange ones, almost never bother him now.  His main triggers that we're still working on now include strangers getting really close to him, runners, bikes, skateboards (etc), and strange dogs while on leash.

He's a work in progress, but lately makes me feel proud of him way more often then he makes me feel stressed/embarrassed.  I use positive based training methods with both my dogs, so the progress I've made with them has been accomplished without the use pain or fear.  All this leads me to the experience I had the other day.

I was walking Fen around our neighborhood.  I, unfortunately, didn't notice that we were walking towards a house where an older lady and her small dog were sitting on their stoop.  I didn't notice, that is, until the lady's small dog starting barking frantically at Fen and I.  Keeping in mind here that strange dogs, especially dogs that show so much interest in him, have historically been a major trigger for Fen's reactivity.  But I was armed...with chicken.  I cheerfully told Fen "with me", which is our cue for him to heel, and we walked by the frantically barking dog without Fen making so much as a peep.

Go Fen!  I was so proud of him.  So why, you might be wondering, did the encounter also make me feel sad?  The lady who owned the other dog, who at first glance looked like she would be the sweetest little old lady, did not react well to her dog barking at us.  She wrapped both her hands around her poor dog's neck and forcefully pushed him down onto the ground.  Despite the lady screaming at him in addition to her death grip, the dog kept barking at us.  She must have been putting pressure around his neck because his barks sounded a bit strangled, but didn't cease.

The way the lady treated her dog made me sad.  Furthermore, her methods obviously didn't work.  In the meantime my Fen, also a reactive dog although in this instance you never would have known it, acted the perfect little gentlemen and all without me having to raise my voice or lay a finger on him.

Although I was upset seeing how that other lady treated her dog, it reaffirmed my commitment to always use positive based training methods with my own pets.  My dogs prove to me everyday that positive training works, and the bond we share never has to suffer in the name of having better behaved dogs.

Comment below!  If you also use positive based training methods have you ever experienced something that strongly reaffirmed your decision to train this way?


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