When Balton entered my world, I got a crash course on what it means to live with a reactive dog.
It means spending days cuddling up on the couch and laughing at the silly grunts and groans my dog makes when he sleeps. It means delightful games of tug and fetch. It means finding myself caught between teaching polite manners and loving the fact that a dog can be so excited to see his people that it takes every fiber in his being to keep all four paws on the ground when he says “hi”. It means enjoying in each other’s company and looking at a happy, wonderful, relaxed dog and wishing that everyone could see what I see.
In those moments, I look in his eyes and ask him “why are you so normal here, and so whacked out to the outside world?” He’s yet to answer me back, unless a doggy smooch or this look with his head on my lap counts as a response.
It means bracing myself when I grab the leash, and praying for as few encounters as possible. It seems curmudgeonly to not want to see my neighbors, but saying “hi” to someone across the street or not darting off with an enthusiastic “let’s go!” when I see someone coming from behind could disrupt the balance that hangs in my hands by way of a leash. It means avoiding trails, sticking to roads, and gathering as much info about a person I see off in the distance about where they are headed so I can do my part keep them at bay, and so B doesn’t feel like he needs to be the one to create space. It means never leaving home without my best treats and a clicker, because the street outside the front door is always a high stakes training environment.
I should probably preface this next section by noting I was a Theatre major in college. I was never really brave enough after graduation to pursue that career path, and have a deep level of respect for to all my fellow alumni who are making careers on stage, in film, or behind the scenes. Nevertheless, I remain a bit of a theatre nerd, which remains a useful presentation and learning tool in many facets of my life. So, forgive me now for the theatre nerd about to emerge.
When I think of Balton, I can’t help but think of Eliza Dolittle from the musical “My Fair Lady” (or “Pygmalion” I suppose, but I was always more fond of musicals). I picture her whimsically signing “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” in one scene one moment, and yelling “You oughta be stuffed with nails, you ought!” in another. I honestly wonder if maybe that’s what Balton is saying to people when he barks and lunges at them on walks. Sure sounds like it in dogspeak.
The Eliza Dolittle we first see behind closed doors isn’t exactly delicate, but a more subdued version of the Eliza the world sees, with a good heart and sincerity. She is crass to people, but I believe she is that way out of self preservation. Much like My Fair Balton.
Julie Andrews as Eliza Dolittle the Cockney Flower Girl – I swear I see Balton make this face almost daily (source)
I would hope to be equated to more a thoughtful Colonel Pickering than a selfish Henry Higgins in our lessons of “My Fair Balton” the musical, but sometimes, our sessions together can be a bit exasperating. And sometimes, we have a “The Rain in Spain” moment.
To supplement our training, we implement some management methods to prevent the practice of unwanted behaviors. To keep track of them and where they lead us, I am going to document some of them here to make notes on what develops, and what we learn from our “Reactivity Activities.” Activities such as:
- Obstructing view outside the front window
- Head halters and harnesses in training and on walks
- Working with triggers from a distance (and eventually, closing that distance)
- Working with the Manners Minder (and other manners minding methods)
- Thoughts on Thundershirts
- Experimenting with essential oils
- And more…
As we continue to give a little, listen a little, respond a little and try not to trip on our toes during our ongoing dance, I hope we may be able to get the perpetual feeling of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
I hope we continue to spread our wings, and do a thousand things we’ve never done before.