My life was changed forever the day that I brought my dog home. It’s been three years and I can still vividly remember the excitement that I felt driving to pick up my new puppy from the shelter I had adopted her from. She was such a tiny, sweet, gentle pup back then.
Originally, I had been nervous to introduce this new puppy to our current dogs, but I quickly realized that my fears were unfounded. My dogs took to this little puppy right away and she was just as excited to have new friends.
As the days turned into weeks and then to months, Bean began to grow, not just physically (my once tiny pup weighs over fifty pounds now) but into a dog of her own, with her own special personality and quirks.
As she left behind her puppyhood, it did not take long for us to realize that Bean was a fearful, anxious dog who suffered from a pretty big case of leash reactivity.
The reality that my dog was anxious, fearful, and reactive hit me like a slap in the face. I took it pretty hard at first and spilled plenty of tears over it. I felt that my dog wasn’t happy and that I had failed her somehow, that if I had only been better, Bean wouldn’t be this way. I was my own worst critic and no one was harder on myself and Bean than I was.
But after having some pretty serious conversations with some pretty great people and reading up on dog behavior, I began to realize that there were a whole host of factors that helped to make Bean the way that she was. I couldn’t control them, I couldn’t change them, and even if things had been different there would have been no guarantee for a different outcome.
Overtime, I began to love and accept Bean for who she was and I am now her biggest advocate and staunchest supporter. I work on training with Bean as often as possible. I go to extra lengths to protect her and others. But I know that she will never be perfect. She will never love strangers. She will never be the dog I can go everywhere with me. I had to let go of my dream of having a therapy dog.
And while I love and accept my dog for who she is, there are still plenty of people who don’t.
Look, I know, maybe more than anyone, that Bean can seem scary. She has a big bark and she’s a bigger, strong dog. She lunges and growls and can appear downright terrifying sometimes. But at the end of the day, this is also the same dog that sleeps in my bed every night and showers me with kisses every time I come home. She’s my baby and she always will be.
Bean truly is a sweet dog. In my opinion, she is the most loving and loyal dog in the world, but that’s because I see both sides of her, while most people only ever see the one on the end of the leash.
In response to Bean’s behavior, I’ve had some people say some pretty terrible things to me. My neighbors are afraid of my dog. They don’t like her. I’ve been told that no one should own a dog like that. It pierces my heart and brings tears to my eyes EVERYTIME. I want people to love my dog. I want people to see the side of her that I see. I want them to know that Bean is so much more.
I’ve had kids and parents scream at Bean and I on walks. I’ve even had a threat made against her. I’m not blind. I can see the fear in people’s eyes when we walk by sometimes. As we continue down the road, I can feel the glances you make over your shoulder. I can hear your muttering about her.
But I hope that next time you see a reactive dog just trying to enjoy a walk with their human or playing in their own yard or riding in the car or doing whatever makes them happy, that you pause for a minute and think about Bean.
Instead of being afraid or judging the dog and their owner, I want you to remember that most of us with reactive dogs are trying so hard. We are trying every day to build their confidence in themselves, in strangers, and in the world. We put in hours and so much money into training. We adapt our lives to work around what is best for our dogs. We walk when the roads are less crowded, we muzzle our dogs at the vet, we avoid crowds and other dogs and parks. We are just trying to make the world a better place for our dogs and we desperately want you to see them as more than the growling, lunging hunk of muscle on the end of the leash.
There’s no one who wishes our dogs were different more than us. But they aren’t and they may never be.
My dog is not lesser because she is afraid or anxious. She is not a bad dog because she barks or growls. My dog will never be friendly with strangers, but that does not make her deficient. I respect her boundaries and limits and so should you.
My dog is not a human child who can reason. She navigates the world through the lens of a dog. I can’t sit her down and explain to her that you won’t hurt her and that she shouldn’t be afraid. She barks and growls as a warning. She communicates in the only way she can. I know it can be frightening. But I just want you to remember how frightening you and the world are to her.
All that I want is for anyone who has ever been afraid of my dog, or any other reactive dog for that matter, to stop and remember these things. To pull me aside one day and try to get to know who my dog really is. To respect her boundaries. To stop yelling and muttering and speaking cruel words on her behalf. To acknowledge that she is not a bad dog or lesser because she doesn’t love the dog park or meeting new people. To accept that every dog is different. To accept that dogs are not human children and that they are limited. To acknowledge that I’m trying. To acknowledge how much my dog means to me and how much I love her. To understand that one day, you could adopt a dog just like Bean. To educate yourself about dog behavior and canine body language.
Instead of being afraid or mocking my dog and I, stop and remember these things. It would mean the world to me and to Bean.