Bean's Story,  Dog Blog

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Has Ever Been Afraid of My Dog

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.

25 Comments

  • Ruth

    This is such a beautiful post. Our last family dog (who died a couple of years ago) was similar and we had to deal with some of the same things. She was a rescue and we imagine she may have had a tough past. She didn’t particularly like people she didn’t know and she was very boisterous around other dogs. Like you, we had glares, comments and all sorts, but she was a sweet dog when approached in the right way.

  • Rebecca

    Great post and it was written beautifully. Growing up we had a very, very reactive dog. She loved our family and was the sweetest thing, but when we had friends or family over, she made me so nervous because she was so protective. We always took the precautions needed though, for instance, if I was walking her and a little kid asked “can I pet your dog?”, I would say no. Often times kids and parents looked at me like I was this really mean person, telling their child no. But, I knew that if something were to happen and she were to react to the child, it could be really bad. It was tough seeing how people looked at you when said no and kept walking, but I knew it was best for the kid and for my dog. Now the dog that we have is so docile and calm that she even rolls over on her belly when she sees the mail man, but I still have those nerves deep down, and I probably always will. But, I wouldn’t have traded our old dog for the world, even if other people couldn’t see why.

    • rachellaurenhardy

      I always have to tell people no too and it’s heart breaking. It’s crazy to see that more people have owned reactive dogs than I could ever imagine. I think I will always carry my precautions with me as well! Thank you so much for reading 🙂

  • Beth

    Bean is beautiful, and I’m glad she is in such a good home!

    My dog, Theo, owns my heart, but he is not perfect. He doesn’t like strangers and isn’t afraid to let them know that. However, in the last five years since he has been with us, he has moved away from being aggressive to strangers to accepting, once he has seen them (from the safety of his crate) that we approve of our visitors.

    He barks a ton at the vet’s office, so I wait outside with him. But he is now good with his vet exams and goes back willing to have his toenails trimmed. They always put a muzzle on him for the toenails, and I’m glad. The last thing I want is for him to bite someone and cause heartache for all of us.

    I once had an adult yell at me because Theo was barking at him. It bothered me, but I just kept us moving. Even though he likes kids, I don’t let people pet him outside our home, because it isn’t worth the risk. If they ask (which is rare since he’s often barking), I just say, “No, he’s kinda grumpy, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” The parents are thankful for my honesty. Trust your heart and try to ignore what people who don’t know better say.

    • Elayne Lavitt

      I have a Malanois black Belgian shepherd rescue. Very , very similar in behavior. I have also had experiences like you described. My veterinarian has been WONDERFUL and I have found that the phrase “owner protective” really has helped me , in those situations, also I have read that getting a vest printed with , phrases like ,…. nervous, or caution, stay away. .or even,
      Please dont touch,… .has helped other owners with the same problem . You are not alone , and others who are educated in animal behavior will understand ,
      Thank you for your article on this!!
      Elayne Lavitt

  • Gratisoul

    Wow.. Even though I’m not a dog person in general.. But your blog gave me an insight to their world.. I loved it how you have been supporting your Bean from negativity of other people.. I know it’s devastating when people speak bad about something or someone you love! But people will always say what they want to say. You look at the glass half full side of it.. And keep loving your Bean more and more every day! ❤️

  • Gail

    You are obviously a kind, sensitive person, and your dog is so lucky to have you. That people would make rude comments to you is inexcusable. That being said, I want to speak on behalf of those who look upon dogs like that with fear. Some of us have been attacked by dogs and those memories will never disappear. We’re not always in a good place where we can merely walk up to you and your lunging, growling, dog and ask to get to know her better. Just as your dog has a right to be who she is, so do we. Perhaps if we both try and have compassion for the other, someday, we can meet somewhere in the middle. God bless you and your dog.

    • rachellaurenhardy

      Thank you for sharing the other side as well! something I didn’t think of at first! I’m so sorry that happened to you

  • Melanie varey

    I too have reactive dogs after a bite and it really is hard work. A lovely post, celebrating us owners who shoulder the eye rolling and tutting as our dogs bark at the passing dog. All the best to you and Bean x

      • Laura

        This got me right in the feels… because I’ve been there. I am there every time I take my little girl for a walk.

        She’s not people reactive. Gosh, she would greet a burglar with kissed! Shes dog reactive.
        When we walk her and theres another dog, and being on a leash ourside of her home makes her behave differently. Shes not threatening but she will lunge and bark.
        It breaks my heart when I see people shake their heads ar her. Peoppe have kicked at her, scooped up their children and told us she should be put down. It breaks my heart because they don’t see how sweet and gentle she really is.

        But this problem is way more common than you would think! And you should absolutely not blame yourself. Maybe get a yellow ribbon for Beans leash, or a sash that says she needs space or is a nervous dog. They mean that she needs space amung other dog owners and they usually recognise this and give you breathing room.

        Love to you and Bean from a fellow rescue baby mumma and nervous doggy advocate ♡

        Laura ☆ http://www.laurahasablog.co.uk

  • Michelle

    Bean is so cute! It’s great that you have identified what the problem was and reacting appropriately. It’s hard to have the child that doesn’t fit into the mold but that makes you love even harder. Hang in there!

  • Kate

    Wonderful post. I have gone through a lot of this with Glia, and your post reflects so many of my thoughts. I adopted Glia when she was 3 months old and her dog-reactivity emerged when she was around a year of age. At first, I wondered what I had done wrong. You always hear that phrase, “there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.” But there is so much more to reactivity than poor socialization or lack of training. Much of a dogs personality is genetic and determined before these dogs even enter our lives. And you’re right, Glia can bark and growl on a walk if a dog startles us, but she is the best cuddler and is great with the other pets inside our home. She is my baby and all we can do as pet parents is work to help our reactive dogs gain as much confidence as possible and manage situations to set our dogs up for success.

  • Jocelyn Adams

    I have a rescue dog called Bean also. He is a rescue and was abused for the first five years of his life. He is a reactive dog but he is also very loving and loyal. Training has helped and he has improved. But I still can’t grantee how he will react around other people and dogs but I wouldn’t give him up for all the world. He is my beautiful boy.

    • rachellaurenhardy

      Awe that’s so sweet our dogs share the same name! I’m so glad to hear you rescued a Bean of your very own! He sounds like a sweetie!

  • Marissa McDaniel

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS. I am the person that is a little more uncomfortable with dogs (never was around dogs much) although I try not to show it. I truly appreciate the honesty and information in this post. Each animal has its own personality, anxieties and fears and we all need to understand that. Not every dog wants to be friends with everyone just like not every human wants to be a social butterfly. I mean really, animals and humans respond based on their situation and how it makes them feel. If the situation is uncomfortable they will likely respond in an uncomfortable way.

    I really do appreciate this post and I hope more people learn to be nicer and more accepting. Keep doing you. 🙂

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