One of my dogs, Layla, is reactive to dogs she doesn’t know. She has never bitten, but she lunges and barks. Once we’ve walked with a dog for a few minutes, onlead and with plenty of space between them, she calms down enough to be able to go off lead and socialise. But the hardest thing for her is an offlead dog she hasn’t met before running up to her. And the hardest thing for me is the owner of that dog then shouting at me.
But I believe in parallel universes now, because on a hot Sunday in July, Layla and I slipped into one.
I wasn’t expecting a peaceful walk as the weather was so lovely, but we took a path I thought may be quieter, along the side of a grassland meadow with a hidden stream running along beside it where Layla could splash. But only five minutes into the walk, just as I’d expected, another dog walker appeared with four dogs, three of them offlead. Two of them, puppies, raced over to us. I put Layla on the lead and we walked in the opposite direction, her making her usual fuss. The owner called the puppies and they turned straight away and ran back to him, and the owner called ‘sorry,’ from across the meadow. Layla was calm now with the puppies back with their owner so we had a brief conversation where I told him about Layla’s issues. He said that his onlead dog was exactly the same and he knew how it felt. We waved a friendly goodbye and went our separate ways.
We didn’t see anyone then for a while. The woods were shaded and scented with the distant hum of insects. Layla busied herself sniffing out all the good smells in the undergrowth and in the dinosaur-like roots of the beech trees. But then further down the path I saw a woman coming towards us with an offlead retriever. I called Layla to me, put her on the lead, then called to the woman that we were just going back to an opening where we could hide off the path as she passed, if she wouldn’t mind waiting a second. ‘Oh, don’t do that,’ she called. ‘I can go another way.’ She smiled at me, called her dog, and then walked off in the opposite direction.
Just round the corner there was another woman with an offlead bulldog, coming through the gate that Layla and I were going to go through. Layla and I ran past until we were a safe distance away while I shouted, ‘She’s reactive,’ to explain. Even though they were now nowhere near us, the woman put her dog on the lead, waved to me, and carried on with her walk. It was starting to feel strange. No-one had replied with ‘It’s ok, my dog’s friendly.’ Nobody had told me my dog was aggressive. Nobody had given me their expert opinion on what to do: we are working on this, with the help of a behaviourist, but there are no quick fixes. I started to wonder whether we could actually finish this walk with no incidents.
On our way home we passed a shaded lagoon where the stream briefly widens, that the locals call the dog spa. If there had been nobody there Layla could have had a splash around in it, but as we approached we saw a man sitting on the bank throwing sticks into the water for his staffy. He turned and saw us, and smiled, and without saying a word put a lead on his dog. It was at that point the walk began to feel dreamy and unreal and as though we had slipped into a lovely parallel universe.
There are no quick fixes but she’ll get there. And while we are working on her issues, understanding and respectful people like I met on this walk make our life so much easier.
For anyone else with a reactive dog, there is a Facebook group I thoroughly recommend called Reactive Dogs UK.
Happy walking everyone.