I have proof that counter-conditioning reactive dogs to scary things works.
On a recent walk around Rob’s parents’ neighborhood after dark, we saw some kids run out of a house. I thought they were going to get in a car, but they just stood there in the street.
I worried they might hop on skateboards and head straight for us, which would have set Leo a-barking, so I asked, “Are you guys headed this way?” One of the kids said, “Who are you?”
We probably looked weird, with the dogs in their glow-in-the-dark collars and all.
I said pleasantly, “We’re just walking our dogs, but they might bark at you if you make any sudden movements.”
I’m totally delighted at how well I handled that, if I do say so myself. I’ve been counter-conditioned to scary things too.
They still just stood there (maybe in fear of making the aforementioned sudden movements?), so we kept walking while I gave Leo cheese, and everything was cool. As we passed, I saw they had toy guns, which made me even more proud of my dogs, because people with guns? That’s what German shepherds are designed to protect me from!
As far as I’m concerned, this was a total victory! Something unusual happened, and Leo looked to me to tell him whether he should be concerned about it.
To anyone who’s struggling with a reactive dog… there is hope. Keep on counter-conditioning your dog with positive associations to scary things. Eventually they will look to you tell tell them that everything is okay.
Also of note… Yesterday was Leo’s fifth birthday. He really has grown into a wonderful doggie, figuratively and literally: We weighed him and discovered that he weighs 103 pounds!