I have to say that life with a Cattle Dog mix is never boring. When we got Tasha from the rescue, we knew she was going to be a handful. Our girl is scared of a lot of things but the big ones seem to be: people, LD or I getting hurt, water (except for drinking water of course), and being abandoned. The main issue with the fears though is that she presents most of them in one of the worst ways possible: fear aggression. When we first met her, she and LD had some growing pains. She would try to nip him and got his shoes a couple of times in the 2 hours we were there working with her. On a side note, Affinity Rescue is fantastic and have really been there for us every step of the way with rehabilitating Tasha. Oddly enough, Tasha took to me right away although she tends to be less fearful of women in general.
After months of working with Tasha, she has learned that nipping is absolutely, 100% unacceptable. That is only from consistent alpha rolls and our own disappointment in her after she does it. However, she still does go for the pant legs around the knee area especially. I know that most of this is socialization. She had been a stray in the city for a while before she was rescued. It is hard to explain to people over and over again that she is in training and needs her space. People act shocked when she reacts to them getting into her bubble. She will bare her teeth and lunge on the leash. Barking and growling. People are afraid of my dog. I wish they could also see the lovable side of her.
How are we working on getting her on the right path? The answer to that question is not exactly clear. First, we make sure she is extremely well exercised. Winter has created problems in that respect as we can no longer take her with us out on our runs as we have switched over to the apartment workout room treadmills and dogs are not allowed in there (especially reactive ones). We have built indoor agility equipment that goes in any location in our apartment that we can put it and can come apart for storage. She seems to especially love jumps which we seem to always have set up in our living room these days. The agility equipment seems to be building her confidence and make her more in tune with our commands and energy in general. I also rollerblade her for 20 minutes or so around the apartment building basement once or twice a day. The basement can get boring though. However, for her the sound of the running pipes seems to help with the boredom as you never know where you will hear the water run. We also play hide and seek with her in the house and use puzzle toys. If you keep her in a tired state, it is easy to keep her tired out. If you let her energy build up a little bit, you have to work twice to three times as hard to bring her back to that state. We have even gotten an app to help us track how much exercise she has gotten and what level of intensity it is. (For those of you interested, it is the Purina ProPlan P5 app and seems to only be available on iOS).
Next, week make sure to correct her on bad behaviors early and praise her when she does well. Even if we can get her to stop lunging and do a sit or down on command, we praise immediately. Using this method, we have found her reactions to be less intense over time. However, rehabilitating a fearful dog is not a straight line. It is definitely a 2 steps forward, 1 step back kind of process.
We also noticed a major decrease in her outbursts after we got her allergy tested and removed the food allergens from her diet. If you have a reactive dog that is also itchy or showing signs of discomfort, I strongly suggest you talk to your vet about this. Our theory is that she is more open to new experiences when she isn’t feeling quite as vulnerable.
The hardest thing to do for me, though, is to make sure to keep my own emotions out of the training. What Tasha needs is for me to be her rock in those circumstances. I can’t get embarrassed. I can’t get angry or frustrated. I am a generally anxious person. It is amazing how much someone else’s needs can put me into a different state of mind. Most people might assume that an aggressive dog would make my anxiety go sky high, but instead Tasha has lowered my anxiety levels overall. I don’t think they will ever fully go away, but it is a step in the right directions. The beauty is that she also returns the favor when my anxiety does go sky high when she is in a safe environment, such as our apartment or any new location where people she does not know are around. When I am upset, she sits next to me and does not move until she knows I am ok.
Tasha is always making progress and every day is a learning experience. Having a “problem dog” is not always a bad thing. People see her when she is freaking out and sometimes tell me that she is a danger to everyone around her, but she is so much more than that. She is part of my life journey. She helps make me a better person and along with LD (my fiance), we are a team. Her issues have not always been easy to handle, but they are all of our issues. They have made LD and my relationship stronger and have brought the three of us closer.