Up until a year ago, when I took Mocha for a walk, and she saw someone approaching, or even worse, another dog, she would go totally ballistic so I was resigned to the fact we would spend the rest of our time going off trail whenever we saw someone coming. I chatted with and exchanged emails with a couple of forum members and got some great advice (You know who you are, thank you so much!), and have been putting in some time with my girl to see if we could work through her reactivity before it got totally out of control.
First of all, it takes a LOT
of work, time, patience, and love, and we're moving forward in baby steps, with plenty of setbacks along the way so this is in no way a miracle cure story because we're definitely still a work in progress and most likely will be, for a very long time...but that's fine.
The very first thing I learned was, that the saying that feelings run down the leash is a truism. And how. I can't even remember exactly when, but one day while we were out I realized that when we saw other people coming, or someone with a dog approaching, that I started getting anxious and worried that Mocha was going to go nuts. And around the same time, I also noticed that whenever Mocha saw someone or something, the very first thing she ALWAYS did was look at me. So in part, she was feeding off my emotions and actions, and lack of clear direction. I immediately changed things up, and when we saw someone coming at us, instead of me worrying, I started acting like they weren't there, and I talked to Mocha, while partially distracting her by directing her attention to anything else, even if it was me, or a treat in my hand, a flower or plant, anything but the approaching people/dog. No big deal, nothing to see here, let's just keep on moving along. At the beginning, we still kept a distance, and if I saw her hair starting to go up, we went further off trail until I saw her relax a bit. Another thing I did was to take her to the park and I would sit on a bench in a spot where she could watch people going back and forth, and walking their dogs from a distance, in the hope she would get a bit desensitized. A lot of rinse and repeat, and over time, I think we're seeing some results.
We've been going at it for about a year now, and have made what I consider to be fairly good progress. She'll bark if someone knocks on our door or rings the doorbell, or if she's on the back deck and sees someone close to the house. But we're to the point where I can take her out in public, and if she sees other people, or even dogs, she no longer goes ballistic. Yes, she still puts her ears up and watches them very carefully, but unless the other dog reacts towards us, she shows no signs of aggression/fear (I'm convinced it's always been fear and lack of confidence, not outward aggression). This morning, I took Mocha for an early morning hike at the park. We met a few folks along the way, one couple stopped to admire what a beauty Mocha was, and the lady petted Mocha and told her what a good girl she was. Another couple was walking their 2 dogs, and although Mocha's ears went up and she was on full alert, watching the dogs, she was fine until one of the dogs started barking at us right as they passed; then she growled and her hair went up. That's the tricky part; you never know how the other dogs will react. Most owners will start moving off trail or way over to the side while shortening their grip on the leash which tells me right way their dog may be reactive too which gives me plenty of warning to give them a wide berth but you always have that one that seems to think 2 dogs almost getting into it is entertaining.
So while I still don't have a dog that's ecstatic to meet everyone or wags her tail at all people and dogs that come our way, I do have a dog that's a lot more relaxed on our walks now, and to me, that's progress, and we both enjoy our hikes a lot more than we used to.
Edit: I also wanted to add that although I'm not 100% sure, it seems like Mocha gained a lot more confidence around her third birthday. Maybe a late bloomer?
And while I'm here, I may as well upload a few recent pics
Yes, I know I have a piece of grass in my mouth, what of it?
Did I say A "few" recent pics? LOL