We have been especially interested in hearing about Maize, a sweet shy pup that was started on our inaugural walk, but also struggles with severe leash reactivity. I had never realized how difficult leash reactivity was, until walking one of our rescue dogs and feeling hopeless about going anywhere in a city filled with dogs. So we were very intrigued by Maize's story, knowing how dedicated her mom is working with her, and hearing how she is learning to be social with an unsocial pup.
Spoiler Alert: Maize was part of a confident 'Pitbull Trifecta" on our last walk!
The dog walking group has given me new found hope. As it turns out there ARE ways to be social with other dogs even if your dog is leash reactive! I used to drive by dog parks or walk by dogs socializing in the park and lower my head in frustration and maybe even a little bit of jealousy. I have 2 leash reactive dogs which makes city walking where there are tons of dogs around difficult at times. This used to be something that was hard to admit or talk about. I didn’t know anyone else who experienced the struggles I have faced in the past 3 years.
Prior to adopting my staffie mix Maize it was me and my pug. Although he’s been leash reactive (only in a 1-2 mile radius of our home) for years it was never a big deal. Since he is a small dog people tend to dismiss any reaction and come straight up to him and oooohh and awww over his extremely flat face and bugged out eyes. When my Maize came in to my life I had just lost a 9 year old golden retriever in a break up and my heart ached for her. My neighbor informed me of a dog that had been abandoned at the grooming salon where he worked. She was left by her owner who no longer needed her and was moving. She was being financially supported by a rescue and was staying at various groomers homes. When I first saw her walk down the courtyard her head hung low as she sauntered towards me. This was not a physically abused pup, just a young girl who had a couple of litters, no socialization and no self esteem. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve had two dogs before I can totally handle this!’ I had no idea what I was getting myself in to.
What is leash reactivity?
My experience with leash reactivity is a reaction that it happens out of fear and as part of mimicking her pug brother. I don’t think Maize was ever socialized as a puppy and the combination of having no self esteem and living with my leash reactive pug she could only help but follow her pack leader.
I'm no expert, but in my experience with leash reactivity, I see the behavior as actually built-up frustration. Two dogs see each other across the street; one dog gives a hard stare or bark; the other dog lunges forwards and feels the pull of the leash on the collar or harness. In this case, the lunging dog then becomes frustrated that it is restrained and unable to approach the other dog. When this repeatedly happens over and over again, the dog begins to equate the pull of the harness or collar as being retrained and becomes reactive towards this restraint. When on walks together, as soon as Pug would start to lunge, so would Maize and then all bets were off. Maize would also lunge at everything, not just other dogs. She was so scared and confused and had no coping skills that reacting was the only outlet for her. The solution to this problem has been learning some great redirection tricks and then being able to practice them during the SocialBulls Walking Group.
What Socialbulls does for us- The Trifecta
What has been so amazing about our experience with the SocialBulls Dog Walking Group is that Maize can walk with 15-20 other dogs. She is usually in the lead so sometimes she doesn’t realize who is behind her until she turns around and even then there is usually no reaction from her. This past weekend was particularly amazing. We went to Humboldt Park and Maize and I walked next to Izzy and her mom. Izzy is an extremely well behaved pup who has amazing focus, which then helped Maize to feel more at ease and more confident in her socialization and walking. Not only did we walk next to Izzy we also walked behind her and at the end of the walk Maize was walking next to Izzy AND Lola. The three of them easily strolled through the park together and I nicknamed them the 'Trifecta'.
The amazing part of the group is that dogs never meet face to face so I don’t have to worry about the other dogs and their owners because we are all there for the same reason. I think I have also benefited from SocialBulls because I’ve been able to meet other people that have the same passion for their dogs as I do and everyone seems so kind and understanding. Maize has come a LONG way and I think the key is to keep her active with other dogs just like this group!
It has been so great to hear how well Maize was doing, and we were so proud to see how confidently she was walking with her new friends. And while the group isn't a magic formula, it has been great having so many like-minded, supportive people working towards a common goal. Tomorrow we will have a recap of our walk, including a new way to sign up. Next week our walk will be traveling up north to the North Shore Channel trail.