Monday, September 12, 2011

Being Social with an Unsocial Pup

While our SociaBulls group is not a 'magic feather' that will instantly turn your pooch perfect, we have been hearing that it has been helping people continue to work on things they've already been working on and help supplement their pooches' socialization.
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!

Maize’s Story
 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.

24 comments:

Claudia said...

I just met Maize these past two weeks on the walks, and would have no idea of her issues, just based on how great she did on the walks. Walking beside her yesterday was literally an enjoyable walk in the park, three gorgeous girls (and their people ;) ) out for a stroll.

Christine said...

This is amazing. Kudos to Maize for being so brave and to her mom for being so dedicated!

Maisie's Mom said...

go Maize!!! actually your situation is very similar to mine, although Maisie is dog selective so sometimes she's OK around other dogs on leash and other times she flips out. I have got to get my butt in gear and start making it to this group, where will the next one be taking place?

http://maisieme.blogspot.com/

Sarah said...

What a great success story! I may have to try some group walks to help with Maggie's leash reactivity.

Crystal K. said...

We have been working hard to socialize our foster, a lab/pit former stray who was clearly never socialized. He's definitely leash-reactive, but Maize's story gives me more confidence that our boy will overcome his fears, too!

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

Wow what an amazing story and news. Go Maize - and go her mom for never giving up on her!

EmilyS said...

some suggestions for Maize's wonderful owners (though it sounds like they know much of this already)

http://ourpack.org/aggressreactivity.html
http://www.realpitbull.com/relaxation-protocol.html
http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/155/Dogs-Who-Are-Reactive-on-Leash.aspx

waldobungie said...

That is so cool how far Maize has come! I wonder if a dog walking club would help Rufus, who isn't leash reactive but has trouble walking when other dogs or people are around.

Kate@TwentySixToLife said...

What amazing progress!

Patty said...

What a great post! Glad to hear Maize is doing so well. From the owner of another leash reactive pup, I know how hard it is but also how great it feels when your pup makes progress!

Lindsay said...

My foster dog Cosmo is fearful of other dogs and is also reactive on a leash. Just like Maize, I notice that when we are in an large group, he is more relaxed. Actually, overwhelmed is probably a better word. When there is a group, he doesn't direct all his energy on one dog and therefore doesn't feel fear or frustration and he doesn't react. It's wonderful. And it's something to build on.

Two Pitties in the City said...

The great thing about the walks are that they are very structured and controlled, and all the group members understand the boundaries and how to support one another. From the time Maize started with the group, we noticed her gaining confidence each time, and we were beyond proud to see how confidently she was walking with her new friends. Maize's mom is so dedicated, and has done so much work and training with her. We are also learning so much from them.

Jacquelin Cangro said...

This is really heartening to hear. Reggie can be reactive also so I understand her mom's initial hesitation about going on walks like this with a group of other dogs. And it can be hard living in the city with a leash reactive dog. I'm glad that the experience was positive for all involved and it gives me hope!

Kari in Vegas said...

we love stories of progress!

Kari
http://dogisgodinreverse.com

loveandaleash said...

This is an amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I too have cared for quite a few leash-reactive dogs, and the issue is so much more common and misunderstood than people realize. I think it's so great that you're helping to bring this out of the shadows and letting others understand that leash reactivity is not general all-around aggression, but rather something very specific -- something that can be managed!

A Confessed Pit Bull Addict said...

So fantastic that this is taking off! What a great way to work on issues while connecting with other people who are on the same page. (As an aside, I think I saw the beautiful white-with-spots pit bull wearing the backpack at the Logan Square farmers market and remember being impressed with his/her composure and good looks.)

brooke said...

Good job to Maize and her mom! Her mom could have easily passed on the group walking to avoid any incidents, but instead she joined and Maize seems to be doing great! Woo hoo!

Claudia said...

Confessed pit bull addict, yes you did see Lola hauling our produce at the market later in the day Sunday. Thanks for the kind words. That was her first day in the backpack, and she really took to 'working'. She has some stranger fear, but usually does pretty well at the market. We try to take her most weeks to get her comfortable in crowds. Say hi next time.

Tucker The Crestie said...

Yay, Maize!!! I wish every city had a meetup like this!

houndstooth said...

Maize is adorable! It's great to see her making so much progress, and I'd never guess she'd had such serious issues in the past. She always looks like an angel in the walk pictures!

Pibble said...

What beautiful pups! I love the pictures.

It's good to hear that Maize is getting out to work on her leash reactivity and that you have a group of people who welcome her. That's so important for both of you. So many people/groups would just turn their backs on a Bully and not even give you a chance.

Here's to more happy and fun walks for all of you!

Benny and Lily said...

My friend went to a doggy psychologist. The best thing for the bad pup is to do exactly what you are doing. Walk with a group...yipppE
Benny & Lily

Lauren @ Life With Desmond said...

wow, i'm so impressed with maize! we have the same problem with desmond and didn't even realize it had its own name until pretty recently. i definitely intend to work on it for however long it takes and it's nice to know there's so much proof of a turnaround.

Suze's WCAC Stories said...

Maize is a beautiful dog. I'm glad the walks are working out.

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