Monday, May 20, 2013

SociaBulls: Building Confidence for Both of Us

With so many of the pups on our SociaBulls walks, we often don't realize the behind-the-scenes work that went into the dogs we see. Neko is one strikingly handsome pup who has been walking with our SociaBulls group for awhile. I would always admire his laid-back manner, and I even remember on one walk a police officer who approached the group singled him out as being an example of an exceptionally well-behaved pup. 
Though as Neko's person wrote in his story, she has been struggling with some behavior that only she has experienced with him. Here is Neko's story about working as a team with your dog and understanding all dogs are a work in progress:
I've gone back and forth about wanting to share Nekos' story  for quite awhile now. I was conflicted and embarrassed that we were struggling with the same issues we faced on day 1.  It took many months for me to understand that training is a lifelong process.  Just like people, dogs constantly need challenges and positive reinforcement.
My journey with Neko has kept me busy. I was perfectly happy with my two cats, but something was missing in my home. After seeing the photos of dogs at Animal Care and Control on Facebook,  and understanding their chance of making it out, I knew I had to  get involved and do my part. I also really missed the loyalty and companionship a dog provides. I requested to foster an older lazy dog. What I got instead was an underweight  8 month old puppy bursting with energy. When it came time to update the rescue about his personality and temper, I realized I couldn't give him up. We celebrated two years last month. 

 I can't believe baby Neko could be any cuter!

If I had known in those early days before becoming a foster failure about his medical issues (early stages of renal failure), his pension for the most expensive dog foods , and fear (expressed as aggression) toward random people or dogs I may have thought a little more about what I was getting into. Giving up wasn't an option so I decided we were going to make it work.

Neko was great  on our walks the first year or so. He always had ample amounts of energy regardless of exercise. He would play with dogs he encountered and showed no signs of aggression. When he turned two that's when things started to change. Our vet said  two was when their personality really begins to show, which made me worried. I started noticing we needed help when we would get stopped frequently on our walks in the neighborhood. People would comment and say what a "beautiful/ great/gorgeous dog."  Unfortunately, this attention was followed by Neko barking uncontrollably, quickly erasing any compliment the stranger offered. Funny thing is, our wonderful dog walkers reported this was never an issue-he only did this with me. At other times, he could see a dog walking across the street, and if there were two together he would have a complete melt down complete with whining and and pulling in an effort to go meet them.
 We did private training, group classes and Sociabulls, and it would be a rare occasion that he would act up at one of these venues. Even with this training and exposure to other dogs, this would still happen on walks with just us two in our neighborhood. He could go to daycare and be fine, but he would never be an off leash dog at the beach or dog park (we've found ways around this by going very early and having a 30ft lead always attached).  I went to a well known Chicago trainer who felt he couldn't do much to help because it was all situational.  I considered sending him away to camp, but was put off by the costs and medication wasn't an option.

Eventually it dawned on me that Neko wasn't the problem, it was me! When people would stop us or dogs would walk by, I would tense up due to past experiences which translated to Neko being overly protective. This is something of a new realization, but already I have noticed a huge difference in relaxing more on our walks and training every single walk to keep him focused. I try to praise him more enthusiastically when he is demonstrating really good behavior and acknowledge whenever he checks in with me.

Socialbulls has given us the space to work on anything and everything in a community that is non judgmental, and more importantly supportive! Sure there are still occasional instances that trigger protective behavior, but SociaBulls has been tremendous in building confidence for both of us. Every day is a learning experience and the efforts I put  forth come back ten fold in sloppy kisses and an intense bond. Neko is a goofball at heart with an endless devotion any toy that comes his way. My life revolves around my furry family, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Thanks to Neko and his person for sharing their story!

Plus, join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabulls page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking.


Debra@Peaceabull said...

Neko could be Ray's doppleganger in not only looks but some of the issues as well. (But he has three kitties.) We live and learn and grow every day so it's great to hear that things are going in a good direction.

Anonymous said...

You are not alone!!! The moment Melvin was labeled 'leash reactive' I knew that I shared the responsibility. I was part of the leash! So thrilled for your success with SB!

Tracy said...

Way to go Neko and his person. My Lewis could be his brother, they look EXACTLY alike, and have many of the same personality traits. Just as Neko and his person are a constant work in progress, so are Lewis and I. Thanks for posting this, keeps me motivated! :)

Katie said...

Like you said, dogs AND people are always a work in progress! Good for you for not giving up on Neko.

Regina Hart said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with Neko. There's nothing to be embarrassed about at all! You're both learning how to love each other and to be yourselves in the best possible way. By sharing, you're helping other people in the same situation learn that they're not alone and that there may be a solution to the problem. Cheers!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this.

It's really hard to 'see' the issue sometimes, and when it's within you (the one at the other end of the leash), it's almost impossible.

I learned this with my little fear-aggressive rat terrier. We are doing better now, too.

I call it 'channeling my inner zen' when I let out a deep calm exhale and talk to my dog. We are both much more relaxed.

Wyatt said...

That is a great story to share. We ALL struggle with our dogs in public.
Everyday is a winding road and we get a little bit better!

Wyatt and Stanzie's mom

Two French Bulldogs said...

Neko is a beauty. Learning is good
Benny & Lily

Anonymous said...

It's great that the root of the problem was found! I definitely stopped walking Eddie for several months when I realized I was tensing up and making the situation worse. If I went on his walk, I was not the one holding the leash. I also had issues with it in horseback riding after a bad experience - despite many years of good experience, my muscles would just tense up and the horse would sense it. I was better if I hadn't ridden in a few weeks and lost that muscle memory. Dogs are so similar in that manner.

SherBear said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I actually read an article on the same topic not too long ago - and I know I too have been victim of causing tension on the other end of the leash (oops!) Great reinforcement that your relationship with your dog is truly a team effort :)

Dobermom said...

Neko couldn't be luckier to have a better owner! Way to go!

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