Monday, February 2, 2015

SociaBulls: Reinforcing the Human-Dog Connection

While we all having different reasons for walking with our SociaBulls group, we love hearing the individual stories from each of our members. 
You may recognize this handsome face as Vegas: one of Miss M's many boyfriends (remember their date, here?)
When Vegas and his person moved to Chicago, they joined the group to make friends. Though after a few unsettling incidents at the dog park, and the deflating feeling of 'breaking your dog', Vegas and his person were able to use the structure and non-judgmental environment of SociaBulls to rebuild their confidence and reinforce their human-dog connection. You can read their story below:

I always knew I wanted a dog, but I waited patiently until my life was stable.  I'm a logical research-minded food scientist, and I approached finding my companion that way.  For almost eight months, I poured over literature/web articles/vet advice about choosing the right breed for your lifestyle, using a breeder/shelter dog/rescue (I actually didn't know what a rescue was when I started), adopting a puppy/adult/senior, etc.  I finally decided on a Doberman and started searching shelters, stumbled onto a Doberman rescue, and picked out my buddy.  I remember walking into this huge barn lined with crates on both sides, each with a dog.  As the door was opened, the dogs all started barking like crazy, except the first crate-- the dog in that crate stood up and moved to the front with his nose pressed against the bars, calmly trying to sniff me. That was Vegas, and I took him home that day. 
Soon after, I moved to Chicago.  I found Chicago Sociabulls while searching for like-minded dog people.  I joined to make friends because my dog didn't really have behavioral problems. It helped that I could identify with the "bully breed" reaction after seeing countless people cross the street rather than walk near Vegas.  I liked the idea that we could be a part of a group that provided a judgement-free, no pressure environment that helps change the perception of an often maligned breed.  Since Vegas and I were going to walk anyway, I thought that we may as well explore parks in the Chicago area and maybe make a few friends along the way.
Our first year in Chicago, Vegas was bitten by other dogs four times, two of which required surgery. All of the bites occurred inside dog parks, with only one or two dogs present. I started skipping the dog parks.  The more I avoided dog parks, the less time Vegas spent around other dogs.  The less time around dogs, the more reactive he became when we encountered one. He started growling if a dog spent too much time sniffing him, and would occasionally bark if an approaching dog made hard eye contact.  I was afraid he would become more and more reactive, and he's 80lbs of muscle (for perspective, you should know I'm 5'4" on a good day).  Because of the research I did, I was aware that his reaction was probably because I was tense, but I struggled to relax nonetheless. 
During this time, Sociabulls was critical in getting us through the rough patch.  I knew I could go and not have to worry about explaining to someone why I would prefer they not let their dog meet mine, which helped me relax. There is some inherent feeling of embarrassment in admitting that your dog has "issues". For me, it was worse because I had a well-adjusted dog to begin with-- I felt like I broke the dog. 
 I could count on Sociabulls members to listen to my concerns and stories without judgement, and with a sense of humor that can only come from a place of camaraderie and empathy. While avoiding dog parks and other dogs, Sociabulls became the only dog-dog interaction Vegas had, and since these walks were consistently a positive experience, I built up my confidence again, and Vegas regained his calm, cool demeanor. I learned to read my dog's posture and body language so I can control his environment to avoid negative experiences, and as a result we learned to trust each other more.  He knows I will remove him from situations he doesn't like, and I know that he will give me time to do so before resorting to growling or barking.  Now we sport that blue Sociabulls bandana with pride and Vegas can do things like go on doggie dates and host other dogs on overnight stays without issue.  
Every day brings new experiences, and each new experience shapes us and our pups.  Sociabulls is our "home base", a place where we can reinforce the human-dog connection that is so crucial to how we cope with these experiences... after all, we are always work in progress.
Thanks for sharing your 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.


KS said...

Great post! I feel like my dogs (both pit mixes) sometimes engender an aggressive/defensive response from other animals even when it isn't necessarily warranted b/c their natural posture (stiff, muscular bodies; pointy ears; hard tail wags) already looks assertive/"rude" in doggy body language. I bet a Doberman could easily be perceived the same way by other dogs!

Andrea Joy said...

I love this! Bravo to Vegas and his Mom!

Unknown said...

Probably! Vegas will try to play with other dogs (spin, play-bow, bark, repeat) and most dogs are like, ummmmm... NO. But he does really well playing with puppies. Maybe bc they aren't as experienced and are more open to him..?

Rachel @ My Two Pitties said...

Great success story and beautiful dog!

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