Walking down the road we see a man with his lurcher. A lovely fawn and white not dissimilar to Marley. The man is an older gentleman with a hat on, walking stick in one hand, impeccably behaved lurcher in the other. We stop and have a chat before continuing our walk.
That is a normal walk for most owners. But its something i could not have done with Marley at the beginning of 2015. Not only was he highly reactive to dogs, barking wildly at them in the distance, but he was also still incredibly people reactive. No one could speak to me on walks without him leaping into action to get them away from him. Marley had always had a degree of nerves before becoming reactive. I had resigned him to being walked only when roads were quiet, clear of people, dogs and children. I had been encouraged to not walk him by a colleague, to ensure he never got stressed and to not cue him. As our work together continued euthanasia was discussed, it wasn’t an option, i always knew he had potential underneath, it was just a case of finding what clicks for him. We parted company after continued disagreements on training methods. This was in February.
It was a bit tricky to begin with, we had to start from scratch. I began reintroducing cues and stresses at low levels, as well as ensuring he understood rules and he wouldn’t get treats simply for existing, and he didn’t get them for stopping barking! Instead we began distracting him from barking, it had become a deeply embedded behaviour that he really didn’t know why he was doing anymore in some cases. Marley is one of few dogs that i work with who reacts to not just dogs, but people, children and all sorts. So a figure of 8 headcollar is used for control.
We met up with many old friends over the next few months, whippets, poodles, terriers and lurchers. He seemed to be improving nicely so we took him to his first dog show…I genuinely expected to be sat in the carpark for the afternoon. I was more than pleasantly surprised as he trotted around the show, in fact pulled me into it! Well the rest is history. We found a new show or event to complete most weeks over summer and into autumn and i was more surprised with each passing show. I am not going to present the idea he is now a social butterfly- far from it! He enjoys his own space, and i can’t blame him! If his space is respected he won’t react, with each passing dog that respected his space his confidence continued to flow (with plenty of treats of course!) His issues with people decreased dramatically, people treated him and with permission stroked him
We even won some prizes! My highly reactive dog even got a place for being offlead in a ring of other dogs, walking to heel and sitting on cue with good speed. As well as this winning a recall contest (ok we couldn’t lose, hes built for speed!) At times he was unsure, it will always be his default response to anything new with his lack of early socialisation, but he recovers well, and show him a whippet bitch and hes a new dog!
As his behaviour outdoors began to come together his behaviour indoors changed dramatically too. Ollie and him fought often in previous years. Fought often and Marley can hold a grudge and a half. So their relationship broke down as they just lived in the house together but rarely interacted. It was sad to see. I got Ollie to increase Marleys happiness and confidence but it seemed to have gone the other way. However this year has been different, i can walk them together most walks now and let them off to play, and they actually play! Not every walk, but often enough, they seem to enjoy each others company and even play in the home sometimes. They spend most time curled up together again, a sight that had been long gone for quite some time
We even managed to integrate another dog into the household (who sadly ended up not being a fit with this household, not fault of Marley which is a surprise!) It was a dog who encompassed everything Marley isn’t fond of in a small package. He was young, teen shepherd type. Pointy eared, fluffy and desperate for Marleys friendship- that kind of thing drives Marley crazy!
However Marley proved that he can continue to improve and learn as, over a week or so, he allowed Elf to cuddle him on the sofa, and play with him indoors
As the year comes to a close we can’t help but appreciate the many hours put in by friends to Marleys cause. We certainly couldn’t have done it alone. We enjoy our walks together now, rather than dread each one and the inevitable “episode” that would occur at least once. Instead we walk and take in the world, Marley is beginning to trust that the world isn’t after him! And we are always very thrilled when someone tells me “ what a well behaved dog you have there!” It always takes me aback, but seems to shockingly be becoming a regular occurrence.
We aren’t entirely sure what the new year will bring! We haven’t yet made any goals, but we are sure it will be full of many more adventures. I couldn’t ever consider this is how the year would be ending, but im certainly grateful that its ending on a massive high, with a happy, confident and contented dog.
And here is a video to show it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYiEY4f6GTE