My “reactive” dog is central to everything I do. I remember when I met him – almost 10 years ago, spied on a website looking hunched. Back then I expected an entire male terrier to be a handful because he was bold, back then I didn’t know enough. I still don’t know enough about dogs. None of us really do.
Anyway along he came at 18 months. A swollen face, kennel cough and a tendency to pee. He peed on the curtains, the doorways, the other dogs and even once on the coffee table up a drink. All within the first few days. We quickly had him neutered – thinking that would stop the squirt but it didn’t, he still squirts now. I didn’t know enough back then. I hadn’t even considered it might be an anxiety squirt. If anyone tells you neutering will solve things – don’t believe them, some dogs are better with their balls. Some dogs need their hormones, to cope in the world.
Chips has squirted, barked, launched, loved, laughed and driven us all a bit dotty for nearly a decade, and he’s complicated. My, is he complicated. His well-established neural pathway is bark – he’s always barking. I have heard the bark a million times or more, he barks as much as he breathes. I am diagnosed with early hearing loss and I wonder if it’s Chips and his bark. In fact my husband and our other dog seems to be going deaf too – he asked the other day if I thought Chips was making us all deaf.
He has anxiety, he worries and is sound sensitive. He loves other dogs, and puffs with pride when he meets them. If he meets them without careful management, without exactly the right pace, attention and angle and treat delivery, he will try and chase them away. If they are big and black, he still might try and chase them away. He’s easily intimidated and well, he’s a terrier. He’s got me into argument and even one fist fight – with a woman who loved and protected her dogs as much as I love and will protect Chips (we communicated later).
As I mentioned, Chips is about 10 years old now. He’s grey and a bit grizzled. He’s so mellow (but he’s still barking) He’s still peeing up the curtains. I’m starting to think about what life will be like when he’s gone. (My husband thinks I do that too much)
Chips you see is a delicate balance of worry and love. You can be sure if you say something that sounds like “car, bark, dinner, beach, walk, hungry or bed” he’s there – he’s taught himself what everything means. He barks as you know, but he’s vocal in other ways too – if you sing he howls.
If you manage his approaches he’s happy. He fears but he also loves, he loves so very much. He has taught me more than any other dog I have ever known. He is the reason Canine Principles exists and the reason I wrote a bestseller. He’s the one behind all my certificates and all my study on dogs, he’s a life changer is Chips. And he’s the most complicated “difficult” dog I have ever known.
So if you live with a complicated dog, hold them tight. Appreciate what they can teach you. Look for that little spark of anxiety or worry that causes their actions and replace it with confidence whenever you can. Make them feel safe, learn from them, love them. Because they are with you for a reason and they won’t be around forever.