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Alright folks, just a heads up this is going to be a long one. I think anyone in a similar situation as I was will enjoy reading this, knowing you can work through it! Also just a disclaimer, Kiko was our first dog so if anything sounds super obvious, or dumb, to you, just know that we had had no prior experience!

I rescued my dog, Kiko, from a local shelter almost two years ago during the summer of 2012. I am a homeschooled high schooler, and the reason I got Kiko was to help work through my very debilitating social anxiety. The idea was that Kiko would be my support in social situations, and help me work through this part of my life.

Anyways, when we rescued Kiko from the shelter she was in a kennel with another dog, and completely well behaved when we walked her past all of the other barking dogs in the other kennels. We thought this was great, because she had been a stray up until that point and she was almost two. The only thing the shelter mentioned was that she seemed to not like children, which didn’t bother me. She connected with the whole family, so we took her home and have had no regrets!

Just a few days later, I decided that I was going to take her to the very quiet local dog park, I was so excited because I already felt less anxious with my new girl at my side. When we arrived there were only two other dogs in the park, both playful labs. I walked right in with Kiko and let her off leash, and as soon as they two labs went up to her she got very (what I thought at the time) aggressive. Her hair stood up, she started growling, then she just “attacked” one of the labs. I quickly pulled her away, and we didn’t even find a spec of drool on the lab, but I was freaked out. I was immediately let down because I thought I had an aggressive dog, which I know now was just my silly mistake.

I went home very upset, because I live near Austin and EVERYONE around here has dogs. I thought “I’m never going to be able to take her anywhere if she doesn’t like other dogs!” A few weeks later we enrolled in the local training classes, more for socialization than obedience training because I’d spent years waiting to have a dog and training my horse like a dog, so her training was coming along really well. I really connected with the trainer there, and she continues to be a mentor to me today. Kiko had the same reaction around all of the dogs in the training class, shackles up, growling, barking, but through the weeks of training Kiko got used to all of the dogs and became friends with all of them.

This was very promising to us, because we thought “Oh, our dog may be aggressive but once she knows the dog she’s okay!” So we went through all of the training courses offered, all the way up until she received her Canine Good Citizen Award. The same thing happened in all of the classes, she started off “aggressive” but she eventually warmed up to all of the other dogs and was fine. I was quite content with this label at that point, I never even thought about deeper issues that might cause this, or even about healing it entirely.

A few months pass by where I didn’t take Kiko many places because I was basically scared of this issue, because it drew attention to us and made me more anxious. Then, around January 2013 my trainer told me about this dog boarding/daycare place that was basically a big ranch. They let all of the dogs (that had passed evaluation) play together outside during the day, and this was unlike any kennel I had heard of before. I contacted the owner and explained to her my situation, how I thought Kiko was aggressive and yada yada. I explained to her that I had never tried her off leash meeting dogs (besides that one time at the dog park). She evaluates all of the dogs with her own pack of dog before they’re allowed to play at the kennel, so we decided we would give it a try.

So we went out there, and of course I had the completely wrong attitude because I was a nervous wreck. I was thinking “oh my gosh Kiko is doing to eat this lady’s dogs, this is going to be horrible.” We arrived, and walked around the 2 ½ acres with the owner and Kiko off leash, letting her get a feel for the place. Then we let the owners first dog out, and despite my poor attitude, Kiko was actually okay. She raised her hair and growled a little, but then they were fine. And the same thing happened with the rest of her four dogs. I was over the moon! I thought my aggressive dog was magically cured and I could start taking her to parks!

Then, of course, the owner explained to me that no, I couldn’t really do that. She said Kiko wasn’t aggressive, but unbalanced and nervous. I had never thought of her that way, I just thought “She is aggressive, and that’s the way she is” instead of “Kiko is nervous, and needs to be helped.” Kiko was just like me, in a way. Realizing this sparked a new “fire” in me, and that’s really where it started to begin.

She started attending day care at the boarding ranch (as we call it) once a week, and her the owner and her staff worked with her intently to ease her into the ranch play, and I started taking her to different public places for walks about once a week. All of this was very rocky in the beginning. At first Kiko couldn’t go to the ranch without me being there, and then she couldn’t go without a certain staff member and his lazy lab that she had gotten attached to. And of course our outings were a wreck because I was so nervous in public, I was making it a disaster for her.

We continued with this routine until April, when I actually got a job and started working at this dog ranch. This is when things really started to take off, because I was going to this place five days a week, and Kiko was going with me. It was still really rough, we had to very careful about who we let her out with because if a certain dog was to hyper, she would have a “meltdown”. But she was still progressing, even if it was slow. Our public outings were still a wreck, but that was on me.

Around late summer of 2013, I had a huge realization. I had already figured out that Kiko was like me in her social issues, but I had never thought of her really needing my mental help with that. I realized that by trying to work with Kiko, and taking her out in public, I was also helping myself, and to properly help her, I needed to emotionally support her before she could emotionally support me. This gave me a job to do in public, and we took it to a whole new level.
I started taking her to our local outdoor mall and park 2-3 times a week, and she started coming to the barn with me everyday to see my horse. I would exercise her (run, bike, play fetch, etc) before we went out, so she was in a calmer state when we went out. We would walk around the park, pass screaming kids and walking dogs and toddlers, and as long as I kept myself under control, Kiko mainly would just continue right by my side. At the barn, she saw the same kids every day and stopped getting nervous around them. She started liking the kids.

This is when her progress with dogs really improved at well, I stopped thinking “Oh crap, I have to let Kiko out with these guys”, and started to control my mental state at work too. She has way less “breakdowns”, and although I still can’t let her out with every dog, she has come LEAPS and BOUNDS.

Now, I have complete confidence taking her in public. I can take her anywhere, and she is well behaved. Sometimes running, screaming children still scare her, and we’re not at the “kids can pet me” stage, but to think she used to lunge at kids walking by she is simply amazing. Sometimes if we pass to close to a dog she gets nervous, and sometimes if a dog is barking at her she gets nervous, but now she is manageable. I could tell her to “leave it”, or get her attention back on me, and we could continue on our way.

So, I basically wrote this because I want every new “problem” dog owner to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel! It requires work, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but these are all fun things to do! Kiko may never be able to walk into a crowd of unfamiliar dogs or children without feeling a little nervous, but that’s okay and we’re going to keep working towards the most happy, balanced dog she can be.

Thanks for anyone who read the whole thing! Again, I know some of you might think I was an idiot, and I agree, but I'm just happy Kiko stuck with me before I actually started learning from her!
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