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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi there,
I’m new to this community and I’m looking to find help and support as I navigate life with two reactive pups. I’ve got a 2y/o Dane/Shepherd and a 18 month old Silver Lab.
When I got my first dog, I noticed she was anxious but the puppy socialization classes said she needed to work on her confidence. We worked and worked, and here we are 2 years later with minor reactivity (bark, run up and puff up) to men and dogs. She is on daily anti-anxiety medication, has been to a private trainer, and goes on weekly group hikes with the trainer.
As she was still young and we believed just needed more confidence, we decided to get a second pup so they could grow up together. By five months, he began to become reactive (lunge, scary bark, jump). Our walker was having a difficult time with him and I would open my email to full messages of complaints about his pulling and lunging. We let the walker go and took him to 1:1 training. We now for the most part can handle his reactivity when alone... but the two together completely set eachother off. My girl will sort of do a little growl or a huff and immediately my boy is on his tip toes, stiff with his tail straight out and ready to react. Also for context he was neutered at 11months as I found he was starting to really fixate on other females and take off.
I’m just having a hard time mourning what I thought life would be with two dogs. I once was an avid hiker, now I cannot as when the two are together and get set off- I’m easily pulled down mountains. I cannot take them to the beautiful beaches along the west coast I once enjoyed to lay and sun bathe on. I am beginning to barely be able to take them on my more ‘secluded’ forest trails I’ve been lucky enough to find given the pandemic and higher traffic. And I feel a terrible amount of guilt leaving them to do anything because they deserve so much more.
Seeing as I am generally home during the days as I work shift work, my husband doesn’t get subjected to as many of the difficult days as I do. I’m really struggling because I feel like I’m trying my best, but I’m unsure where to go from here or what could make it better. I’ve had to resort to walking them separately which puts me out around 3hours a day.. Any tips/tricks/suggestions or even just a word of support would be so appreciated.

Thanks all.
 

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I'm sorry you find yourself in this situation.

I'm sure others will have good suggestions about working with reactive dogs, but my first thought is that you need to find ways to exercise/engage the dogs that fit in with your interests and your schedule. Three hours per day of dog walking, if you wouldn't normally be walking for enjoyment/exercise, is nuts. There are lots of types of mental and physical exercise that tire out a dog more quickly. My poodle could run/walk all day, but a half-hour of swimming, for example, sends him into a dog coma for the next ten hours. You might try activities like trick training or scent work, both of which can have the added advantage of helping the dog learn to focus on tasks and on the handler, which can help with managing reactivity. Fifteen minutes of trick training tires a dog out more than any amount of walking/running, in my experience, and they actually learned something from it. (Google "do more with your dog" for more on teaching tricks.) Don't deprive yourself of hiking and going to the beach - just bring your girl and enjoy yourself. Give the boy an extra game of fetch or whatever when you get home.

I hate to say it, because no one likes to hear this kind of thing, but..."sliver lab" should have been a warning sign. Obviously this is not your boy's fault - he's the victim of this scam, too. There are few to no ethical breeders of "sliver" labs because it requires a)inbreeding and b)they're probably the result of breeders lying to the AKC about parentage. You're not getting the creme de la Labrador creme when you get a silver dog, generally speaking...you're getting dogs that were bred for a cash grab, not for the love of dogs or to improve the breed. In future if you want a pup, I'd do some research into how to choose a good breeder that is producing healthy, stable dogs. (What I'd REALLY suggest is just adopting a nice adult dog that already had the temperament and characteristics you want, rather than gambling on a pup at all, but hey, people love puppies.) That ship has sailed now, obviously, but just for future reference, or for any lurkers who happen to be reading this.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I'm sorry you find yourself in this situation.

I'm sure others will have good suggestions about working with reactive dogs, but my first thought is that you need to find ways to exercise/engage the dogs that fit in with your interests and your schedule. Three hours per day of dog walking, if you wouldn't normally be walking for enjoyment/exercise, is nuts. There are lots of types of mental and physical exercise that tire out a dog more quickly. My poodle could run/walk all day, but a half-hour of swimming, for example, sends him into a dog coma for the next ten hours. You might try activities like trick training or scent work, both of which can have the added advantage of helping the dog learn to focus on tasks and on the handler, which can help with managing reactivity. Fifteen minutes of trick training tires a dog out more than any amount of walking/running, in my experience, and they actually learned something from it. (Google "do more with your dog" for more on teaching tricks.) Don't deprive yourself of hiking and going to the beach - just bring your girl and enjoy yourself. Give the boy an extra game of fetch or whatever when you get home.

I hate to say it, because no one likes to hear this kind of thing, but..."sliver lab" should have been a warning sign. Obviously this is not your boy's fault - he's the victim of this scam, too. There are few to no ethical breeders of "sliver" labs because it requires a)inbreeding and b)they're probably the result of breeders lying to the AKC about parentage. You're not getting the creme de la Labrador creme when you get a silver dog, generally speaking...you're getting dogs that were bred for a cash grab, not for the love of dogs or to improve the breed. In future if you want a pup, I'd do some research into how to choose a good breeder that is producing healthy, stable dogs. (What I'd REALLY suggest is just adopting a nice adult dog that already had the temperament and characteristics you want, rather than gambling on a pup at all, but hey, people love puppies.) That ship has sailed now, obviously, but just for future reference, or for any lurkers who happen to be reading this.
Thank you for your reply and suggestions. I will try doing more engagement activities in the home. I know my boy LOVES fetch, but I only have one field where doggies are allowed by me and it seems like a lot of people take their reactive dogs there so it’s a gamble at times if I’m able to run him or not. Trying to get him to enjoy a swim though! He’s finally starting to paddle for a brief period then turn back which is encouraging :). He wasn’t from someone producing silver labs, just from people with two chocolates who had four chocolates and two grayish coloured in the litter. No papers or anything. But I totally understand your concern. And I’ve since become more educated in regards to ‘dilute’ genes etc.
 

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I'm sorry you're dealing with this - it is absolutely a lot to handle. Unfortunately it's pretty common for two dogs to amp each other up and make reactive behaviors worse rather than helping to settle each other down, especially when they're both young and still developing and learning about the world and how to interact with it. Puppies and young dogs often take behavior cues from older dogs in the household, and learn very easily that things or situations that trigger the more reactive dog are scary/stressful/something we lose our heads over, and this is often amplified with two puppies/young dogs close in age.

I am NOT saying this to try to blame you or make you feel guilty - you clearly care so much and were doing what you thought was best at the time! I am also the owner of a reactive dog (and who made choices I thought were good that actually worsened that reactivity), and I can tell you it doesn't help anyone to dwell on what you did wrong that may or may not have contributed to the issue, but it can help to understand how these factors interact and influence your dogs' behavior.

It's really awesome that you're dedicated to working on this behavior now, while your dogs are still young. Reactive behavior is something that often becomes an ingrained habit, an immediate emotional response that is more difficult to interrupt and change the longer it's allowed to go on, so catching it and working with it early is so important.

Working them independently is a very good idea, and I second the suggestion of something like nosework or more structured training. Scent-based dog sports or games are really awesome at building confidence, and promote calmer, more emotionally satisfied dogs both because it's a mental challenge and because sniffing is a naturally calming behavior for dogs.

If you haven't read them already, Dr. Patricia McConnell's books The Feisty Fido (this one is specific to leash reactivity) and The Cautious Canine (focuses on anxiety/fearful behaviors) contain some really awesome foundation techniques and clear, comprehensible explanations for why dogs behave the way they do in these scenarios. They're also inexpensive, available as e-books, and super quick reads. If you're up for something a little more in-depth, Grisha Stewart's BAT 2.0 details her approach to working with leash reactivity specifically. Even though I'm not currently able to follow her full protocol exactly (it requires lots of space and the assistance of people with helper dogs), I got a lot of useful tips and strategies from it. It does help to go in with some understanding of dog behavior terms/concepts with that one, though.

The things that have helped my dog (whose major trigger is other dogs) the most, though, are:

Completely eliminating all dog-dog interaction outside of known dogs in controlled settings (no dog parks, daycare, on-leash greetings with strange dogs, etc.)

Focusing on dog-neutral being the goal, rather than dog-social, meaning he can exist in the same space as another dog without throwing a fit, and understands that he isn't going to be allowed to (or be forced to) interact with the other dogs.

Teaching him how to disengage when he's fixated on something. I had to start this on stuff that made him alert, but didn't fully trigger him - baby carriages, people carrying bags, small children moving oddly, etc. By being aware of when he was going into "tall dog" mode, where he stands up real straight, tenses, and stares at something, and then successfully encouraging him to redirect his attention back to me (rewards for him are lots of treats and distance from the trigger, so I'd look silly shoving food in his face while running backwards but it's worth it), he started learning how to break his fixation on more stimulating/triggering things too.

Making sure he has outlets that are specifically stress-reducing. Nosework and scent games can be a part of this! But I also try to make sure much of his exercise is in the form of "decompression walks" (a term coined by Sarah Stremming, explained better here: Dog Decompression Walks), where he can move, sniff, and interact freely in natural spaces (on a long line or, occasionally, off-leash depending on the location) with minimal input from me. This goes a long way towards getting him in a better mental place where he's able to tolerate more stressful situations before he goes 'over threshold' and can't think or make good choices anymore. Formal training can be awesome, but it also puts him in a very alert, 'on' state of mind and, without de-stressing activities to balance it, can make him more intense when he's faced with a trigger. I'm lucky to have a flexible schedule and access to trails where I can minimize our chances of running into a trigger while we're doing this, but it's definitely not something available to everyone.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I'm sorry you're dealing with this - it is absolutely a lot to handle. Unfortunately it's pretty common for two dogs to amp each other up and make reactive behaviors worse rather than helping to settle each other down, especially when they're both young and still developing and learning about the world and how to interact with it. Puppies and young dogs often take behavior cues from older dogs in the household, and learn very easily that things or situations that trigger the more reactive dog are scary/stressful/something we lose our heads over, and this is often amplified with two puppies/young dogs close in age.

I am NOT saying this to try to blame you or make you feel guilty - you clearly care so much and were doing what you thought was best at the time! I am also the owner of a reactive dog (and who made choices I thought were good that actually worsened that reactivity), and I can tell you it doesn't help anyone to dwell on what you did wrong that may or may not have contributed to the issue, but it can help to understand how these factors interact and influence your dogs' behavior.

It's really awesome that you're dedicated to working on this behavior now, while your dogs are still young. Reactive behavior is something that often becomes an ingrained habit, an immediate emotional response that is more difficult to interrupt and change the longer it's allowed to go on, so catching it and working with it early is so important.

Working them independently is a very good idea, and I second the suggestion of something like nosework or more structured training. Scent-based dog sports or games are really awesome at building confidence, and promote calmer, more emotionally satisfied dogs both because it's a mental challenge and because sniffing is a naturally calming behavior for dogs.

If you haven't read them already, Dr. Patricia McConnell's books The Feisty Fido (this one is specific to leash reactivity) and The Cautious Canine (focuses on anxiety/fearful behaviors) contain some really awesome foundation techniques and clear, comprehensible explanations for why dogs behave the way they do in these scenarios. They're also inexpensive, available as e-books, and super quick reads. If you're up for something a little more in-depth, Grisha Stewart's BAT 2.0 details her approach to working with leash reactivity specifically. Even though I'm not currently able to follow her full protocol exactly (it requires lots of space and the assistance of people with helper dogs), I got a lot of useful tips and strategies from it. It does help to go in with some understanding of dog behavior terms/concepts with that one, though.

The things that have helped my dog (whose major trigger is other dogs) the most, though, are:

Completely eliminating all dog-dog interaction outside of known dogs in controlled settings (no dog parks, daycare, on-leash greetings with strange dogs, etc.)

Focusing on dog-neutral being the goal, rather than dog-social, meaning he can exist in the same space as another dog without throwing a fit, and understands that he isn't going to be allowed to (or be forced to) interact with the other dogs.

Teaching him how to disengage when he's fixated on something. I had to start this on stuff that made him alert, but didn't fully trigger him - baby carriages, people carrying bags, small children moving oddly, etc. By being aware of when he was going into "tall dog" mode, where he stands up real straight, tenses, and stares at something, and then successfully encouraging him to redirect his attention back to me (rewards for him are lots of treats and distance from the trigger, so I'd look silly shoving food in his face while running backwards but it's worth it), he started learning how to break his fixation on more stimulating/triggering things too.

Making sure he has outlets that are specifically stress-reducing. Nosework and scent games can be a part of this! But I also try to make sure much of his exercise is in the form of "decompression walks" (a term coined by Sarah Stremming, explained better here: Dog Decompression Walks), where he can move, sniff, and interact freely in natural spaces (on a long line or, occasionally, off-leash depending on the location) with minimal input from me. This goes a long way towards getting him in a better mental place where he's able to tolerate more stressful situations before he goes 'over threshold' and can't think or make good choices anymore. Formal training can be awesome, but it also puts him in a very alert, 'on' state of mind and, without de-stressing activities to balance it, can make him more intense when he's faced with a trigger. I'm lucky to have a flexible schedule and access to trails where I can minimize our chances of running into a trigger while we're doing this, but it's definitely not something available to everyone.
Thank you so so much for all the support and information! I will definitely be purchasing those books and having a good read. It’s nice to hear from someone with a reactive dog using tools/resources that worked for them.
I totally realize now my girl has definitely been a trigger for some of this behaviour. It’s hard because at times I’m able to reason with myself around good and bad days, but sometimes the bad days can be so bad that it’s hard not to focus on all the things him and I are missing out on. On the plus side- today was a good day for my boy on a solo walk with a long line in the sun. Just taking it one day at a time :)

Thanks again!
 

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It's really hard sometimes! Especially with two and trying to balance getting them both the time, attention, and work they need. We brought a puppy of a notoriously sensitive breed home knowing we'd have to do a lot of socialization and training separately so he didn't mirror our older dog's behavior, and he's honestly pretty great most of the time, but even so he'll kick off if Sam starts when we have them out together. Which usually makes amps Sam up even more. We definitely have to plan around what kinds of walks or activities are suitable for which dog, and whether it's possible to take both. And my boys are small!

There's been times where I have to remind myself that being in that reactive state isn't pleasant for my dog, and he's not doing it on purpose or because it's fun but because he's past his ability to cope with the situation. It helps me feel less guilty for, for example, taking our younger dog downtown to grab a coffee and work on being around lots of people/other dogs and leaving Sam at home, because even though it feels like he should enjoy that kind of outing, he really just spends the whole time stressed and on alert.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
It's really hard sometimes! Especially with two and trying to balance getting them both the time, attention, and work they need. We brought a puppy of a notoriously sensitive breed home knowing we'd have to do a lot of socialization and training separately so he didn't mirror our older dog's behavior, and he's honestly pretty great most of the time, but even so he'll kick off if Sam starts when we have them out together. Which usually makes amps Sam up even more. We definitely have to plan around what kinds of walks or activities are suitable for which dog, and whether it's possible to take both. And my boys are small!

There's been times where I have to remind myself that being in that reactive state isn't pleasant for my dog, and he's not doing it on purpose or because it's fun but because he's past his ability to cope with the situation. It helps me feel less guilty for, for example, taking our younger dog downtown to grab a coffee and work on being around lots of people/other dogs and leaving Sam at home, because even though it feels like he should enjoy that kind of outing, he really just spends the whole time stressed and on alert.
I really like that you mentioned that it isn’t a good place for them to feel reactive. It really puts into perspective that maybe some of the activities that I’d like to be doing with my pup isn’t exactly what he’d enjoy or feel most comfortable in. In a sense it takes away that guilty feeling of choosing to take my girl out and leave him at home to hang out comfortably
 
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