Phoebe is a reactive dog. Mainly when on-leash and she can be reactive to people that she’s unsure about, other dogs, or something that surprises her. A blowing trash bag scared her out of her mind once, maybe that’s because she lived in someone’s garage as a puppy and didn’t see much of the world other than the animal shelter walls that surrounded her next. She will be 3 in December.
*Phoebe’s reactivity is what “sounds scary,” she has a deep bark and has learned to use that bark to keep what scares her away. She may jump or lunge when she feels threatened and because of her size, this can be off-putting to those who do not know her. However, she is always leashed in public and we will muzzle if we plan to be out for an extended period of time around stimuli for her safety and comfort and that for others.*
When Phoebe is on a leash, tight spaces are the worst scenario for her. It’s a space issue, I imagine it’s an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. The more we see her react (less and less these days) the more we learn and the better we can prepare for and handle situations when they present themselves.
I’m not going to sit here and say that our life doesn’t require more organization because of Phoebe’s needs. Some days are wonderful and others are not, it depends on other people too: I have had anxiety attacks because of Phoebe reacting to an aggressive human on a trail, I have cried in anger and anguish when she has scared innocent bystanders or been scared herself, I have had to remove myself from social situations with her because my anxiety fuels her reactions. She wants to protect me and because I am a dog-mom it is my job to protect her. I just want her to be happy and social and carefree and a lot of days are like that –so those are the ones we will celebrate.
I am not blind. Phoebe is a large, muscular, vocal girl and I don’t mean to throw breed or color into this, but her being a black mixed breed does not work in her favor. That’s just an ugly fact because society can be ugly. I am highly sensitive to the fact that the wrong interaction with the wrong person means a phone call to the shelter. Her life is literally in our hands.
Let me be clear. Phoebe is not an aggressive dog, she is a reactive dog.
When we introduce her to new people who respect her initial boundaries, she adores them. Same with dogs; she is learning to trust and play. Just last weekend I was nervous when friends brought over their female dog to play, but after their initial greeting, the girls were tearing around our yard in a game of chase, leaving her brother Klaus in the dust. Seeing Phoebe PLAY is an incredible feeling, a year ago she would stand to the side and watch, and now she’s leading the chase, playfully.
I would not change a thing with this girl, with each step backward we learn and move forward. She is not the same insecure dog that we rescued two years ago. What’s working for us and for her? Exposure, even when every fiber of myself is screaming not to let her near a new person or dog. That doesn’t help her understand appropriate behavior. That doesn’t make her a confident or comfortable animal. Our job is to keep her safe and make the people around us feel safe; it’s a relief when people understand and support us even from afar and it is equally as frustrating when people tell me to “train my dog,” or “that dog is scary.”
I am training my dog. Every. Single. Day. And “that dog” has made tremendous progress because of it. So the next time you are out and about and encounter someone working with a dog, or managing a reactive dog, just keep some respectful distance. Don’t be scared, give them space. Don’t condemn them, simply take a moment to let them breathe. Perhaps, that person is just like me, having adopted a rescue who needs patience and guidance in figuring out their place in the world. Maybe we should do that for one another more often.
Phoebe loves girls nights and is a total foodie. She will do anything for a treat or ear rub. Popcorn is her favorite. Snuggling is her game and she is as graceful as a gazelle when she runs – she’s got speed. She loves snow and chewing a good bone. She is forever bonded to Klaus and adores playing with and grooming her cats. When I’m sad, she comes and sits with me to lick away my tears. She wakes us bright and early every morning for breakfast because mealtimes are for celebrating. She is filled with love and light and she completes our family.
We are not perfect and we are constantly learning. More than that we are committed. Phoebe will never feel another cold floor of an animal shelter or live in someone’s garage. She will never again have her life threatened with euthanization. She will not be given reason to fear another human being as long as we are in her life. Adoption isn’t temporary. Her home is where we are.