The Painful Side of Life With a Reactive Dog

003 (2)More than just about anything, I love those quiet moments with Rugby where we can quietly sit together and know that we understand each other.  In those quiet moments, everything feels right in my world.  Those kinds of moments don’t happen every day, so when they do….it feels a bit magical, and I want to hold on so that they will last a long time.

Rugby and I have a good basis for understanding each other, but there are times when he just jumps to the wrong conclusion about my intentions and reacts in a strong and often negative way, aggressive barking, growling, pupils dilated…..clearly upset with me.

I always find it disheartening.  He’s so reactive, and rather than try to assume the best about me….he quickly jumps to incorrect conclusions, and immediately cuts to the behavior that he knows will make me back off and leave him with space.  After all of the time and training that we’ve spent together, it’s always a bit heartbreaking for me when his fear rears its ugly head and trust goes out the window.

This behavior can be more than just a little puzzling.  Sometimes, he clearly indicates that he wants some affection from me, but gets upset with me when I offer it to him, if it’s not a format that he really wants.  For example, he will come and sit in front of me, patiently looking up at me until I notice him.  If I swoop down too quickly or ruffle his fur too briskly, it can trigger an angry outburst from Rugby that can rock me on my heels.  I used to be offended by things like this, taking it personally.  I’ve learned not to take it personally any longer, but it does still make me sad, and I think it always will.

Misc. Rugby 100Sometimes, I can treat him like any other dog, and he won’t fire up….but other days, for no apparent reason, he gets offended by how I approach him, and there’s really no rhyme or reason on a given day.  I do know that there are some specific triggers, and I avoid those like the plague!  Other times, however, he might be fine with how I approach him seven out of ten times.  The three times he fires up?  Well toss a coin into the air and see if Rugby or Kujo lives at my house at that moment in time.

I always have to rewind in time to the young puppy that Rugby was before he came to live with me.  What happened in his life that made him so scared of certain behaviors from humans?  I’m almost one hundred percent sure that his reaction is rooted in fear, and he is simply reacting and responding in a way that makes sense to him in order to protect himself.

I’ve learned that body language is super important to Rugby, but even if I turn away to apologize after he fires up, he often will feel the need to continue to bark at me….as if he feels a strong need to make his point.  *sigh*

After all that we’ve been through together, I always hope that he will figure out that I really don’t mean to upset him, but that it was simply an accident.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Rugby, it’s that he’s not super patient about anything in life.  He’s a dog who reacts first…..and then sorts out whether he needed that behavior or not.  He can look a little sheepish if he thinks he was wrong, but most of the time, he has a look that says “So THERE!”

I never give up hope.  I never stop trying.  I never stop thinking that there may be a key to something that I’m missing, and I just have to figure out what it is that will change things for us in a better way.  I wish he could believe the best about me….but he just can’t always do that, and I have to accept the reality that he maybe never will.

But it doesn’t change the fact that until lasting change happens, I’ll keep trying and hoping, and praying, and believing the absolute best about my little speckled and spotted hot mess of a dog.  Miracles can happen….





  1. Michelle S says

    Precious and thoughtful piece about sensitive dogs. One of the things I love about you Sally is your ever present hope! It keeps me positive about my relationship with my own dog---and more patient when he isn't as social as I might 'wish'.

    • Sally says

      Thanks so much for your kind encouragement, Michelle! My folks were both very, very positive people, so I was raised in that type of environment to start, and it's just continued in my work with dogs. There have been so many, many times when I thought Rugby would never be able to manage something, and he's surprised me! I've learned to never give up because he's one amazing little dog! I never know what will happen next, and if a miracle will happen, I sure hope it's with my dog! I wish I lived closer to help you with Spencer! I just LOVE that little guy so so much!! <3

    • Sally says

      Thanks so much, for your encouragement, Mike! Some days are easier than others for sure. I keep working and doing what I know to do, and crossing my fingers and toes that someday Rugby will figure things out. 😀


Leave a Reply