As we’re in our seventh week of lockdown we’ve all come to realise a number of things. We miss people and human contact more than material things. We miss socialising. We miss our freedom. But as restrictions start to lift over the coming weeks and months, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve learnt from the experience.
If you’re walking down the street and see someone walking towards you, it’s now instinctive to cross the road or duck down a side street to let the person pass safely. Gone are the days of being tactile and greeting friends and family with a hug, instead we’re now used to standing our requisite 2m apart and raising our voices to chat at a distance.
We’ve all learnt a new lesson in patience, whether that is queueing for essential items or waiting for the internet connection to catch up. And we’re all finding new ways to occupy ourselves in lockdown and distract our thoughts from the situation.
But ultimately, we’ve all felt quite lonely, scared and isolated.
If you have a reactive dog however, you will have been practicing many of these social distancing rules for years. You are always analysing an exit strategy on a walk, so that when someone approaches you automatically cross the road or change your direction to avoid confrontation. As much as owners of reactive dogs would love to greet people, often they cannot get close to either a person or another dog, so shouting across the road passes for normal conversation.
Owning a reactive dog is a life lesson in patience as you can take huge steps forward in your training, and for no apparent reason your dog will seemingly revert back to square one. And every interaction becomes an art form of distraction, whether that’s with treats, toys or fuss, to prevent a reaction to a stressful situation.
No matter how much you love your reactive dog, ultimately it can be a very lonely, scary and isolating experience as a pet owner.
If you have never owned a reactive dog, it is often hard to imagine how challenging a simple dog walk can be – but now we’ve all experienced it for ourselves. So next time you see someone cross the street with their dog to avoid you, don’t take offence and instead respect the fact that they are working with their dog to keep them safe and feeling secure. Understand that the owner may feel lonely and isolated as a result, and throw them a smile, a wave, or a simple hello from a safe distance.
If a dog barks, air snaps or growls at you or your dog from a distance, don’t think harshly of the animal, but remember that he may be scared of the situation. Spare a thought for the owner who is patiently trying to help her dog understand the world around him. Forgive her for not acknowledging you, instead understand that she will be focussed on distracting and reassuring her dog.
In case you didn’t know, some owners use a yellow lead, ribbon, bandana or jacket to indicate that their dog needs space from dogs or people, so please extend them this courtesy.
Reactive dogs will always be on a lead and may also be muzzled. Rather than being scared, think of it like humans wearing a PPE face mask – it’s just a sensible precaution in the current circumstances.
Never let your off-lead dog approach an on-lead dog – you don’t know the reason she is on lead and your excitable friendly dog may undo years of training for a reactive dog.
Similarly, don’t approach and pat a dog you don’t know, always ask the owner first if you can greet their pet.
We all hope that the coronavirus pandemic will pass and our lives will return to normal. But in the meantime, please use some of the lessons we’ve learnt from this experience to help owners of reactive dogs feel less lonely, scared and isolated.