Cherry came to us as a highly reactive, anxious mess of a dog who hadn’t seen much of the world before. Over time, we worked on her triggers one by one; she became significantly better with other dogs and animals in general as well as other random triggers.
I wouldn’t say she is no longer reactive but when I describe her, reactivity is no longer one of the first things I think of. We used positive reinforcement paired with behaviour modification so with careful management we get to enjoy going out with her and experience the world together.
Since we take her with us almost everywhere we go, it’s easy to forget that she can still get overwhelmed and regress in her ability to deal with the world.
We had been traveling (without her) for a few days and my dad decided to bring her into the airport when he picked us up. Unfortunately, an airport is a prime location for trigger stacking… Cherry had to deal with huge crowds, children running around, suitcases (which she hates the sound of), as well as a dog sitting nearby.
She still did very well staying calm with all of this around her, waiting for us to arrive. However the excitement of our reunion combined with all the triggers described above was just too much for her. As we started walking towards the car we had to walk past a very well behaved, calm dog and Cherry could no longer handle her anxiety.
She began barking and lunging and quickly reverted to her old habit of turning around and biting onto my leg…
This is so embarrassing to admit because I want to say she has become this perfect angel but unfortunately this is not the case. It makes me sad that she deals with this much anxiety and I know it’s my job to guide her and only put her in situations where she is not exposed to trigger after trigger. However, this is not always possible.
There will be bad days and we have to just keep moving forward but today’s experience reminded me to take a step back and put her needs first. It reminded me to strengthen our foundations and to be a better advocate for my dog.
It’s easy to doubt myself when the setbacks are so huge and dramatic.