Loving and Living with Reactive Dogs

kaitlyn dogs







By: Kaitlin Coley, Transfer & Rescue Supervisor for SPCA Tampa Bay

I love my dogs. I feel like I have to preface this by saying that. Our life is challenging, and difficult, and not one for those who give up easily. I don’t expect most people to choose the life I have. I wouldn’t wish my situation on others. However, my dogs are healthy, they are happy, and they are so, so, so loved.

I have 2 dogs and they are both dog-reactive. Some people use the term dog-aggressive, and that’s okay, it’s just not the language I choose to use when speaking about Kona and Mowgli.

Both dogs are from two different types of situations, but both dogs are now in the same boat. Do I blame myself sometimes? Sure. Do I blame situations they’ve been through? Yeah. Could I have done things differently? Probably.

That is thinking in the past and I cannot change what has happened, but I can change how we move forward. I can make decisions and I can accept help that is offered.

We utilize private sessions to work on counter-conditioning at New Dawn, and we work on “homework” when we’re not at the center. Every day is a potential for a training day. We utilize tools and “games” to make our lives a little better each day. Muzzles may be a scary word to some, but they’ve become such an important and stress-relieving tool in our life. Muzzles allow my dogs to SAFELY play with each other and allows us to take walks without putting other animals (or people) at risk.

We have good days and we have really bad days.

A good day looks like my two pups playing and chasing each other in the backyard. It’s watching them snuggle on the same dog bed (some days with muzzles, some days without.) It’s watching them run at the beach because we picked the perfect time and no other dogs are around. It’s when we are able to ignore the foster kittens that are meowing because we are focused in training.

Bad days usually interrupt a really good day. It’s when everything looks like it’s going fine until it’s not. It’s when we are playing in the yard and Kona has had enough. It’s when we’re relaxing in the bedroom and Mowgli spooks Kona by jumping on the bed. It’s when we’re minding our own business at separate ends of the room with different toys when one of them decides they no longer want to share. It’s when Mowgli and I are sitting to ourselves at a bar and someone lets their small dog get in his face without telling us.

We avoid a lot of the things that can cause bad days, but it typically takes away from our good days.

It’s difficult living a controlled life when others get to live without a care in the world. It’s difficult to not want to date someone because they have a dog and you know it could never work out. It’s difficult to put off paying a bill because you know you’d rather use that money to pay for a private training session. It’s difficult to have people stare at you in the vet’s office because your dog is muzzled. It’s difficult to choose which dog gets to sleep with you at night.

Our life is challenging, and difficult, and not one for those who give up easily. But I choose to continue this life with my dogs because I love them, and I owe it to them. They’ve seen me at rough times, the least I can do is see them through their rough times.