The Batman and Joker Days of Caring for a Reactive Dog

Batman and Joker Days of Caring for a reactive dogBy: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA

For those of you who know me well, you know I am a big comic book geek. So it’s no surprise that I compare my days loving and caring for a reactive dog as falling on the hero or villain side: the Batman days and the Joker days. What does this mean?

The Batman days look like any combination of the following:
-You recognize the signs of stress in your dog before she gets over-threshold and employ positive interrupters (“Leave It”, hand-targeting, foraging, etc) then get distance from her trigger
-You see the loose dog before your own dog does and are able to get to safety
-You play “Look at that” with one of your dog’s triggers (let’s say another dog) and she stays calm and in tune with you (because you are far enough away for her to be under-threshold)
-You plot out and enact a training plan to help her learn self-control and relaxation around her triggers
-Your dog looks to you for guidance when she gets nervous
-You play with your pup then enjoy a good cuddle on the couch

These are the days where you feel like a hero for your pup. You feel like you can protect her from everything and that the two of you are one.

But inevitably, you will have some Joker days. This could be when:
-Every street you turn down has a loose dog or cat
-People keep coming up to pet your dog even though you tell them she is not comfortable
-You have to run from a loose dog, screaming at their human to come get them
-You run out of treats halfway through your walk
-You miss the signs of stress and your dog lunges to the end of her leash and starts snarling and barking at her trigger. She can no longer hear you because she is over-threshold.
-Even in the house, your pup can’t come down from her stress for hours
-Your training plan falls apart
-You get frustrated with yourself and your pup
-You sit on the couch and waver between crying and laughing maniacally

These are the days that are the hardest. You feel like a failure and, at times, like you are going insane.

It is in the Joker days that you need to remember that the hero always wins and you are the hero to your pup. You care for her and put her needs first and always, always try to make life better for her.

Joker ends up in Arkham Asylum and Batman keeps the city safe. You are Batman…even on the days when things unravel and the Joker is peeking out from the chaos. Never forget that.