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Holidaying with a reactive dog

Posted Nov. 29, 2019, 11:25 p.m.
Written by Tracey Hall

Living on a farm, we have had all kinds of animals over the years, from our beautiful Highland Cattle that the guests at our holiday lettings love so much, to pigs, chickens, pea hens and now our lovely new donkeys which have been added to our menagerie in the last month. But perhaps one of the most challenging animals to join us on the farm are our dogs. Not all of them of course, but they all have their unique characters including our Blue Merle Border Collie, Jasper, who is absolutely lovely, but has also proven a bit of a challenge.

Jasper is what is known as a reactive dog, a dog that over reacts to external stimuli.  A reactive dog can react to anything – people, other dogs, noises, motion, just anything. It is often wrongly assumed that reactive dogs are rescue dogs but that isn’t always the case. Like humans, dogs all have their unique personalities. When we chose Jasper to join our family back in 2016, my husband really liked how he was shy, timid and good natured. All the other puppies were bouncing around, seeking attention and jumping up and down, while little Jasper sat quietly in the corner. He was a sweet little thing and we wanted him to come home with us straight away. Fast forward three years and we still love him just as much but his shy personality was perhaps a sign of things to come.

Jasper is fantastic. He is loving, loyal and does what all typical Border Collies do – he tries to round us all up like sheep! But training him has been a challenge. Despite multiple blocks of training sessions, he remains a very nervous and reactive dog. We are very fortunate, however, that living on a farm we have lots of open space for him to run around in. This has been a huge asset when training him ourselves at home as we can take him away from almost all external stimuli and reintroduce it gradually. With the help of his favourite Betty Miller dog treats, we are able to practice training him regularly.

It is also something that many of the guests who book to stay at our holiday lettings find useful too. As dog lovers, we actively promote our properties as ‘dog friendly’. We also try to make them as luxurious as possible (it always frustrates us when we are off on holiday and are looking for a dog friendly property, if we only find ones with mismatched furniture, slightly dilapidated and with scrapes on the walls). This means that we get a great deal of bookings from dog owners and one of the most common questions we get is “would the properties be suitable for a reactive dog”. Having one of our own, it is great to confirm that yes, they are indeed suitable for reactive dogs and to share our own experiences. What can be especially helpful is that as our properties are on our farm, there are areas that are busier than others meaning that whatever stage of the training journey our guests dog are on, they can be kept away from or introduced to as much external stimuli as possible.

Life with a reactive dog isn’t easy but they are every bit a part of their human’s family as any one else.

Training a reactive dog is definitely not simple and just as you feel you have made progress, it can be undone in a split second.