Scaredy Dog: Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog
I’ll preface this review with the fact that I’m not really looking for what this book has to offer. Silas is not a reactive dog per se. Which isn’t denial on my part, or at least not entirely. I would say Silas is on the cusp of reactivity. For me, a truly reactive dog has a more universal pattern than Silas does.
So, I read books like this one looking for advice on reducing his general nervousness and predicting his behavior. I recognize how easy it would be for Silas to become a reactive dog, and I want to intervene in that process as early as possible.
I’m starting to get frustrated with what I’m coming to consider the core assumptions of advice about reactivity. These are 1) that your dog is willing or able to look to you for guidance in times of stress and 2) that your dog will take treats in times of stress. What makes me so frustrated about this is that a trained monkey could “solve” reactivity if this was true. You put dog in mildly stressful situation, dog checks in with you, dog gets a treat, dog learns scary thing is okay. Practice it enough, and you’re all done. Since lots and lots of serious, educated dog owners struggle with reactivity, it’s obvious that these assumptions aren’t true for a lot of us.
Sure enough, this book also hinges on those assumptions. I laughed and laughed and laughed when she told me not to let my dog out of the car at the park until he was able to check in with me for a treat. Instead, I should put him back in the car. Ali Brown obviously has no idea how hard I had to work to get poor terrified Silas up to the point that he would get out of the car without me picking him up and putting him on the ground. Putting him back in would be like the best reward ever. Way better than the chance at a measly turkey heart that he’s too stressed to eat anyway.
I’m willing to give any book like this some credit, though, because every dog reacts differently to different things. There’s no way one book can consider every scenario. And I do think that Brown’s treatment of canine stress is more nuanced than what I’ve seen. She recommends, for instance, that you give your dog a stress-free period, away from his triggers, before you begin any counterconditioning. This lets his stress hormones dissipate and gives him the best possible chance of success. I love this logic, although I struggle to apply it: Silas stresses about 26 things a day, on days when we don’t ever leave the house.
I also loved the fact that Brown discussed the relationship between food sensitivities and your dog’s behavior. Although it’s hard to remember the details of his past behavior now, I do remember being amazed at how much Silas calmed down when we got his stomach issues under control.
Bottom line: A good chunk of this book is a nice, solid, counterconditioning program. While I didn’t find it particularly useful in our circumstances, you might. The surrounding discussion of stress and the triggers for reactivity put this one ahead of its peers.