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Working with a Reactive Dog: Progress, Not Perfection

I'm taking away "perfect" so you can be good.

- Kerry Stack

The other day my mother was at my house. She started telling me about a recent jaunt to the park she had with her dogs. While she was walking along one of the many trails, she saw a gentleman with a beautiful German Shepherd ahead of her suddenly veer off-path and patiently wait with his dog about 20 feet into the brush. Apparently he called out to her, asking her to please pass him by, as his dog was dog-reactive.

My mother, being…well, my mother, proceeded to call out some advice about dog-reactive dogs. The gentleman merely nodded and mentioned he is a dog trainer himself.


“Well, he’s apparently not that great of a trainer if he had to pull his dog off-trail like that”, my mother quipped to me during the re-telling of the story.

I completely disagree. I think it’s perfect.

The Holy Trinity of Darwin Dog’s philosophy is Piloting, Activity and Work (or the PAW Method). You can’t take any of those three components away from a dog and live a happy, balanced life with them. Think of those three things as ingredients in the best recipe you're ever going to make.

In order to create that recipe, you need a few tools. Maybe a mixer, a spatula, etc. Those tools you need can be likened to the three steps you take when working with a dog:

In other words, The PAW Method is utilized with the three steps listed above. Yet for some reason, everyone neglects Step 2: Control the situation.

They just continue on to: Ludicrous Speed.

In other words, you’re preparing to fail. Preparing for a situation doesn’t mean you don’t have control of the situation. It’s called preparing, not failing. Stepping off trail was probably the smartest thing that the owner of the Shepherd could have done: plan ahead.

If you can’t control the situation, or don’t feel confident in an upcoming situation (i.e., another dog heading towards your reactive dog), it’s okay to move backwards. Progress isn’t always a forward-moving thing. For some reason we humans feel that unless we are doing something perfectly, we aren’t doing it well. I beg to differ.

For example, I have a friend who at 5’5″ weighed in at close to 300 lbs. While she’s always been a beautiful person, she wasn’t a happy person and decided to make some changes. So she went on a diet and got active, and simultaneously worked on self love.

So far she’s lost about 75 lbs (!) – a very impressive achievement, in my opinion. However, to the average passer-by, they may still look at her and think she’s fat, and needs to go on a diet. They may think upon hearing that she’s already on a diet, that it isn’t working. They’re wrong. It’s called “working” for a reason….because it ain’t done yet.

I’m proud of my friend. Yes, she’s had some setbacks (stagnating weight while still dieting, putting on a few pounds again), but she’s determined to make progress, and she has, and continues to do so.

I’m also proud of that man I will never meet who understood what his dog needed, and understood the difference between progress and perfection. Yes, it’s annoying to have a dog who is dog-reactive. It’s frustrating to see others judging your dog based on what they see, yet not able to see how far you’ve come. Hard work and patience may have brought that dog to the point where they are now, but what the public sees is a dog who needs to be removed from the trail where he will (calmly sit) as another dog passes by.

To those of you who realize that the goal is progress, not perfection, I tip my hat to you. Keep at it. You’re doing it right.

Keep Calm and Pilot On.

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

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1 Comment

Cathy Solomon
Cathy Solomon
Jul 25, 2021

Love the article

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