Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dog Reactivity or Frustrated Greeter? Learning from Faolan

I have long thought that Faolan, while friendly, is reactive.  He gets incredibly excited when he sees other dogs on our walks, jumping, lunging, sometimes barking, but showing no signs of aggression.  He has played off-leash with a couple of other dogs (outside of Neeko and Bruce), and has done fine with them.  However I have remained somewhat fearful of him being "reactive" and the stigma that surrounds that. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was introduced to the term "frustrated greeter."  I immediately had an a-ha! moment, as this is Faolan.  Seeing dogs does not cause him to become excited, but being confined by a leash, or the other dog being chained/behind a fence, or a combination of the two causes him to become frustrated, because he wants to greet the dog.  Thus, he jumps, pulls, and occasionally barks.

A close friend of mine asked if I would like to meet her and her two dogs Friday morning at a local park that I had never been to.  I wasn't sure whether to bring Neeko or Faolan, but decided on Faolan in the end.

We arrived about 30 minutes before Michelle and her dogs, and little boy was ready to go!

I always make him pose on silly objects.

Posing again.
 Michelle arrived with her two dogs-Jackson, a one year old mix (Australian Shepherd and who knows what else) and Lexus, a four month old Rottweiler.

We walked around for a bit.  Faolan did get a bit excited upon seeing her dogs, but calmed down immensely once he realized he was actually going to get to say hi to them.

Unbeknownst to me, there is a free, public dog park at this large park.  I am not a huge fan of dog parks, for a number of reasons.
  • Many owners pay more attention to other owners, as opposed to watching their dogs.
  • Some of these dogs may be ill, in heat, poorly socialized, or toy aggressive.
  • Some owners do not clean up after their dogs.
  • Sometimes big dogs and little dogs don't mix well.
  • Children who do not understand how to interact with strange dogs are brought in on occasion.
  • Not every dog is appropriate for a dog park setting.
We took Neeko to a dog park as a young dog.  For the most part, everything went very well, if we went at our "normal" times.  The times when the others we knew were there, who followed rules, and watched their dogs.  If went at different times, we would often see the above scenarios, and it made me uncomfortable.

Seeing as it was a weekday morning, the park itself was fairly deserted, and the dog park area was completely empty.  Michelle talked me into going in there with her, Jackson and Lexi.

After assuring the perimeter was secure, and the gate was locked, we let our dogs off-leash.  Faolan, Jackson, and Lexus had a great time running around, and smelling all the smells.

The Three Stooges.

Sweet, gorgeous Lexus.  Lexus means "Defender of Mankind."

My handsome "little wolf."
Eventually, a gentleman arrived with a German Shepherd.  I corralled Faolan, as the gate was single entry and I was nervous about Faolan flying out of it and not looking back.  The gentleman (who was very dog savvy) assured me his boy GSD was friendly, and I let go of Faolan.  He greeted Rex beautifully.  No overexcitement, nice doggy manners.  After their intial friendly greeting, they went in opposite directions to sniff around.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Jackson, Rex, and Faolan, taking a water break.

About 20 minutes later, a group consisting of three ladies, six children, and five dogs arrived.  I again held Faolan while they made their entry.  They unleashed their dogs, and all, aside from a terrier mix who they kept on leash, seemed friendly.  I released Faolan.  A Labrador approached him, and they had a nice greeting.  Before I knew it, he was playing tag with the Lab, a beagle mix, and a hound mix.  I kept an eagle eye on him, ready to intervene at a moment's notice.  He did beautifully.

Sara at Paws Ability wrote an excellent post defining reactivity.  I feel the main difference between reactive dogs and frustrated greeters is that the reactive dog is reacting (barking, lunging, coming unglued) to the stimulus itself, while the frustrated greeter is upset because he cannot get to other dog simply to say hello.  I am sure it is probably not that simple, and need to learn more.  Faolan is being a wonderful teacher.


  1. Glad everything went well. It seems like Faolan and the other doggys had a fun time together.

    We also nominated you guys for an award.

  2. Oh how exciting to find this out, and I'm sure a relief. I'm, unfortunately in the latter, because I was never socialized as a pup because I was sick. Butts, there ARE some doggies I really do fine with, butts Ma has noticed that if a dog is behind a fence, I am barkin' at them more!
    I do know the 'stigma', and it's always a relief to see other seasoned dog peeps say it's okay, they understand. And always disappointing to see the 'look' of others that it is your fault. I've learned to ignore the latter.
    Ruby ♥

  3. Very neat to read your analysis of Faolan. I bet you are very relieved! You might consider reading about "BAT" (Behavioral Adjustment Training) which was developed by Grisha Stewart. It has helped my dog, Shyla, immensely. It can be used for "reactivity" but also "frustrated greeting". A trainer taught me about it, and it is very effective for lots of dogs.

  4. Beautifully written post. I spent the entire time holding my breath waiting for Faolan react "badly" - I use the quotes, because I hate the judging description, but it's the only word I have right now.

    Frustrated greeter describes our dog, Rodrigo, to a tee. I don't like for him to greet dogs when he's on leash and not everyone understands this. Being restrained while he's excited at the opportunity to meet a new dog rarely ends well.

    Today, he was off leash when he greeted two dogs and he did beautifully; I was so proud of him. The trick, I've found, is to allow him off leash at a distance (with the permission of the other dog owner) and to keep him focused on me as I unhook his leash.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Great post and good assessment. I can see that type of behavior sometimes in our previous dogs and it's an important distinction to make. Thanks for sharing.

  6. This is the first time I've heard of the term before. Thank you for sharing it with me... It actually gave me an a-ha moment now that I'm considering "Puppy's" case. Puppy is the name my niece gave our dog... seriously! Anyway, thank you for sharing it with me. I am glad Faolan had a blast in the dog park.

  7. That's a great reference of dog training tips. Thanks! It was really helpful. I'm still in the process of training my dogs and hopefully some pet products have helped me on this.
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  8. I believe I have a frustrated greeter, too. I linked up to your post in mine today:

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Thanks for the howls!!