This blog post is all about jealousy. That awful feeling of resenting somebody else’s achievements or something they have in their life. There is no doubt that jealousy is a horrible way to feel, and it leads some people to be extremely unpleasant toward those they feel jealous of.
Feelings of jealousy are common among people who care for reactive dogs. I see expressions of it all over my social media in articles about how annoying people with friendly dogs are. I’ve felt it myself – and know how powerful it is. The jealousy is directed at all those people who just go out and walk their dog without worrying about it. Who don’t have to plan their route precisely to try and minimise coming across the dog’s triggers. It is easy to take that emotion and direct it into frustrated rants or articles telling people about how difficult they make life for somebody with a reactive dog or articles advising the people with non-reactive dogs how they can help.
Don’t get me wrong. These are useful. Education and letting people know how they can help can make a real difference. For sure being able to call your dog back from other dogs is useful and lots of people haven’t thought that their young, playful dog may not be welcomed by an elderly, sick or frightened dog. Sharing information and providing education on good dog walking practices is an excellent thing to do.
However, if you are dealing with the daily challenge of walking with a reactive or aggressive dog, doing too much of it won’t help you. It can cause you to stay stuck in a place where you regularly feel resentment toward other dog walkers without a healthy outlet for those feelings.
As somebody who knows only too well what it is like to care for a reactive dog – and deal with those difficult emotions, I’d like to suggest another way to look at things.
Jealousy is an emotion that has a real purpose. It is there to show us what we want. It helps to point out possibilities. If I look at what somebody else is doing or has achieved and feel nothing, that’s handy information. It means that the chances are I wouldn’t enjoy whatever that person is doing. However, if I look at somebody else and think. “I wish I could do or have that” it shows me something that might enrich my life.
Jealousy can be a road map pointing the way to a better life. If it is seen as a road map, then one of the things that can help is making a point of finding ways to view the people who trigger jealousy differently. Those are the people to be friends with, to learn from, to value, and to support in their endeavours. The people who are already doing the things that you want to be doing are excellent folk to learn from.
Calgacus was my very first dog. When I got him, I knew nothing about dogs. I did what lots of people do and took him to a local training class where we learned about clicker training. I loved it. Those classes became the highlight of my week. The other thing that I loved was meeting people with dogs on our walks and watching the dogs play together.
Within about 8 months of us starting those classes, Calgacus – who was a bullmastiff - was enormously aggressive toward other dogs and had severely injured a dog. I was suffering flashbacks to that attack and would descend into a state of terror at the sight of an off-lead dog when we were out walking.
My jealousy then was significant. I felt utter resentment toward anybody walking their dog while looking relaxed. Seeing dogs play in the park filled me with both fear and anger. I still didn’t know all that much about dogs – and certainly didn't know how to help Calgacus. I was struggling also to find dog trainers to help me learn.
Over time I started to realise that the people I felt so jealous of were the people who had the life that I desperately wanted to have again. I made the deliberate decision to spend time with those people. To learn from them and to see how far that could take me.
That decision was transformational. Not only did I make lots of supportive friends, but I also found loads of views and ideas for working with dogs like Calgacus, who really struggled with their own kind. I learned more and more about dogs. Calgacus travelled all around the country with me, attended countless workshops, ran around and played with many other dogs, helped me get my degree in dog training and behaviour – and became a friend to many people as well as a mentor to dogs who struggled with their own kind.
To let that happen, I allowed my jealous feelings to show me where I wanted to go. Learning to experience those feelings as a road map allowed me to stop resenting people and start learning from them.
I wanted to write this as an alternative viewpoint and a potentially different way of dealing with those feelings of jealousy, resentment and anger that so often go hand in hand with caring for a reactive or aggressive dog.
If you enjoyed this and want to hear more from me, I have a free webinar that you can get access to. It is pre-recorded so you get it straight away.
It's called "A fresh look at reactivity" and I think you'll enjoy it.
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Tracey is the author of Canine aggression: Rehabilitating an aggressive dog with kindess and compassion and founder of Best Dog Learning and Stuff Ltd. She has an honours degree in Canine behaviour and training, is a Tellington TTouch practitioner, and is an ACE Advanced Tutor.