So what is reasonable to expect? I've actually been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I have some ideas. This list is far from perfect (and dear readers, might I point out that it would be unreasonable of you to expect your blogger to have all the answers?), but it seems like a good starting point.
First and foremost, it is reasonable to expect progress. This is true for all dogs, but especially for our reactive ones. Their behavior can improve. However, it takes a great deal of work, and it definitely takes time. This is the kind of training that is measured in terms of months, not days.
It is reasonable to expect setbacks along the way. I know, I know- this isn't the kind of expectation we want to have, but anyone who has worked with a reactive dog recognizes the truth in this statement. Regression in skills will happen along the way, so you might as well expect it.
Expecting the dog to relax in a new place is also reasonable, although it has taken us three years to get to that point. Maisy used to wander around the room when I took her somewhere new. If I prompted her to hold still, she would sit tensely, alerting to everything around her. These days, though, she can settle down and even nap.
Maisy napping under my desk at work. My office has a large, open design,
with about 10 cubicles in the immediate area- in other words, pretty busy.
Although it would be unreasonable to think that reactive episodes will never happen, it is reasonable to expect they will be relatively infrequent. Of course, this expectation carries a lot of responsbility. I must pay attention to what Maisy tells me through her body language. If I do, I have a much better chance of intervening early enough to prevent reactivity. More importantly, I must use good judgement when deciding if I should take Maisy somewhere or expose her to something, because overfacing her will result in reactivity.
These days, it is reasonable to expect Maisy to recover from stress pretty quickly. I have to very careful to reduce my demands on her following an exciting or stressful event, though. If I do, she can usually recover within 24 hours, a length of time that I think has more to do with her medications than any training I've done with her; you may have a different experience with your dog.
Another Maisy-specific expectation is quite exciting: I think it will be reasonable to expect her to go to trials- and be comfortable! It even seems reasonable to expect her to be quite successful in a ring. This still needs to be tested, of course, but as long as I define success in terms of the experience and not the result (forget Qs and placements, I am hoping she will be happy in the ring), I think it will be proven true.
These are just some of the reasonable expectations that I have. I think that all but the last two are probably true for most reactive dogs, but let me know what you think. What is a reasonable expectation for your dog? What's not? Comment below with your ideas!