“He’s a really good guy, he really is,” Sadaf says of her young Malinois, Shaun, who she lovingly describes as a goofy jock. Shaun loves to chase his soccer ball so much his trainer once remarked that he should be on her soccer team. Time outdoors and an outlet for his athleticism was one of the reasons their trainer recommended Sniffspot to Sadaf. He also needed plenty of space to relax and explore, as city life in Seattle can be stressful for him.
Shaun is not Sadaf’s first rescue with a traumatic background, but his reactivity has led her to adopt some new habits along with her special guy.
Sadaf had fostered a number of dogs rescued from the meat trade, but she wasn’t looking to adopt another dog when she happened upon Shaun’s story on Instagram.“The resilience and the ability to forgive is what caught me.” The first videos and photos Sadaf saw of Shaun were of his mangled, bleeding face and body after he and his guardian were attacked with a machete near their home in Morocco. Through his pain, he did not appear fearful or aggressive toward the people trying to help him. Shaun’s resilient spirit drew him to Sadaf, as she worked to bring him to Seattle, Washington from his foster home in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Throughout his ordeal, Shaun did not display reactivity toward people or dogs, until that trip from Indiana to Washington. Sadaf believes something really frightening happened to him, describing him like a Tazmanian devil as he barked and spun inside of his crate at the other crated dogs when she went to pick him up. After three reconstructive surgeries to help with the extensive injuries he sustained during the machete attack, Shaun also became reactive toward some humans.
It’s not surprising that Shaun suffers from PTSD after all he’s been through, but Sadaf is working hard to understand and meet his needs as they work with veterinarians and trainers to help him with his fears. Although she grew up with dogs, one of which struggled with some reactivity, and has only ever adopted dogs from shelters or rescues (some of which have their own harrowing stories) she says that Shaun is “by far the most challenging dog I’ve ever had.” But Sadaf takes it all in stride, explaining “it’s okay…this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”
When Sadaf’s previous dog, Dina (now passed), a dog meat trade survivor from Taiwan, who was confident and curious, started having seizures and becoming wary of humans, her trainer recommended nosework as mentally stimulating activity. Along with his behavior adjustment training (BAT) with the fabulous Ahimisa Dog Training in Seattle, Shaun and Sadaf also practice nosework, and use the Sniffspots they frequent to play soccer and set up items for Shaun to track.
Shaun’s trainer suggested Sadaf forgo neighborhood walks with him when it became apparent he was struggling, and instead book Sniffspots several times a week.
When they arrive, Shaun engages with his soccer ball, which he loves to chase. Though they have a backyard where Shaun can play, Sadaf likes to find Sniffspots with different terrain where he can both run in the open and explore the surrounding vegetation.
Between online classes with the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and time with their trainer, Sadaf and Shaun have learned about nosework and tracking. After his soccer session, Sadaf hides items in the available structures and vegetation for Shaun to find.
“He gets the mental stimulation that he needs…by going to these different Sniffspots. We have our favorites, and then we add new ones.” Seattle has many options, but Sadaf looks for spots with no humans or dogs visible. Ideally the spot does not have street parking, which is hard for Shaun due to his reactivity.
Sadaf enjoys her neighborhood walks with her other dog, Mokha, another meat trade survivor from Taiwan.
Walking with a reactive dog is stressful. Navigating their triggers to limit exposure and ensure they have as many positive interactions with the world around them as possible puts you on high alert, a feeling that Sadaf became familiar with: “I’m a pretty calm person, but even the thought of taking him out became dreadful for me.” She’s honest about the reality of her dog’s many triggers, “I can’t even take Shaun in front of our house.” Before she knew about Sniffspots, Sadaf would walk Shaun during off hours, but even then they would encounter triggers. “Little did I know, walking him at 4:30 in the morning, he was getting worse, and I was getting anxious,” she goes on to say “it was not pleasant for anyone involved.”
Their reactions may be big, Sadaf recalls an incident where Shaun dragged her down the street after seeing an off-leash German Shepherd, but reactive dogs are still good dogs. When asked about Shaun’s personality, her response was immediate. “He’s a big goofball. He’s really happy.” Outside of their home, Shaun has a hard time with some people, but inside of his comfort zone, Sadaf says “whoever comes to our house…they’re his BFFs.”
Although his reactivity is toward dogs and some people, Shaun is able to react neutrally to goats, donkeys, chickens, and other farm animals he has encountered in the spacious Sniffspots Sadaf books, and she sees these encounters as very enriching learning opportunities.
In her quest to provide her dogs with fulfilling activities that suit their very different personalities and needs, Sadaf occasionally brings her eager learner Mokha along to train while her jock Shaun chases a soccer ball. “I’m learning to adapt to what his needs are,” she mentions while discussing the challenges of life with a dog like Shaun.
Each dog who struggles with reactivity is a complex, sentient, emotional being deserving of love and compassion. But you could say the same for any dog, regardless of their life experiences. Every one of them deserves opportunities to explore and engage in environments and activities that benefit their mental and emotional well-being. It just takes more planning for some.
Sniffspot is a community marketplace that enables anyone to rent land by-the-hour as a safe and private dog park.
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