top of page
Featured Posts

Snarl, Bark, Lunge...AARF!

AARF! No, I’m not growling or barking at you, but I am introducing something new. Just for you humans (I still love your dogs, but sometimes dog guardians need a night out). AARF is a safe space for people who are living with Aggressive, Anxious, Reactive or Fearful dogs (AARF dogs). No judgment, no embarrassment, no unsolicited advice about getting your dog under control. It’s a place to be seen, to be heard and hopefully to have a moment of calm in your otherwise chaotic life as an AARF dog guardian.

A social support group for dog owners? Yes. Right now I’m sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the hum of the generators (mine and the neighbors). Last night violent storms blew through, knocking down trees, damaging power lines and knocking out the internet. In our modern home, no internet means no calming music. I thought it was a brilliant idea to use a streaming service for music…until today. I live with a fearful dog and a dog who is noise phobic. Music helps them both. It drowns out sounds, it’s soothing. It helps make our home a safe space for them. But we don’t have music today. And we have loud noises all around us. And last night was terrifying. And my dogs thought the world might be ending. We go through this every time we hear fireworks, motorcycles and gunshots.

Today, and for the next several days, we’ll live with the fallout of the storm. The dogs will alternate between gluing themselves to me, pacing and being startled at sounds. One dog will pee in the house. Hey, she’ll poop, too. It’s not a house training issue. It’s fear. The world outside (where they would normally potty) is scary. So I go outside with them frequently, standing near to help them feel safe (and encouraging her to potty outside), I’ll be doing extra laundry for a few days. I’ll be patient as my 140 pound dog tries to fit under my table with my 70 pound dog while I work. I moved to the kitchen table to work because there is no way both dogs will fit under my desk. This is real life with a dog or dogs who are fearful. And as much as I love my dogs, it is exhausting sometimes.

Some people know that a dog has behavior problems before they bring them home. Most people do not. Some dogs develop behavior problems as a result of a traumatic event, illness or aging. Regardless of the origin of the behavior problem, the reality is that it is emotionally painful for the humans. It’s mentally exhausting. And it can be socially isolating.

The advice I’ve been given by strangers as I tried walking my reactive dog past them on a walk is generally not helpful. The looks, the stares…it’s embarrassing, unnerving and in some situations dangerous. Really, if my dog is lunging and barking at a person, the last thing anyone should do is walk closer…right? There were times when I would be trying to get my reactive or fearful dog to calm down after a jogger passed from behind a little too close only to be yelled at by the jogger. What should be a pleasurable outing for me and my dog can turn into a minefield. And the walks may stop. Your guilt may increase because we’ve all been told “you should walk your dog.” But if it just adds to the stress of daily life, where is the motivation? Is it helping or hurting your relationship with you dog?

Looking back at all the dogs who’ve shared my home - personal dogs and foster dogs - the ones who had behavior problems were also the ones who I seemed to bond with the most. Perhaps it’s because I spent the most time with them, training, managing, and feeling strong emotions about them. Each behavior problem brought its own set of challenges. Questions like when to safely walk the reactive dog, how to manage the anxious dog to keep her safe, and what alterations to the house could I make to keep the dogs who fought with each other safe. When I lived with dogs who attacked other dogs in the house is was exhausting trying to protect the victims, manage the aggressor, and keep all the humans in the house safe. Most of the time these dogs were wonderful. But when they weren’t wonderful it was intense.

But a support group for dog owners? Is that really necessary? Yes. Dog behavior problems are increasing. Why? While I have my opinions, we really don’t have good answers to that question. And when you’re living with an AARF dog, why doesn’t matter. Surviving the day safely does. One of the reasons The Learning Dog Academy exists is to build, strengthen and heal the person-pet relationship. Achieving that goal means supporting both person and pet. Support for your dog may look like enrichment, learning to relax and managing the environment. But what about the human?

I recently read a study that looked at what people experienced when living with AARF dogs. People reported feelings of grief, shame, guilt and isolation. Not the feelings anyone is expecting when they first bring a new dog into their home. But for the AARF dog owners, those feelings happen regularly. We may experience feelings of anxiety every day while caring for our AARF dogs. So, for my fellow AARF dog owners, let’s get together. Let’s just hang out, be together in a safe space without judgement. Let’s find the laughter in the difficulty (it’s there, we just have to look for it).

To be clear, AARF meetings are just for people. Make sure your dog is in their safe spot with a delicious kong, treat or whatever your dog loves before you head out to AARF.

What AARF is not is a training session - no training tips, no behavior advice. While I am a dog trainer/behavior consultant, AARF is for people.

AARF is open to anyone living with AARF dogs.

Questions about AARF? Contact us at or (248) 533-2194

Recent Posts
bottom of page