Skip to content

Once When You Were Trouble: Loving an Old Reactive Dog

I saw the dog coming towards us. Like always, I began to make a quick u-turn to give you some space. But silly me. There’s nothing quick about the way we move these days.

So there we were – me guiding you in what felt like the world’s slowest about-face in the middle of the street.

By the time we were done inching our way around, the other dog was long gone.

You looked confused. What’s with all the fancy foot work?

When the next dog appeared, I guided us to a stop to make some room for them to pass. I held tight to the leash, waiting for you to see the other dog and react.

But you just stood there.

I smiled. Look at you, not caring about the other dog! Way to go old lady!

It only took you 15 years to finally stop giving a shit about every single dog that looks at you.

It’s the moment every person who has ever walked a reactive dog dreams of – my dog stayed calm.

We finally did it!

Then I started to cry.

You didn’t react to the other dog because you’re old.

You’re not being cool about other dogs. You’re losing your vision. And your hearing too.

Did you even see the other dog? I don’t think so.

And if you had?

Then the cancer in your body or the ache in your back would have stopped you from putting that dog on full blast.

Who has the energy for rumbling these days, right?

Loving an old dog who used to be trouble is a bittersweet thing.

I feel relief that we no longer need to hide behind cars or that I can hold your leash lightly and get lost in thought while we stroll.

Then I feel a punch in my chest. It’s my heart breaking.

This new peace comes at such a high price.

This is the last leg of our journey together my old friend.

Lately I find myself reminiscing as we walk, a little slower each day, about the times when we had to cross this very block three times to escape the woman who wanted us to meet her dog.

That dog died years ago.

We’re still here.

But crossing the block three times would take us so long that anyone could catch up to us now.

We used to move so fast! I could barely keep up with you.

Back then you would explode at other dogs. It was a big show and it stopped some people in their tracks. Tsk tsk, they’d say.

I’m longing for those days now that I know they won’t come again.

I cried while we walked today.

What I wouldn’t do to see you at full force again.

What I wouldn’t do to yell at someone to back off so we can make our escape together.

Loving an old dog who used to be trouble is a funny thing.

Here we are, where we desperately wanted to be. All those years when walks were an obstacle course of stress, embarrassment, and near misses.

Not any more.

I’m enjoying how easy it is to be out in the world with you now.

But oh, what I wouldn’t do to see you at peak naughtiness again.

To see you strong and healthy. To hold you back with both hands while you tried to take on the world. To feel exhausted by our walks.

This peace comes at such a high cost.

Now that we finally have it, I don’t want it.

I want the trouble.

I want you to stay.





    I could have written this myself these days. Sniff. And hugs to you.

    December 13, 2018
    • Sending hugs right back to you Sheri.

      December 14, 2018
  2. keri #

    This made me cry…. but it also made me smile and nod….. I’ve lived and felt every word. It’s been 6.5 years and it still brings the tears. Gracie used to ….. every once in a great while …. give that challenge WOOF at another dog (that for some reason she had noticed) right up until the end. It always took my breath …. but at the end, it was accompanied by a smile and a swelling heart. Wishing you WOOFS! ♥

    December 13, 2018
    • “but at the end, it was accompanied by a smile and a swelling heart.” Yes, I feel this too. Gracie was lucky to have you.

      December 14, 2018
  3. Catherine #

    Tons of tears. I have a female turning 15 and two turning 10. I’m not traveling away from home until the 15 yr old is gone. Heaven forbid I’m away when she leaves. I would never forgive myself. I definitely want to go where they go when I die.

    December 13, 2018
    • I get it. I’m trying really hard not to travel for work right now – I have so many old animals in my life at the moment and my worst fear is I’ll be gone when they go. Hugs to you!

      December 14, 2018
  4. Brewster and I are in exactly the same place. Last fall the neighbors had a garage sale. It took B 2 days before he even started to suspect something was going on over there. When he sees movement on the other side of the fence, he charges but then immediately turns around and comes back. It’s just too much trouble. Our lives are so much more peaceful than they were even a year ago. And it’s horrible. One thing he hasn’t lost, though, is his ability to love. He can still snuggle like nobody’s business. He’s still throws a little B-Dog Party every time I come home. He still loves to eat. His hearing is bad and his vision is worse, but he’s still himself, and I am soaking up every cuddle and sloppy kiss and fart in my face for as long as I can.

    December 13, 2018
    • How is it possible that this much time has gone by? It feels like I blinked and everyone aged 5 years. Big hugs to you and Boogie says to tell B he misses their pen pal days.

      December 14, 2018
  5. Pam #

    This brought such tears to my eyes. My “Hope”, a NYACC euthanasia list survivor, thrown on the streets of Brooklyn lactating without her puppies. She came to me Christmas time seven years ago. This was our life. We tried everything..a behaviorist specializing in pitbulls, a trainer..all to no avail…but she was “my” dog, “my” protector, “my” friend. She was passionate in everything she did, including loving me. It will be one year on December 16th that I lost her to cancer. Words cannot describe even one year later the magnitude of my loss.

    December 13, 2018
    • I’m so sorry for your loss Pam. It’s so painful.

      December 15, 2018
  6. Susan #

    My heart breaks for you! Enjoy every moment.

    December 13, 2018
  7. Darleen Dutton #

    Thanks for sharing this. I also went through this with my last Golden Retriever named Lewis. He was a rescue and the best dog we ever had. Miss him very much❤️

    Sent from my iPad


    December 13, 2018
  8. Meredith #

    Very lovely … reminded me of my beloved Lucinda. I guess it’s a good thing that our dogs don’t know (or at least I don’t think they know…) that they are ‘old’ or ill or that they’re behaving differently. It’s our curse and blessing to outlive them and see all the changes.

    December 13, 2018
    • Yes, it really is. I’m thankful the old dogs I walk these days don’t seem to mind!

      December 15, 2018
  9. LQ #

    I hear you too. I dearly miss my best girl buddy and haven’t yet been able to bring myself to bring another dog into my life, although it’s been 4 years now since she has passed. She taught me so much about life in her own unique way. Her sensitivity to other peoples’ pain was incredible. Perhaps, because she was so anxiety filled and could relate …

    December 13, 2018
  10. Robin Grant #

    Jaysus – this wrecked me. Loved the writing and the feelings behind it. Had to put my oldest dog to sleep in February (cancer) and I still can’t think about him too much or look at pictures of him without crying. There is nothing quite like the pain of losing a dog, especially when they’ve been so much a part of your life for so long. I hope your girl has an easy passing when the time comes.


    December 13, 2018
    • Thanks Robin and I’m really sorry for your loss. It took me a year to be able to look at photos of my dog Birdie (who died in April of 2017) without crying. Hugs to you.

      December 20, 2018
  11. Beautiful, Jessica. And heart wrenching. Thank you ❤️

    December 13, 2018
  12. Pamela James-Posey #

    Made me cry as I’m dealing with this right now. My little girl will be 13 in 4 days. She has lip cancer, I’d never heard of this before. It has eaten away her lip on one side and her gums. But she is still here…she still goes out to the front porch to raise terror to the neighborhood, but she is slower and not as loud. She still is excited to see us come home, but most of the time we have to wake her up and let her know we are here. She can still eat, for now, but we have to help her. She still does most everything as she did when younger, just a lot slower. I know one day soon that we will have to help her cross the rainbow bridge, but until that day comes, she is my little diva.

    December 13, 2018
    • Your little diva sounds like a lucky gal to have you by her side. Hugs to you as you walk this leg of the journey together.

      December 20, 2018
  13. Umm. NO!! Having had ‘reactive dogs’ it is such a joy to have them become calm and collected. Not only will you find your new calm dog easier to work with but you will find that you and your dog are bonded even more closely.
    in fact I often which that now I know how to work with a reactive dog, I could have some of my previous (problem) dogs back so I could help them.

    December 13, 2018
    • Ugh. This dog that I love is dying. Where is your heart?

      December 14, 2018
    • Jenny, you’ve missed the point entirely. You can’t “work with” a dog who is dying and to suggest that health problems are a blessing because it decreases reactivity is simply heartless. An apology is in order.

      December 14, 2018
      • Thanks Noelle. “Jenny” shows up on the DINOS page a lot and seems to be reflexively oppositional. It’s usually just exhausting, but this was cruel.

        December 14, 2018
        • I am sorry. I have been there, done that. Has reactive dogs who only became non-reactive when they were crippled. Yet I NEVER EVER wanted to have that problem dog back again with is/her problems.
          I can beat myself up about how bad her life was , because I was ignorant and ill-advised, but I NEVER “missed’ he reactivity.
          Sorry — but as you write it, it sounds almost as though you felt you NEEDED her to be reactive, Which since I work with reactive dogs sounds rather alarming to me.

          December 15, 2018
          • I don’t owe you this, but I’ll tell you that I’ve walked this dog for almost ten years and we worked through her reactivity. She’s been able to calmly let almost all dogs past with a little space for years now.

            I wrote this because I am sad she’s dying and I would give anything to see her at her healthiest again, even if it meant she was a handful on leash again.

            You are so literal and antagonistic it’s frightening. Please leave me alone.

            December 16, 2018
        • I don’t know WHO the “Jenny” is that posts on DINOs. By FB identity is NOT “Jenny H”. Apart from that I post very little on DINOs.

          December 15, 2018
          • You’re Evelyn Haskins and you’ve been picking fights on the DINOS page for a long, long time. You may not do it anymore, but I know your posts well.

            December 16, 2018
          • Verena Bottrell #

            Whoever you are Jenny, why don’t you just go away? My Freja, a reactive girl, crossed the Rainbow Bridge three weeks ago and reading your supercilious comments is quite painful.

            January 22, 2019
  14. Michelle Mason #

    Same here … with my 3rd one. The first two were at the same time for 14 years … this one is at year 10. Sniffle sniffle and sniffle  ………..

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    December 13, 2018
  15. Clara #

    This is so beautiful. So many complicated emotions when loving an old dog.

    December 13, 2018
  16. AGJ #

    My First dog was a rescue…she just wanted her space. For any other dog to not get near enough to hurt her.

    I got her with a hole in her shoulder, so maybe that’s why it started. But she just wanted space to get to me.

    We lost her to cancer. And this poem hurts so much here in the middle of the night.

    I have another semi-reactive dog. Another rescue. This one’s young, but wants nothing more than to check that other dog before it gets to me.

    But I miss that first one.

    December 13, 2018
  17. Anne-Marie McNulty #

    Thank you for this lovely yet bittersweet  post. My dog is losing her sight now and I have had those ‘phew moments’ where she no longer sees the person and dog wishing to be friends but also the so sad moments when I’ve moved something and she walks into it. We’re just enjoying the quieter times but I miss the naughty dog too. 

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    December 14, 2018
  18. Lori Kline #

    That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I’ve got a few more years to get there but we are slowing down, aches and pains slowly taking over his body. What I wouldn’t give to see him young and pain free again. Reactivity still there, just a little less intense. Love you buddy.

    December 14, 2018
  19. Melanie #

    Oh my so beautiful! My girl is maybe middle age ….just like me. I love her everyday and yes she is mellowing or are we getting better at how we deal with the world? We will never know 🤔❤️🐕

    December 14, 2018
  20. Jimmy Conway #

    Breaks my heart but the memories oh the memories.
    God bless both of you and make as many memories as you can now. Take pictures, a lot of pictures.
    Much love and hugs to you both.


    December 14, 2018
  21. This made my eyes well up with tears. Thank you for such a moving post.

    December 14, 2018
  22. Lizzy Flanagan #

    Oh, Jess. The biggest feels. Your gorgeous post sums up my every walk with Tildy these days. Bittersweet tears. Thank you for writing and sharing this.

    December 14, 2018
  23. Linda Bailey #

    I lost my reactive old man in July. I have experienced all of that. The article did make me cry. I will never stop missing him.

    December 14, 2018
  24. c j wentworth #

    Yes, I want them to stay so much. But soon they will be free of this crazy world. I am so sad for you and for all of us and for the animals we love. This is such a lovely piece of writing. Thank you.

    December 14, 2018
  25. Robin #

    Omg. Thanks for this. 😭

    But really, thanks for reminding me what the alternative to her reactivity is , and helping me remember to love even that part of her, and to be thankful.
    Because she is still here , and I love her beyond words.

    December 14, 2018
  26. Ruth Cohen #

    My best buddy is 17 1/2 with barely no sight, hearing comes and goes, walks and falls at times cant get down stairs and even ramps at times and with dementia he paces stares at walls and pees and poops throughout the house. He mainly eats soft foods since he has lost most of his teeth but gobbles it up even though he has a tendency to put his feet in the bowls and spill everything out onto the floor. He is not in pain, still loves to cuddle and kiss. Shows me where he wants scratching and lets me know it feels good. I met him at 7 weeks and I feel as long as he is not in pain and continues to eat I will not let him go but every day even though I am grateful for our time my heart is broken because there are days I dont see him inside his body. The question really is when do you decide? when you dont see them or at least know that they have stopped the will to live. Life is never easy. I think when they stop the will to live and that is what I am holding onto for now.

    December 14, 2018
    • Francoise #

      You’ll know. My gauge was always measuring my dog’s struggles with how I would react to the same happening to me. If I felt that it would be tolerable to me, then okay. But if it wouldn’t, that was the line that I did not want to cross nor did I want him to. So long as he is eating, drinking, and bodily functions are good, the rest is subjective.

      December 15, 2018
  27. Francoise #

    May I share this beautiful story?

    December 14, 2018
    • You’re welcome to share the link to this post. Thanks for reading.

      December 15, 2018
  28. This reminds me of my beloved Hazelnut who passed on in July 2017. She was reactive, too. She was tough to take on walks in our dog-friendly town, but I loved her dearly. Hazel was my constant companion for 15 years – she was protective, but also very sweet. Her home was her resource and she was highly skeptical of interlopers, although she never bit or threatening (much). Thanks so much for posting and articulating what I’ve felt about my own old girl.

    December 15, 2018
  29. Pearl #

    Thank you. Just thank you for articulating what I feel on every walk. They’re shorter now. We no longer hike unless I know I can carry my seniors out if necessary. It’s a privilege to give back to my dogs in their senior years, but the emotions can be overwhelming. So THANK YOU for putting it in words.

    December 15, 2018
  30. As a person that was a dog walker for over 10 years, this went to my heart.

    December 15, 2018
    • Being with them for that long is really an honor isn’t it? But hard on the heart – hugs to you!

      December 16, 2018
  31. Joanna Sonnier #

    So many changes over the years with my doggies that are still with me and the ones who have left their pawprints on my heart. Thank you for the beautiful sentiment for all the people who walk with animals.

    December 16, 2018
  32. Karla Kruecke #

    This is how I feel about my 12 1/2 y/o Gordon
    Setter, Toby. He was my first reactive (Fear
    Aggression) dog. You were such a handful at 2, when you started really reacting to other dogs
    coming towards you. I had never had it before, but should have seen the warning signs and stopped
    A few of your play sessions with other pups. They always tried to hump and corner you. I shouldn’t of put you in that position, and believed what the trainers said. – I knew my dog. Because of you we both learned a lot about aggression & reactive dogs. A lot of feisty Fido classes, control unleashed, etc.
    it helped me be a better trainer. But now, you go to classes, (nosework), and don’t even care about other dogs being crated right next to you. I can see it in your eyes, your old & tired. Eyesight is getting bad, a lot of arthritis pain, bad hearing. We let you still hunt, if you want too. I kills me to see you getting old, your a lot more mellow, but I would give anything to get my wild Toby back 😔

    December 16, 2018
  33. Diana #

    Crying with you. I’m at a similar point with my pup. But it’s been so worth the walk 🙂

    December 16, 2018
  34. Kathleen (+ B&R) #

    This is so beautiful – I’m sorry you’re going through this again. Absorb every moment and thanks for reminding me to not wish away the crazy too soon.

    December 16, 2018
  35. Aimee #

    Thanks, I really wanted to be sat in bed sobbing this morning lol…
    I miss my shadow 😦

    December 17, 2018
  36. Margarita A palacio #

    I’m crying as I write this. My 7 year old Aussie was everything you described as were our quick escapes and fancy footwork. We haunted out of the way patches of green just so my baby could have a stress-free outing once in a while. I just lost my sweet boy to kidney failure, and the reason for my tears in addition to his passing, we were making a tiny bit of progress. I could walk him in the vincinity of people and dogs and it wasn’t awful. I too longed for that point but I’d give all that up in a heartbeat for my sweet boy to still be here with me.

    December 17, 2018
  37. Amy #

    This was so beautifully written. Thank you so much. We’re at the other end of the story, just starting out really, having adopted our pup about 3 years ago. He’s almost 4 years old, strong as heck, has a threshold of zero feet, and massive anxiety. There havn’t been too many days that go by where I haven’t had a fleeting thought that our lives might be easier without him. Your post was a beautiful reminder that they are with us for such a short time and to embrace the positives. Hugs to you and your pup.

    December 17, 2018
  38. ROSE Abrams #

    It’s so true. My Buddy is gone six months and still haven’t removed the luggage rope that I needed to keep him out of the garbage. You couldn’t really do anything toward the end but you always stood there staring at the can. I used to wonder if you were remembering the havoc you caused. Oh what I would give for egg shells and coffee grinds on the floor. Well I’m crying now.

    December 17, 2018
  39. Jules #

    Ah, we lost our reactive boy in just 2 days of him becoming poorly, for which I am so grateful. To have watched him slowly decline would have been too much to bear I think. Sadly, oh-so subtle signs of heart failure were there, but he hid them so well that we didn’t realise and by the time it fully showed itself it was too late for the meds to work. He really was my protector to the end, whether I needed it or not! Reactive dogs are a handful for sure, and unbeknown to him we spent most of his life training and managing him to keep him safe and ensure he didn’t fall foul of the law. Tiresome, yes. A huge commitment, yes, but I wouldn’t have changed him for the world. Such a special boy who will always hold a special place in my heart.

    December 18, 2018
  40. katrinaboldry #

    Thank you for writing this. For expressing so elegantly those conflicting moments of age. So many feelings are rushing through me. I’m going to go cry now.

    Katrina Boldry

    Owner & Designer, Bold Lead Designs LLC


    handcrafted leather dog leashes & service dog equipment

    303-856-3012 (USA mountain time zone)

    350 Norfolk Street, Aurora, CO 80011 USA

    December 18, 2018
  41. pt y #

    I’m experiencing exactly that these days too. You have put it so accurately. Wishing you more time with your friend.

    December 20, 2018
  42. Thank you for the good cry this morning! I really mean that. I think of my own two reactive pups, not to mention the dogs I walk, and it reminds me that their time on Earth is so very short. Reactive dogs have been my greatest teachers, especially my own boy that I had to let go across the Rainbow Bridge at a young age. I will think of this post on the days when I feel frustrated and exhausted. They are worth it all, every last reactive one of them.

    December 21, 2018
  43. Jen #

    You told me I’d cry. And I don’t cry. But I read it. Aaannddddd sobbbbbb!
    Oh sweet reactive doggie xox
    My dog is a handful. I’m gonna appreciate that a different way now. Thank you.

    December 21, 2018
  44. Jen #

    Nothing like a good cry!

    January 6, 2019
  45. Carol Sampson #

    Wow, wow, wow. My GSD was your dog, until she got cancer at 7 and died within 2 months of diagnosis. You captured that pure love and that hardship perfectly. Very touching and so well written. Thank you for sharing that; it was amazing.

    January 8, 2019
  46. This hurt my heart to the core. As someone with a few reactive dogs over the years, I dread this inevitably. Even though criss crossing the street a million times was a pain, yelling at people with dogs off leash was a pain and explaining to people it’s not you, it is, was VA pain. Nothing compares to the pain of no longer having to do it.

    June 23, 2019
  47. Robin #

    I’ve already read this and commented and cried, and it came across my feed again today. So I cried again, and thought about how every time we go out, it is a struggle. To hold her back, try and teach her, try and keep her (and others) safe, to try and see triggers before she does, all that fun stuff that so often frustrates me beyond words. But some day she won’t be so reactive, and it won’t be because I am an excellent dog trainer. It’ll be like yours, it’ll be because she can’t.
    And like you, I will be remembering when she still could.
    Bless your loving heart.

    June 24, 2019
  48. thtkidjunior #

    My heart felt this!!

    August 10, 2019
  49. Jeanette #

    That just happened to me today for the first time and now I sit here crying as I read this!!! As it was happening It was just so sad ! This is so beautifully written and heartfelt!! Thank you!

    February 9, 2020
  50. CagoGirl63 #

    Wonderful piece. Our girl is reactive, and even at 7.5, starting to slow down a bit. She cares less about other people and I’m sure other dogs will bother her less soon too. We lost our boy – the calm one – six months ago and I can’t wrap my head around losing her too one day.

    February 10, 2020
  51. Esther #

    Sniff 💔😭🐕💖

    February 12, 2020
  52. Joann #

    My dear Sadie, was 14, could’t see & then could not hear. She would bump into walls & I felt so bad. When I would find her just standing in a corner, I wanted to cry! But she still loved! As long as she wasn’t in pain, we would keep living & loving. Then came the day that it was all about her needs; not mine. For to keep her here any longer would be selfish of me. I held her tightly when she got the shot! And she was gone.

    February 12, 2020
  53. I’m in tears as I lay in bed with my 7 year old reactive pit bull. I’m dreading the last leg of our journey together — not quite there yet but I know one day we’ll face it. This was perfectly written… if only they could live forever ♥️

    February 13, 2020
  54. Oh how I can relate 😭 so many years of dog dodging, then the final months and weeks (that we didn’t know were final at the time) when it got easier in some ways… and so much harder in others. Thank you for sharing your story ♥ sending love 🐾 xx

    February 15, 2020
  55. God, I love my dog.

    July 9, 2020
  56. Steph #

    I read this a while ago and saved it on FB…I just reopened it now for a good read and a quick cry while my 12.5 year old reactive mess sleeps nearby. He sleeps a lot these days. Recently we walked past a fenced in yard with two very small dogs barking their heads off; their owner picked them up and said, “See? She’s an old lady,” {“Old man,” I corrected him} “She’s not bothered by you.” And he’s right, my dog wasn’t bothered. Some through training, and some through age. I knew that if either of those little guys had come running up to us, though, my dude still could have and would have ripped them apart, but he’d no longer hold his own against anything remotely his size.

    I’m glad a lot of the fear and the fight have left him, but I weep every time I imagine losing him. Loving a difficult dog is a very complicated experience–I have visible scars on my body because of that love. But he is my best friend, and I hate seeing him fade away. I’ve learned a lot from my reactive dog, and every future dog in my life will benefit from him.

    October 5, 2020

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: