It’s coming up on three years since we adopted Jasper, our terrier terror from the NYACC, and we couldn’t feel more blessed to have him in our lives. It wasn’t always the case but, as so often happens, Jasper taught us a lot about behavior, structure, training, patience and love. So, for Adopt A Shelter Pet Day, we wanted to share Jasper’s story that contains some of our most successful tips to help other pet parents with reactive dogs they’ve adopted. So many dogs are returned to shelters for behavior problems. Training a reactive dog is different than other dogs. We want you to keep the dogs you’ve adopted, and have happy lives together. And, of course, we want to encourage others to adopt, don’t shop!

For those who have followed Jasper’s early story on the blog, you know that he started life in a home where he obviously wasn’t loved and appreciated. As a puppy, we think he was never socialized, was probably taunted by the two young children in the household and was either hit or scared silly by newspapers, coin cans or other loud objects. I mean it said on his paperwork, “Not good with strangers; not good with children. Only likes owner’s wife.” You can see the flat look in his eyes in the picture just below, shortly after we brought him home.

Shortly after we brought Jasper home


Very quickly after arriving at our apartment, he presented with extremely reactive behavior – lunging, shriek barking and trying to bite pretty much every man, woman, child and dog we passed on the street. Living in New York City, you can imagine you’re passing one of the above every second of each walk!

Jasper also couldn’t tolerate anyone in the elevator he didn’t know. Taking him out for a walk was a big production. Zip him up in the dog bag; stand to the side of the service elevator so, when it opened,  he couldn’t see anything out of the bag “window”, darting inside, looking both ways as the door opened downstairs, darting out of the service entrance, placing the carrier on the ground against the building wall, huddling over him as we quickly unzipped the bag, looking both ways for passersby, then quickly lifting him out and setting off on our walk practically at a run. To say the least, it was very stressful and exhausting for the both of us!

I remember having Jasper in the lobby of our building back then, meeting with an industry colleague and friend. We were measuring him for a sweater my friend was making for him and a dog and its owner came walking in. Jasper was so insanely reactive, he didn’t know what he was doing when he took a chunk out of my arm. My friend and her husband looked on in horror. Thank goodness he’s 20 lbs and not 60.

My husband and I regularly had days where we thought we couldn’t go on and wanted to give Jasper up. We already had Sophie, who we could take anywhere and did, until Jas came along. When her brother had one of his moments, she would nonchalantly stand by and watch, maybe wondering what all the fuss was about.  Luckily for us and Jas, Stanley and I never had those days simultaneously. So, when one was at their wit’s end, the other talked them off the ledge. It took a solid year and a village of people, services and tools to get Jasper into a more secure emotional place. And, we learned a ton along the way.

Jasper kissing mom


One of the things that kept us going was that we saw who Jasper really was; this loving little boy, frightened of the world but so ready to drown us in kisses at every opportunity. I know some of you reading this can relate to that.


So What Helped Us with Jasper the Most?

Training a reactive dog isn't like other dogs. Jasper in his PetSafe Gentle Leader, a great tool.

That village I mentioned above? It came with equipment. The proper equipment is everything and we had it all wrong. How did I know? Celebrity dog trainer and star of Dogs in the City, Justin Silver, told me. During a Skype session from across the country, he watched video of a reactive episode on a walk and said, “You are using the wrong equipment.” Boom. “Get him on a Gentle Leader,” he told me. Wha? What did I know?

Turns out PetSafe makes the Gentle Leader harness. It’s the model that goes around the dog’s nose and behind his ears. It allows you to steer from the cockpit, as Justin likes to say. And, he’s right. Immediately, I felt so much more in control.

Training a reactive dog isn't like other dogs. Jasper in his PetSafe Gentle Leader, a great tool.

Does it hurt the dog? People have stopped me in the street to ask that, to ask what it is. Some think it’s a muzzle. It isn’t. When worn properly, The Gentle Leader is not tight around the dog’s nose. It is loose enough to get your finger through, but fitted enough to steer him or her securely. And, it immediately made a big difference.

That was over two years ago and I swear by the Gentle Leader ever since. For two years, I have been reaching out to PetSafe, telling them how much I love the product. What happened over the past year or so was they also got very stylish (yay!). Now, the Gentle Leader works for Bark & Swagger, and I can rave about a product I love that also comes in very cute colors and new patterns.