After a couple of months in his new home, Rugby had settled in very nicely. He was as happy as we’d ever seen him, and seemed very content with his new life. My schedule had gone from being home most of the time, to being gone most of the time. I worried that Rugby would feel the separation sharply, but he really took things in stride. It sure helped that my schedule was flexible enough that I could arrange a break in my day to come home for some play with him, even if it was only for 30 minutes. He seemed to enjoy those breaks, and life continued.
As Autumn gave way to Winter, Michael’s schedule shifted a bit so that he was home more often. If there is one thing I can tell you about Michael, it’s this: if he’s home, there’s coffee brewing! We both like coffee, but Michael likes it a whole lot! We have a small coffeepot, and it doesn’t make a lot at one time, so there’s always fresh coffee if Michael is home!
Even though Rugby had heard the coffee maker for 10 months in our old house, for some reason, in our new house, he felt the need to alert national security any time a pot was brewing….the entire time the pot was brewing! He had started jumping at the counter and barking like crazy any time he heard the pot brewing!
This is the sort of behavior in dogs that I correct every day, and it’s typically something that’s a pretty simple and quick fix. I do some counter-conditioning for the dog to correct his response to the noise stimulus. In English, that means that I turn the bad thing–noisy coffee maker, into a good thing–cookie opportunity. I work dogs through these things sometimes in just one training session, so I didn’t think this would be any big deal. True to form, Rugby wasn’t going to let go of this behavior easily!
Typically what I do to correct this behavior, is click (a clicker) and treat (offer a tasty treat) at the very start of the noise–before the dog has an opportunity to offer a negative response. Timing is everything, and that’s probably the hardest part of this whole process….learning to nail the timing with a given dog. What I’m teaching the dog, is that his calm behavior is earning him a treat! In a short time, most dogs no longer react to the bothersome noise, and equate it with treats, so it becomes something good. Typically, once a dog realizes that the noise is a good thing, they really don’t have a negative reaction to it again. It might take a few days to completely eradicate the behavior altogether, but typically this is honestly a pretty easy behavior to correct with many dogs.
It took Rugby three solid months of training before he would no longer respond to the coffeemaker! And that was with several pots of coffee daily, training at each pot throughout the entire brewing time! He could focus nicely, and as long as he had something else to distract him from his barky response, he could settle down pretty well. However, taking that away from him left him wigging out to a noise that he just didn’t like. He was so so SO reactive, and just wouldn’t give up the crazy barking, unless there was a treat in front of his nose, over and over and over and over. It took him forever before he made peace with the coffeemaker, but once he finally worked through it, he seemed to get it and it’s stuck!
And this is life with Rugby. To live calmly with him, he needs a constant babysitter to re-direct his focus. I’m very good at doing this, but honestly, it’s really tough to live my life completely focused on my little fluffy speckled friend in fur! So….I pick my battles. I have to. I’ve learned over the years to pick one stimulus and work on that, and then tackle another. However, the honest truth is that once I work Rugby through a given stimulus, he chooses a new one to take its place. He seems hellbent on reacting, and life is often just one reaction after another. *sigh*
This used to absolutely drive me nuts, and it’s definitely something I wish I could fix. However, I’ve come to just understand that this is who Rugby is. And part of the growth I’ve done as a human, thanks to Rugby, is to understand and accept the flaws in others that I often wish I could fix. It’s not my place. I am also flawed. It’s my job to learn to love others, and instead of focusing on flaws, to find their wonder and marvel at them and the God who created them in His image.