Trust: A Dog’s Precious Currency

This is a subject I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but just wasn’t sure how to tackle it, because trust is such a huge issue where dogs are concerned.  But I wanted to take a little different angle with this, because, as you know, Rugby never does things the way that you’d expect!

dog-puppy-tumblr-puppyloveWhen puppies, kitties, babies, etc. come into the world, I think there’s an automatic “love”  and “trust” switch in them.  I think they automatically are programmed to do both of those things, and it’s up to the humans in their lives to deepen that trust and make it as strong as cement.  To our dogs, their trust is a form of currency that they use, much in the same way that we use toys and treats as our currency with a dog.

Unfortunately, far too often, trust gets broken, and with it, a broken heart.  I think that’s true for humans and for animals as well.  When dogs get re-cycled to shelters and new homes and back to shelters and new homes, and that process gets repeated over and over, at some point, dogs will sometimes just shut down.  They just give up.  What’s the use in trusting, if that trust will be betrayed again, right?

In Rugby’s case, I think it had more far reaching damage, because he was such a young puppy when he had to learn the hard, hard lesson of life that humans aren’t always going to be there for you.  In my heart of hearts, I don’t think anyone abused Rugby in his previous homes. It’s easy to say that he was neglected, because he clearly didn’t get social tools that were needed to succeed in life as an adult dog.  However, I can’t truthfully say that he’s genetically sound, so  if he’s lacking the necessary genes…that could also be at fault…or it could absolutely be a combination of things.  I’ll never really know.

first blue piggie
His piggies are his coping tool

Living with Rugby is a little like trying to put together a 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without the box lid to show you what the picture should look like.  I get little snippits of behavior and don’t always know what I’m looking at….is it water or is it sky?  When I can’t always figure out why Rugby is doing something, it makes it very challenging to apply the appropriate training technique to “re-program” his behavior.  This is why at times, I’ve simply taught him a new way to cope with the triggers which stress him, and generally his new coping pattern is an improvement over the previous behavior he was producing.

To effectively train a dog, the dog simply must trust the one who holds his leash.  That leash is his lifeline, an umbilical cord to the leader who will keep him safe.  A dog who doesn’t trust, isn’t anchored to anything secure in the dog’s mind, no matter how gentle and kind the person is who holds the leash.  This is why as a trainer, I have to establish trust with a dog before I can make any progress forward in moderating behavior.

For those of you with stable, well bred and socialized dogs, this may seem like something you just can’t imagine.  I couldn’t imagine it either, until it came to live at my house in the form of Rugby James.  I just “assumed” so very many things about this little guy of mine.  Some of those assumptions were correct, but honestly, many of them were just flat out arrogant and wrong.  I just had never lived with my own rescue before, and it’s far different than living with a little puppy that you caught when she came into the world.

Our Corgis had all had fabulous lives…safe….secure….social….healthy.  Every. Single. One.  Rugby just didn’t get to be as fortunate.  He didn’t get to choose any of his homes.  He just got passed around and passed along until someone posted his photo online and I happened to see it and fell in love with him.  It really was love at first sight, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

I think back to 2007, and I am just amazed at how well he did in coming into a new home with me.  Of course, at that time, I had no idea how many previous homes he’d had, and now that I know a bit more about that, I’m simply astonished at how well he really has done trying to make sense of a life and a world that has to look like nonsense to him.

It just really speaks to the heart and resilience of a dog.  Dogs are amazingly adaptable, and many rescues make wonderful adjustments without a hitch.  I suppose just like humans, some dogs simply have a harder time with trust than others do.  Trust is something I’ve really had to keep on the front burner at my house.  It’s always a work in progress, and never something that I’ll ever take for granted again.  Think about that with your own dogs.  Trust is one of the very few things he has to give to you, so please don’t take it lightly.





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