The title of this post is very accurate of most dogs. They just adapt and adjust. Dogs are wonderful problem solvers, so when changes in their lives occur, they adjust what they are doing to adapt to the changes and keep on going. They generally view those changes as a problem to solve, and they figure out what they need to change to make things work for them.
I’ve never, ever forgotten a middle aged Chow mix who was sister to a Husky mix I was training. The Chow met me with typical Chow indifference at the evaluation, and made it clear that she wasn’t impressed with me. The following week, when I started training with the Husky mix, a change had occured for the Chow. She had torn an ACL, and had had surgery, so she could only walk on three legs. She had just come home from the vet earlier that day, and was resting in the kitchen when I arrived. As soon as I came in, she looked at me from across the room, and watched for just a few seconds. She saw me petting her sister, and starting my training with her, which included giving her a nibble every time she sat down. The Chow took all of this in for a few seconds, and figured out how to get herself up to standing, despite hardwood floors, and hobbled over to me, tail wagging to take part in the fun. I’ve never forgotten her wonderful attitude and hopeful look.
What impressed me most, is that if any dog had a reason to feel sorry for herself, this little gal did. This was the second time for the same surgery on the very same leg, so she had been down that road once before. She could have just laid in her spot and looked pitiful and waited for me to come to her. She could have whined or barked or begged me to come to her. However, she realized that there were pets and food being doled out at the other side of the kitchen, and if she was going to get any part of it, she needed to go where the good stuff was happening. She identified the problem and figured out how to solve it. And, she did it with a great attitude!
I’ve trained dogs who have been in car accidents, tornadoes, fires, and it’s amazing how resilient dogs really are. Admittedly, in all of those situations, there were some serious anxieties and fears that were triggered in specific situations, which is very understandable. However, none of those dogs were as crippled in life as you might have guessed that they’d be. They were amazing, functional dogs living very full lives. And without an exception, all of them had wonderful attitudes and were so willing to try to work past their fears.
One thing that seems to have been a common thread for Rugby and I is that when we get scared, we don’t always cope well. For both of us, life can just be pretty scary sometimes. Rugby copes with fear by barking and sometimes acting out aggressively. I cope with fear by hiding. Over the years, I think both of us have had to learn to do lots of things while we have felt scared.
As Rugby and I have lived together for almost 8 years now, I think we have been a good balance in helping each other with change. Rugby seems to have more difficulty with everyday environmental change, and I’m great at that! He’s learned to cope fairly well, and I see that the trust I’ve earned from him is making it possible to take baby steps forward every now and again.
This past week, we successfully did a short training session in front of the house, in the middle of the day! Typically, when Rugby goes out the front door, he’s so worried and anxious that he can’t or won’t focus, and he generally is not at all interested in any tidbits of food, no matter how good I make them!
We had falling acorns hitting crisp fallen leaves, which to Rugby had to sound like a squirrel or chipmunk, and yet he was able to “Leave it” and “Watch me.” I was so very proud of my pooch! It was a first for him, and I’ll admit I was a bit scared that a neighbor would walk out their front door at the wrong moment. However, things were quiet, and Rugby and I faced our fears and had a really great 15 minute training session.
This is why Rugby and I never give up. Humans and dogs are living, breathing, and growing. Things change for us all as life happens. If we don’t bend….we break. Adapting to what life throws our direction is a necessary skill for us all, and I want to borrow the great model I always see in dogs for trying hard and bringing a great attitude with them.