What I’ve Learned From Making Mistakes With Rugby…Part 1

When I think back to the early weeks and months with Rugby, one thing that kept hope alive in me, was the fact that he was still young.  He was an adolescent puppy, but he was still young, and I was so sure he would improve.  What I just didn’t count on was the number of mistakes that I would make with him, over and over!  Those mistakes cost weeks and months as Rugby grew into an adult dog.

I had trained dogs for a number of years by that point in time, but honestly, what I was accustomed to, was dogs just coming along with my method, and adjusting to me, rather than the other way around.  I was used to doing minor tweaking to suit a given dog that I happened to be training, but I had never really had to create a whole new way of training a dog, and that’s one of the many things that Rugby taught me. But until I figured that out, I kept trying to make that square peg fit in the round hole, and I lost so much time working with him, because I kept expecting him to adjust to me and the way that I trained.


You have to remember that I started training dogs in the 1980’s where the prevailing training method of the day was to teach your dog to avoid the correction instead of being a partner with your dog to work in a positive way together.  I had left those harsh training methods behind in the 1980’s, but my mindset was still off kilter in the direction of expecting the dog to adjust to the trainer.

Well duh!  Who has the big brain and opposable thumbs here?

Rugby has completely changed how I think of dogs and work with dogs!  Inside and out!  Up and down and around the town!  And that’s a very good thing….even though I haven’t been able to successfully work through all of Rugby’s behavioral issues.  However, in all fairness, I honestly don’t know how much of his success or my failure is because of Rugby’s past or genetic makeup.  It’s likely a combination of all of those things.

Probably one of the most important things I have learned from working with Rugby, is just how very hard our dogs really do try to get things right.  I never had eyes to see that before Rugby, because I just honestly wasn’t paying much attention to the dogs themselves.  The dogs that I had trained just sort of always came along with things, and I never really noticed that they were really trying so very hard to get things just right for me!  I’ve missed a whole lot of joy by not paying attention.

Rugby never gives up.  He never does.  When I ask him, ‘Do you want to do some work?’ his little head pops right up and he jumps to his feet and he runs to the shelf where I keep his bait and my clicker.  He looks right up at that shelf, and he looks at me, and his little tail is wagging in all different directions.  If I don’t move quickly enough to get things rolling, his response is always the same….”Bark, bark, barkity bark, bark, bark and bark!”

Rugby’s solution to most things in life is to bark at them.  It’s definitely his fallback, and it’s a well honed skill that he learned long before he came to live at our house! *sigh*

So in thirty years, my training styles have really turned 180 degrees in what I think is a very good, positive and happy direction!  Rugby was my Guinea Pig in many ways, and bless him for his patience while it took me so long to figure things out with him!  I tried one method after another, consulting other trainers all along the way.  Some told me I was too soft on him, others told me he was a hopeless cause, and I heard everything in between. Lots just shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders.  *sigh*

But at the end of the day, I just couldn’t give up on him.  I just couldn’t do it.  You’ve seen his face….the hope in those eyes….the way that he looks when he’s being very sincere….those chocolate drops that ooze with love….

No….I would never have been able to live with myself if I had given up and considered him a lost cause.  He needed someone to believe in him, and to help him believe that humans could be as faithful and loyal to him as he had been to his previous families.  He just needed someone who could figure out the combination to what was locked deeply inside him….the wackiness and the crazy reactivity that ruled his little puppy life and kept his mind and emotions spinning like a top.

So I made the decision to give it a go….and it was a hard decision, because I knew I was signing up for probably 13 more years of living with a crazy dog if I couldn’t figure out the combination to his lock!  But once the decision was made, I knew I couldn’t turn back, so it was time to hunker down and problem solve!  But for every step forward that I took, I felt like I took half a step backward somewhere else with Rugby.  I often found myself singing the song from the Sound of Music, “How do you solve a problem that’s named Rugby?”

And no one seemed to have any answers for me.  No one.  Apparently, it was going to be a journey destined just for Rugby and me to take together, and so I decided that all I could do was put one foot in front of the other and just keep walking.  And so that’s been my life with Rugby the past eight years.  Lots of steps….lots of progress overall, but baby steps in how it all came together for us.


The journey is what’s important….not so much the destination, and that was my very first mistake.  I had thought it was all about the destination of having a well trained dog, but I had no idea of the vast things I was going to learn from the journey with Rugby.

And that’s what’s made all the difference for this dog trainer….and hopefully for my wonderful dog, too.






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