What I’ve Learned From Making Mistakes With Rugby….Part 2

4286_1147711406586_793042_nWhen I brought Rugby home, I knew a rescue had pulled him from a shelter less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to be put to sleep.  From there, he went to a foster home.  That was all I knew.  I have no idea how he ended up in the shelter, or how long he’d been there.  He had done well in his foster home, and had fit in with the other larger dogs nicely.  The foster had said nothing had been noticed except one growling incident around a water bowl and lots of excited barking in his crate when he had attended an agility trial.

Based on all of that information, the evaluation I did with him in his foster home…I made some strong assumptions that turned out to really not be accurate, and that got me into early trouble with Rugby.  I guess what they say about the word assume really IS correct.  Mud on my face to be sure!

His foster really hadn’t taken him alone to any places to see how he would do…other than one agility trial, when she competed with her other dogs.  Her assumption was that he was like most typical Shelties….barky, barky, barky from excitement.  He wasn’t taken out of the crate to see how he responded to things at the trial, and I suspect that he was completely and utterly overwhelmed from that experience, not just simply excited.

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There was never a neighborhood walk to see how he coped with everyday neighborhood things going on.  His foster mom lived on a cul-de-sac and had a 6′ privacy fence in the back yard for her dogs.  I’m not sure Rugby had ever really consistently seen everyday things other than inside a house.  Since I don’t know anything about his background, I don’t know if he was a shelter dog from birth, or if he had any homes prior to being in the shelter.  Based on his looks, I think it’s hard to believe that he had been in a shelter for his entire life.  I had to think that he had had at least one home prior to ending up in the recent shelter.

He has always been so very happy to want to go someplace new, but, he gets completely overwhelmed when he does.  It’s like he loves the “idea” of going someplace new, but can’t cope once he’s actually out and about.  Truth be told, I think he just doesn’t want to be left behind…

My first mistake was assuming that his foster home had done far more work socializing him than I discovered later on.  He had been trained with some simple commands, and could walk on a leash in the yard, but I’m not sure any work toward actually socializing him had taken place.  He got all of the wonderful benefits of having a great home, and he did have a wonderful, wonderful foster home!  Someone loved him, and treated him well, and fed him great food, let him play with toys, and did some simple command work to stimulate his mind.  All of those things were terrific, and I reaped the benefits of that time and effort for sure.

However, for Rugby, the clock was ticking on being able to expose him to everyday things without him wigging out.  He had managed very well at a rest stop on his first ride home with me, seeing other dogs and people at a distance and completely ignoring them.  But later in the same day, he completely lost it in a parking lot when he saw another dog on a leash much closer to him.  I chalked it up to his long trip….new handler….new surroundings….thinking that he was just scared and tired. But when that behavior happened day after day, time after time….I knew there was a problem, and I couldn’t rationalize it away.

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I wish I could get inside his little puppy brain to see what he’s thinking and to understand what happens that really trips his trigger!  I made so many mistakes, exposing him to scary things over and over, because I simply did not fully understand just how overstimulated he was from virtually anything and everything.  I didn’t know how to read his fearful, stressed body language, and so I kept exposing him, thinking that I was helping, when now I know that he had to feel like I was throwing him under a bus every time we went out.

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I had assumed that he would automatically trust me, because I had never owned a dog with trust issues before Rugby.  I knew that many rescue dogs needed time to trust their new owners, but I didn’t really understand that Rugby needed a whole lot more time than most.  I just launched right into taking Rugby everywhere with me, to socialize him, and to help him bond to me.  However, he was so worried and overwhelmed, he was only thinking about how to survive the events, and it sure didn’t help him bond to me.


Out of my frustration over not making any progress forward,  I backed off of those things to regroup and take a break from futile efforts.  Once I decided to keep his world small, I saw him visibly relax.  He was a different dog…happier, more relaxed overall….less reactive at home in general.  That’s when I realized I didn’t have a typical rescue dog, and I was going to have to start to think outside the box in order to make any sort of progress with him.

But I’d never had to really think outside the box in training a dog before Rugby, so I had no idea where to start and how to start. So….I fumbled around for several months….just letting Rugby live with me, and meeting his basic needs while he learned to relax and  learned that I was safe and predictable in his life.

Looking back, this was a really smart move on my part, but I didn’t do it intentionally.  I did it because I simply didn’t know what else to do!  And it was during this “waiting” time, that I started to figure some things out about my little hot mess of a dog!





  1. says

    Very interesting. Thank goodness for fosters, but sometimes I wish they had the tools to really tell you about the dog. Our dog Storm was a lot like Rugby (except we had her since she was a wee puppy...she just paid attention to every thing and when she was overwhelmed with the action around her, she would bolt). We did take her everywhere but combined it with her field and obedience training (and hunting of course). She was a working dog so the work helped her settle down even in unfamiliar places. For her, giving her rules during training made a huge difference and of course she grew up matured mentally.

    • Sally says

      Hi Linda-Thanks for reading and taking time to comment! I completely agree with wanting to see more education for fosters! They do outstanding jobs, by and large, and it is so beneficial for dogs to have interim homes rather than shelters! But....they don't always know what they're seeing, and that can be misleading to new owners and cause dogs to end right back up in shelters, unfortunately!

      I'm SO SO SO delighted to hear that you've had a great end to Storm's story!! I am so glad that she was able to connect the dots in her socialization with success! Work is such a really wonderful tool to help dogs focus!! It gives them something else to think about instead of being scared! I'm BIG on that!! And I couldn't agree more with giving some strong rules at home!! That has really made a good and happy difference in our home with Rugby. <3


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