What I’ve Learned From Making Mistakes With Rugby….Part 3

So I found myself with a hot mess of a dog on my hands and NO idea how to fix what was broken in his ability to cope with day to day life outside the walls of my house.  That’s a problem alright! I knew I needed to try things that I’d never done before in training a dog, but when I’d never done it before, I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and the biggest question was where in the world do I start with this little guy?


Rugby would look at me with his little chocolate drops in speckled and spotted fur, and I knew I was all he had in the world.  He might not have trusted me as much in those early days, but by golly, he didn’t have anything or anyone else he could count on.  So he tried as best he could, to communicate his feelings with me, and he was so very patient with a dog trainer who was breaking new ground for herself in problem solving with a dog.

One really great thing that’s come from working with Rugby, is that I’m super quick to figure out when something is working and when it’s not, so that I can change gears in a different direction as needed.  I’ve learned to read my dog better and more quickly.  This has really translated well in my work with all dogs.  I know what to look for from the dog, and I understand adjusting what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, rather than expecting the dog to adjust to my method.  Being able to quickly change and adjust to a given situation is something that has served me well in other areas of my life, too.

My initial training background was in performance…..training and showing dogs.  In AKC Obedience, you start with a perfect score of 200 when you walk into the show ring.  Once the judge starts your ring performance, he takes points away with every crooked Sit, wide Heel, slow Recall, sloppy turn, etc.  Your score only goes down as you work through the judge’s pattern with your dog.

It’s only a wee bit of pressure….that’s all….just a wee…teensy… tiny….bit…of pressure, for someone who has an “issue” with failure!

Failure is something that I don’t like and typically avoid at all costs!  I was raised to be the best at anything I tried, so it has been difficult to accept anything less.  When I showed my dog, I wanted to win!  I wanted as close to a perfect score as I could get!

I had trained and trained and trained for a good two years before I ever stepped foot into the show ring for the first time.  When I finally got the courage to start showing my dog, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat all day, and sometimes even got sick…all because of fear of failing in my performance.  When you show dogs, you quickly learn that you can train your heart out….but once you step in the show ring….your dog has a mind of his own and isn’t afraid to use it…no matter how much training you’ve done!

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Fear has been an unwelcome traveling companion through much of my life.  Sometimes, I’ll admit, I’ve chosen not to try something if I was afraid I’d fail.  Fear of failure has definitely been a force I’ve had to confront.

I adopted Rugby because I was sure I could “fix” what was broken in him. I had never considered that I’d fail in working through his “issues” at the time that I adopted him, and now, I knew that I had exhausted ways that I thought sure would “fix” his broken places.

So fear came calling….and brought all of his “what if” friends along for the ride.

  • “What if Rugby is always a mess and you can’t fix him?”
  • ” What will people think of you as a trainer if they know you can’t fix your own dog?”
  • ” What will people think of you if your own dog can’t go for a simple walk in the neighborhood?”
  • ” Who are you kidding to think that you know anything about training dogs?  You can’t even fix your own dog!”
  • ” What if Rugby was in a different home?  Maybe they could have fixed him and he would have had a big world and happier life?”
  • “Is Rugby really happy here?  Does he need a different home….a better home?”
  • “Have you failed your dog?”

And that’s probably only a short list of the fears I wrestled with late at night when I couldn’t sleep.

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For a long, long time, I really struggled with feeling like a failure as a professional trainer because I just couldn’t seem to get Rugby to be able to function as a “normal” dog.  I wondered what I had done that had possibly “ruined” him and created what he is.  I wondered if I had done the wrong things, and I also wondered what “right” things I hadn’t done.  I wondered what I didn’t know, and blamed myself for not knowing it!

More than anything else, I felt so much like I had failed my dog and failed my family for bringing him home to live with us.  I had had such high hopes and big, lofty dreams for giving a big, fun life to  Rugby James.  Those things were falling apart before my eyes as the fears moved in and set up housekeeping.  My dreams and hopes were fizzling into wisps of smoke….

Little did I know at the time, but Rugby would be a wonderful tool that God used to help me confront fear in general, and fear of failure in particular!!



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