What I’ve Learned From Making Mistakes With Rugby….Part 4

puppy placematFear was a very real concern I had with Rugby in the early days.  I was so afraid of keeping him and failing with him, and yet I just couldn’t bring myself to be one more human who gave up on him.  I felt very sure that the wacky behavior I saw was what other owners had experienced from him too, no matter what he had been like in his foster home.  While he’d had a terrific foster home…one of the best I’ve ever seen….he just wasn’t that same dog that his foster mom had told me about.  I was afraid that I was in over my head with him…despite my experience as a professional dog trainer.

I so wanted to give him a big life and a safe world to explore!  And, more than just about anything, I wanted to give my little speckled and spotted puppy some wonderful adventures!!  I wanted him to go everywhere with me, and to explore and investigate his world, and I wanted to enjoy watching him have fun!  But I was so afraid that he was never going to be able to cope with that world.  I was afraid I wasn’t the trainer who could help him.  I was also afraid that my attempts to socialize him and work with him had just been to much for him, and he was done with it all.

My rational mind started answering back the fearful questions I was asking.  I started systematically talking my way through the things I had done with Rugby since he’d come home with me….one thing at a time.  I looked at standard socialization training for average rescue dogs, and I looked at what Rugby’s response had been.  Rugby had never been able to cope with those things. Not from the first night that I had brought him home.  Not even a little bit of improvement outside, no matter how I gently I had exposed him.  I looked at his coping skills and patterns that he had learned for new sights and sounds that set him off at home, and he had an extremely difficult time managing those things…..again….right from the very start.  Clearly, changes in his environment were things he just couldn’t manage well at all.


So, I decided that it was time to keep his world small for the time being, and I was going to have to recruit some help in working through things that were beyond my understanding.  The problem was that other trainers really weren’t helpful at all.  Most of what I heard, was that he was a hopeless cause after so many homes, and such strong reactivity to simple sight and sound stimulation.

So after exhausting those avenues, I set out to do my own research and see if I couldn’t figure out how to help him. I read books, attended training seminars, and even took a “Canine Social Development” class to see if I could learn more about what could potentially be issues with him.  Nature always trumps nurture.  If there were genetic faults, or maybe even early dietary flubs from his early homes, Rugby might not have had the building blocks to have had correct brain development.  If those things were true, I knew that no amount of training would make any real difference in my puppy’s life.  His fate would be sealed by nature.

And those things gave me all new reasons to worry and fear!  One step forward, and three steps back.  *sigh*

I found it hard to be confident with clients who had difficult dogs when my own dog wasn’t making much progress.  I was learning a whole lot about dogs through all of my research, but I was still unable to dissect Rugby to figure out what made him tick.  Some of the research made me scared, and some of it encouraged me.  My fears haunted me, but if I was going to keep going with Rugby, I knew I was going to have to have a “Come to Jesus Meeting” with Fear, and kick it to the curb!

That was much easier said than done, and truthfully, I think things sort of evolved over weeks and months as I tried and failed time and time again.  I told myself that for each time that I failed, I was possibly one step closer to finding something that would work.  Rugby was always up for something new, and I felt as if he was trying to work with me to find a viable solution.  He never seemed disappointed in me.  That sweet, hopeful face, and those liquid pools of chocolate that stared up at me kept me going.  I didn’t want to fail my dog most of all.  I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I just knew I couldn’t give up trying!

What up







  1. Michelle Schwab says

    Chocolate pool eyes indeed! I really value your willingness to share the challenges you faced with Rugby. It's so easy for a nonprofessional dog person l like myself to just give up. I find your commitment to Rugby and your own doubts to be inspirational; you speak to what is 'possible' Sally. And I love the way Rugby trains and educates you in your blog.

    • Sally says

      Michelle, Spencer has those deep pools of chocolate in many of the photos that you take as well! He has wonderfully expressive eyes that I love so very much! It's not always easy to be transparent, but I really think that writing from my heart is what helps others most, and gives them hope and encouragement. Even as a professional dog trainer, Rugby has made me want to give up at times too, so those are times when I just take a break from training or working on anything specific, and we just kick back enjoy each other for a period of time. We spend more time in snuggles...and more on tricks and fun...and when we feel refreshed, we try again! I'm so glad that I can inspire you to think of the possible, and that my transparency can help you with your own emotions of owning a dog who can be a challenge for you at times. Rugby has been one of the very best teachers I've ever had in life. He's amazing in the way that he's helped me grow into being who I am! I've been given eyes to always see that finished product in my mind and heart, and that's what carries me as I train every single dog. There's so very much that's possible, if we just never give up!! Thanks for reading and taking time to offer such a sweet comment! <3


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