Looking Back at 2016: A Progress Report for Rugby: Part Two

Living safely with Rugby always has to center around his crazy reactivity to sights and sounds in his environment.  If he can learn impulse control, that will help not only with his frantic, worried barking, but his explosive aggressive responses to the things that trigger his behavior.  He’s soon going to be ten years old, and speaking realistically, things are what they are, and I’m not holding my breath for him to sort all of this out in the senior years of his life.

However, I’m also an eternal optimist, and as long as Rugby lives under the roof of my house, I’ll continue to work on things in some form or fashion, because 1) he loves to work, 2) it improves the quality of our lives, and 3) why not?  If he can make progress forward, even if it’s in baby steps, why not give him the opportunities to try to improve and grow?  It hurts no one to try, and I’m all for trying!

I think far too often, when we work with our dogs, our eyes are always on the ultimate goal, which in Rugby’s case is his reactivity to his environment.  But if all I ever do is to focus on that ultimate goal, I will miss the happy little accidents that happen along the way in the regular course of work with him.  It’s not always about the final destination, but the wonderful events that happen during the journey from point A to point B.  In other words, don’t miss out on the journey, because you’re so focused on the ultimate destination!

If you live with a “Rugby” of your own, I really want to let that last statement sink in and make sense to you.  The memories that I will carry of Rugby are the hours that we’ve spent together, forging our relationship, and learning side by side.  We both learn in our work together. We both make mistakes together, and when we have successes, the celebration is so much more sweet because we’re in this thing called life together as a team!

Because Rugby’s progress is always a step forward and one or two backwards, I’ve learned to keep my eyes on the journey that we have together. That helps me remember to keep chipping away at his difficult behavior, and this way I can also see progress here and there as well.  It’s a conscious choice and decision to see the progress Rugby has made versus focus only on where he falls short.  I want to celebrate his success, not lament his failings!

From the time that Rugby was an adolescent, he has always had a very, very difficult time coping with watching his pack break up and leave the house.  It’s worse if both Michael and I leave together, but typically that doesn’t usually happen.  When the first person leaves, Rugby barks incessantly….and I DO mean incessantly….until that person is out the door.  He barks like he’s losing his mind, and the amount of barking nearly makes us lose ours!

On a typical work day, Michael usually leaves the house first.  Rugby knows this pattern all too well, so he is often a barky mess from the moment that Michael steps foot on the floor until he walks out the door, which can be thirty minutes or so.  I will freely admit that even with a cup of coffee behind me, ain’t nobody got time for that wacky behavior first thing in the morning!

I have done absolutely everything on the planet to get this behavior to stop!  And truthfully, all of the things that I’ve tried do work.  But  they all require that Rugby has to have a “babysitter” until the first person leaves.  As long as there is someone who is working with him pretty consistently for that thirty minutes, he can stay quiet, and he can focus on his handler, but he will definitely be very anxious about the whole experience until that first person leaves the house.  Once they are gone, Rugby moves on with his day, and everyone can relax!

Typically when the second person comes home, they are treated to some of the same levels of barking, but it’s generally a much shorter duration, and it’s excited barking versus anxious barking.  He will often find a piggie to bring to whoever is coming through the door, and then herding begins accompanied with plenty of piggie grunting.

Michael has been training Rugby to stay calm when I get home, since I’m usually the last one home at night, and Rugby has made huge progress in this department!  Again, it requires that Michael be actively working with him, but Rugby is responding very well, and it’s been good in building a nice bridge between Michael and Rugby as well!

Because of his background, I’m not sure he’s ever really going to be calm when one of us leaves.  I just don’t know how many times people that Rugby loved and trusted walked out a door never to return.  He feels a sense of panic when he sees that first person leave, but can easily transition once they are out of sight, which is wonderful!

Rugby just doesn’t cope well with most types of change, and when he can sense change is coming, he loses it!  However, the work that we’ve done in working through this issue has seen a good improvement in Rugby where focus is concerned.  He’s doing much better with his focus, and even though we have good days and bad days with this one, he does seem to understand what to do, and that’s progress in and of itself!



  1. Karen Laferney says

    Sally, it's wonderful to hear about Rugby's progress. I cannot image dealing with thirty minutes of anxious barking first thing in the morning! You are braver than I. Good to hear you can get him through that time, even though it takes your full attention.
    I just love the photos you chose of Rugby. He is by far one of the cutest dogs I've seen. And his eyes, they really draw me in. Him being so soulful probably helps you to be a little less frustrated with him. I would love to give him a big hug and a belly rub, but I am sure he would not like that from a stranger, so maybe you can do it for me? I hope this new year will be full of progress and small pleasant surprises for all of you!!
    Karen Laferney

    • Sally says

      Well, Karen, Rugby hadn't been with us for two weeks before I realized WHY he kept getting returned!! He's a terrific dog much of the time now, but when we first got him, he absolutely drove us batty with his coping skills!! I had hoped he would figure out how to calm himself, but he just doesn't appear to be able to do that, so I just have to plan to get up early so that he can have a babysitter! Thank you so much for the kind comments about Rugby and my photos. I'm trying to improve in my photography skills, and I have a wonderful subject for practice!! He has amazing soulful eyes that just read me like a book! I'll pass along your belly rub and hugs and know that he really loves both of those!! Paws crossed for another exciting year of progress with him! Thanks so much for reading and for your kind comment!! <3


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