Saturday Snicker: Bubba Teef and Why Rugby Speaks Wif a Lisp!

Bless him, Rugby is a little dog from East Tennessee!  He absolutely fits into the hillbilly stereotype of missing some of his teeth! Here’s the story:  He had beautiful, straight teeth  and a pretty scissors bite when I brought him home as a puppy.  They were pearly white, and I’m pretty sure when he smiled, you could even see a little “sparkle” on them to distinguish him as extra handsome!

However, probably about four years ago, two days before Christmas, he aggressively went after one of his polka dottie piggies when he heard a trigger sound, and he bonked his mouth really hard against the basement floor as he went after his pig.  In the process, he knocked three of his top, front teeth loose!  I went to the vet that afternoon, because he was clearly in pain, and one of the teeth fell out in her hand during his exam!  One of them fell out later, and the third one reattached itself, but it had moved, and became crooked as it re-anchored.  It looks like he has a big space on either side, and it’s right in the middle, crooked, but proud!

And then two years ago,  I noticed a swelling on his lower gum, and decided to keep an eye on it.  It started to grow, and as it grew, over the course of two or three months, I noticed that his lower front teeth started to move because they were being displaced by the growth on his gum.

If you look at his bottom teeth, you can see the large dark purple growth that was starting to shift his teeth out of place.

I mentioned it to his vet at an appointment, and she was very concerned when she saw it!  Two days later, he had surgery to remove the growth, and four bottom front teeth became casualties in the process! What was left after surgery, was an adorable crooked smile, that is so very endearing to me!  When he has his mouth open, he always looks as if he is trying to tell me something!

I giggle every time I catch him showing off his Bubba teef, and when he sleeps, his little tongue often sticks out in front, probably because there really aren’t many teeth to hold his tongue in his mouth!  It’s hard not to snap photos of him, because he is so flat out adorable sleeping with his tongue poking out!

So now you know the story behind how Rugby ended up with his Bubba teef, and you’ll also understand why he speaks “wif a lisp!”


Setting New Goals for 2017

Ah the smell of a brand new year!!  It’s so squeaky clean, and I always really love it when the calendar is brand new!!  Somehow, a new year always seems full of hope and anything feels possible!  I don’t set any New Years Resolutions, because for me, I might just as well stamp “epic fail” on anything that has the word “Resolution” attached to it!

Don’t get me wrong!  I like setting goals, and I like working toward achieving them.  I’m an eternal optimist!  I really am.  At my house, the glass is always half full.  When it’s a rainy day, if there’s a break in the clouds, I’m the one looking for the rainbow to appear at any moment!  It’s just who I am.  I have to admit that Disney’s “Pollyanna” is a favorite movie.  I love how she thinks and approaches life!

However, I’m also a realist.  Even though I’m optimistic about things in life, I understand the reality of life, and the limitations that are presented to all of us.  This is definitely true in my work with dogs.  I am always always hopeful that a reactive, emotional dog can change his way of thinking and responding to life.  It’s what keeps me working.

However, I know that realistically, much of the success with any given dog will be up to the dog himself to connect the dots and work through his issues to learn new behaviors.  Not all dogs can work through the process and I understand that.  Sometimes, the behavior has gone on for so long, that realistically, I’m not likely to change anything.  However, as long as the dog and owner want to try, I’m your girl, because I’m all in if there’s hope for change and a willingness to try.

I think dogs must surely be the most hopeful creatures that God has ever created!

So having said all of that, how in the world do I set any measurable goals in my work with Rugby James?  He’s soon going to be ten years old. Realistically, much of his behavior is pretty well set into stone at this stage of his life.  I’m not likely to see him completely stop resource guarding or learn to accept strangers or dogs.  For nine years, we have worked on these issues, and for nine years, I’ve seen some good results, but the changes have come in baby steps and with a whole lot of hard, consistent work.  In some situations, he can be an absolute rock star, and in other situations, he melts down into a ridiculous barky, reactive mess of emotion.

As a result, I’m selective in who and what I expose him to, and I’m always prepared for the worst possible behavior to erupt.  Because Rugby can be aggressive, I always have a basket muzzle if I ever think there’s a possibility that he could become dangerous.  He always wears his Thundershirt when we go somewhere.  I always use a harness with him, because if the situation goes south, I know I can’t physically harm him, if I have to give him a big tug on the leash to get him out of a situation.  And with Rugby, he’s far less reactive on a harness than he is on a buckle collar, so using a harness just makes good sense for us.

Generally, for all exams, Rugby sits/lays on my lap. I’m hoping to get him more comfortable on the exam table being handled by the vet staff.

Rugby is a dog who needs a small world.  He can’t cope with the everyday situations that other dogs can manage.  So I focus on improving the quality of his life within the confines of his small world.  I try to improve things where he simply has to be exposed:  the vet and staff, his house and yard, neighbors, friends, etc.

We have occasional fun outings to walk in a cemetery, for example, but I can’t do them very often, because Rugby gets very stressed if they are too frequent.  He loves to do the occasional field trip, so I try to schedule outings when it can be fun for Rugby and I know that he will have a successful, positive experience in the process.

This year, I hope to have some additional success in exposing him to the vet staff with “friendly vet visits.”  These are visits in which I simply take Rugby to our vet clinic during a slow period so that the staff can pet him, talk to him, and offer him treats.  That’s it.  It’s a friendly visit, where there is no poking or prodding, and his interactions with the staff are all positive and good in Rugby’s eyes.

If you look carefully in this photo, you’ll see Rugby wearing his basket muzzle. I never know when a dog will walk out into the lobby, so I’m prepared to keep all of us safe and secure….just in case!

Depending on how he does, I want to see if this year, I can get him comfortable being handled on the exam table rather than my lap.  He’s done super well with friendly vet visits this fall, and his vet said that his most recent annual exam was the best she thought he’d ever had.  I felt ten feet tall hearing that!  I was able to get him on the exam table for part of his exam, and he tolerated things really well for the most part.

This year, I hope to get him more comfortable watching humans walk in and out of the clinic without melting down.  He doesn’t cope well with change, so getting him to handle surprises like a new stranger coming into the clinic without completely freaking out would be great!  So far, this has been absolutely hit or miss with very little predictability in how he will respond.

At home, I hope to work more on getting him to tolerate our neighbors having friends over for cookouts in their back yards.  Rugby typically finds it necessary to announce to the world that the neighbors have guests over, and while he may feel that it’s important to bark loudly and for a long time, he really needs to learn that they honestly will not cook and eat him!  His primary concern is that it upsets the peace and quiet of his back yard, which is secluded and offers the same back yard experience day after day.  That’s the way that he likes it:  quiet, predictable and safe!  He loves the occasional squirrel or chipmunk surprise, but never appreciates people or dog surprises!!

I’d like to do additional yard training in the front yard, to see him feel safer outside the fence, trusting that I’ll have his back and keep him safe.  Right now, he’s clearly anxious, and his body language says that he’s very uncomfortable, and ready to explode at a moment’s notice. I’d like to see him improve with being able to see his neighborhood when nothing is happening, and learn to relax.  That’s really never, ever happened.  It will be a tall order!

In this photo, Rugby has “bunny ears” pinned back, and has not rolled over on his hip. It’s impossible to see in the photo, but his elbows were barely touching the grass.  He was unable to look at me or focus on a treat. He was ready to spring right up at a moment’s notice!

And those are our goals for 2017.  Some are realistic and more measurable.  Others are a bit lofty, but I think it’s good to have some balance with reality and daring to dream!  I want to give Rugby the chance to simply amaze me!  I always say that any progress forward is good progress, so even if it comes in the very familiar baby steps, I’ll take what I can get.  I’m an optimist, remember?




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

For most people I know, 2016 has been a year full of challenges, and not all of them good ones!  This certainly was the case at my house as well!  In late February, Michael’s dad passed away, so we had to travel out of state for his funeral.  Because of Rugby’s shelter background and his trust issues with me, I’ve never left him at a boarding kennel, or even with a pet sitter.  That meant that he needed to come with us on this sad journey, and so I packed his bags and crossed my fingers that all would go well.

Rugby’s Big Adventure

We were gone about 8-10 days, and much of that time was spent in one motel room after another.  Just before the funeral, I became sick on our trip, so Rugby and I snuggled together in bed at the motel.  I was SO proud of my Rugby James!!  I think he knew that I needed to have him behave well, because I’m sure he felt my stress and worry, and he knew I was sick.

He coped so very well with it all, and handled every new situation like a champ! For every single day that we were gone, it was one change after another, and Rugby managed it all so much better than I ever expected.  I’m pretty good at dodging and weaving strangers in public places, so that helped!  And, we were also in a small city motel in the off season, so things at the motel were largely pretty quiet for us.

Our homecoming after such a long and stressful trip was one of the best for Rugby.  I’m not sure he ever thought that he would see his familiar home and yard again.  When I carried him in the house after being gone for so long, I’ll never forget Rugby’s joyful response!  He raced through the house…on the furniture….off the furniture….lots of very excited barking and piggie grunting!  That’s a memory I know I’ll never forget!  (I wrote a series of eight blog posts entitled “Rugby’s Big Adventure” if you want to read the fine details of our trip).

Summer Storm Damage to our Home

In July, we had a series of bad storms roll through, and tree limbs took out our fence and a tree fell on our house!  For days after that, Rugby’s quiet house and yard became a beehive of activity with insurance adjusters and contractors in and out of the house all day….every day.  He did not cope well with any or all of that ordeal, which was no surprise.  We got through the experience, and Rugby was hoarse for a few days, and that was that! ( I wrote a three part series called “In Which Stormy Weather Hits Home” if you want to read more details about our experience).

Nail Trims

Rugby has never been a fan of being groomed in general.  Baths, being brushed, nail trims, etc. are never anything that are fun at our house.  Rugby tolerates all of it at best, and it’s always a bit of an ordeal.  In the past several months, I have switched to a battery powered dremel tool to trim Rugby’s nails, and he will allow me to do them by myself now! The new dremmel is so very quiet, and I don’t think it gets as warm on his nails, so he’s able to tolerate it much, much better! I don’t generally get all of them done on the same day, but it’s huge progress that he lets me do them all by myself, and stays reasonably calm about it!  I can see a day coming where he will allow me to do them all on one day and that’s huge progress for this little dog!

Vet Visits

Rugby just had his annual vet visit in early December.  I’ve been doing some friendly vet visits for several weeks in preparation for his exam, and that investment of time and energy has really paid off nicely!  My vet said that she thinks that this was his best visit yet!  He allowed me to put him on the exam table, which he normally won’t do at all.  He did get a little growly in a couple of situations, but I’m blessed to have a vet who lets me call the shots (no pun intended) and she backs right off when I see that Rugby needs space.  As a result, Rugby has learned that I have his back, and he trusts me when he gets scared at the vet.  The friendly vet visits will continue in the upcoming year and I hope that Rugby will become good friends with the staff….which would be a wonderful occurrence for them all!


Housebreaking Signal

One last thing that has changed in this past year is sure to make you smile!  It’s how Rugby signals to let me know that he has to potty.  In our first home, Rugby always went to the sliding back door and pawed like crazy.  Then we moved to a split foyer home, and he began to bark at me, since the sliding back door was on the lower level.  We now live in a ranch home, and he’s continued to bark to me to let me know when he wants to go outside.

When it’s evening, and he needs to poop, he will often grab the leg of my jeans and start to tug really hard.  That’s a clear signal that he really has to go, and he’s not kidding!  He only does it at nighttime, and it’s random, but at least once weekly.

Lately, he’s begun barking at the back door when he wants to go out!  He’s done it far too many times for it to be coincidence, but it’s not frequently enough that it’s become a habit yet.  Why or how he has decided to do things differently is anyone’s guess!  It’s hit or miss at the moment, but it’s very interesting to me to see how this signal has made changes and progressed over the nine years that Rugby has lived with me.  This alone is reason enough to never give up on him!  His behaviors are always in flux, and he learns new things and changes day in and day out….in baby steps!


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!