Tuesday Training Tip: When Your Dog Doesn’t Listen

Rugby James:

Doggers ignore their owners for all kindsa reasons, and sum of them might surprise our readers:

  • They is distracted wif sumping else more interesting, like a skirrel in the yard, or the neighbors are out, etc.
  • They doesn’t wanna give up doing what they wantsa do for what the Uprights wants them to do
  • There’s not enuff paycheck to convince the dogger to do what the Upright wants
  • They’re off leash sos they doesn’t hasta do what the Upright wants.
  • They is past their threshold for reactivity, sos they can’t listen because they is all stressed out, over-excited, etc.

When I was a new dogger to the Mama, I had already learned that I didn’t hasta do what she wanted, so we hadda start slow and undo sum stuff what I had already learned.

When doggers is playing wif fings, they is focused on what they is doing, and NOT on their Uprights!

One common fing in all of those items on my list, is that doggers gots stuff to do, just like Uprights does!  We fink our stuff is important, just like Uprights does!  And, we is just lil doggers wif small brains what doesn’t understand the big picture of safety, and Uprights gotsa leave on time for work, and stuff like that.

If you remember one fing today, just remember that your lil dogger is trying the best that he can!  He’s really trying, and he needsa has you understand that and help him to have success!  The Mama will tell you how to make that happen!

Would this face lie to you? Remember that your lil dogger is really trying. He. Is. Really. Really. Trying!!

Mama Sally:

This issue is probably one of the most frustrating experiences for a dog owner:  a dog who just won’t listen!  However, most of the time, I think owners really have put their dogs in a situation where they will likely fail.  Look at the reasons that Rugby gave for why dogs don’t want to listen to their owners.

Typically, when your dog won’t pay attention to you, it’s most often when the dog is off leash, so they are a free agent, and your dog knows it!!  When your dog is off leash, you have zero control over what he’s doing, and you can’t “make” him do anything he doesn’t already want to do.  Do yourself a huge favor, and put a leash on your dog before you ask him to comply with anything!

The common denominator in all of Rugby’s examples is that the dog is distracted!  Expecting a dog to ignore distractions and focus on their owners is a long process.  Dogs don’t generalize things easily or quickly, so it’s very difficult for them to understand commands and focus in the midst of distractions.

Systematic introduction to distractions is the key to success.  When the dog understands how to focus on their owners, with no distractions, and then they are taught to focus through small distractions and increase to bigger distractions, they will be able to generalize that focus over time.  Two commands that are helpful here are “Leave it” and “Watch me.”

When I teach “Leave it,” part of the signal that the dog gives is that he must break focus with what he wants, in order to look at me from either a sit or down….whatever position the dog chooses.  It’s really a very important part of the process to help a dog learn to break that focus and look at his owner/handler!  As long as your dog is looking at the source of his focus, he is going to do what he wants to do, and he’s not paying attention to you.

One thing that works right along with teaching distracted work, is watching your dog’s threshold with the distraction.  The further the distraction, the more likely your dog will be able to focus on you.  As your dog learns how to focus on his you,  the threshold can be reduced gradually over time.

Expecting your dog to focus off leash out in the yard with distractions is your last step in the process. Be sure you are systematically getting there!

Remember that all distractions are not created equally.  You really need to know your dog and what trips his triggers.  I like to start focus work with things that don’t trigger a dog at all.  That way, he can practice and learn the correct behavior that you want from him before you start distracted work.  It really makes things go faster by the time you add in distractions.

The other thing that comes along with distracted work, is the paycheck that you offer your dog for his work.   When he is working with no or low distractions, he likely won’t require a high value treat.  However, when I want Rugby to focus on me when the neighbors are out in their back yard, I know I have to pull out a super high value treat because of the proximity to our yard, and the movement and sounds the neighbors are making.  A low value treat just won’t do it.

To summarize:

  • Be sure your dog is on leash when you start focus work.
  • Start your work with training “Leave it” and “Watch me.”
  • Your initial training should be with no distractions at all.
  • Systematically add distractions little by little as your dog learns and becomes consistent with his responses.
  • Consider your dog’s threshold to the distraction, and be sure the distraction is far enough away as your dog is learning.
  • Make sure your paycheck matches up with the work you expect from your dog.

And remember Rugby’s sage advice:  Your dog really IS trying to get things right!  He’s trying so hard to figure out what you want him to do!  Help him in the process by following my suggestions, and you’ll be off and running with a dog who can’t wait to listen and focus on you!

I’m really excited to have joined a wonderful Positive Pet Training Blog Hop!  What that means, is that you’ll see some additional blog icons at the bottom of this post.  This month our Blog Hop Theme is all about what to do when your dog won’t listen.  You can click on the additional blog icons if you’d like to know more about this subject from a different blogger.



Training Tip Tuesday: Rewards Based Training…Laying a Good Foundation

Mama Sally:

Rewards Based Training

Rugby will tell you that I prefer to train using rewards that I know a dog likes or wants.  I tend to call it “Rewards Based Training.”  Some of you might know it as “Positive Reinforcement Training.”

The term “Positive Reinforcement” is so overused and common, that I find most of my clients really don’t have a clue what it means!  If you miss the complete understanding of “Positive Reinforcement” you will miss the entire point of why this method of training is so good and so very effective!

I like to call my training style “Rewards Based Training” because I think that this term is actually more descriptive in defining what I do. Simply said, I train with a reward that I know a dog wants or likes!  Boom.  Easy peasy, right?

Your reward doesn’t have to be food! Some dogs that I train go crazy to play with a specific toy, so I use a toy to train with them! Choose the reward that YOUR dog likes and wants!

In theory, yes, it’s easy.  Dogs learn by simple means, and they learn fairly easily, so that’s one reason they have adapted to life with humans so well.  You may think that your dog is snoozing and not paying attention, but don’t kid yourself!  Your dog is a master of observation!  He’s watching the patterns of your life with him, and using his problem solving skills get what he wants and needs.  And he’s a master in getting those things in the easiest way possible.  That’s smart!

We can use all of those observation and problem solving skills to our advantage in training, because when we can create a way for our dogs to learn a specific pattern of behavior with consistency, our dogs will fall right into the behavior that we want from them! Consistency plays a huge part in successful rewards based training, because a dog has to understand and know that he’s going to get a predictable positive result that he likes and wants, when he produces consistent behavior.  This is really critical to success with rewards based training.

I often use a clicker when I train Rugby, but he also knows a verbal marker which has the same meaning for him.

Commands or Tricks are Simply Small Encapsulated Games

Think of commands or tricks as small, simple games that have specific rules for play.  “Sit”, for example has a rule that your dog must place his rump on the ground in order to get a treat.  Pretty simple, right?  In order for a dog to quickly and consistently produce that behavior, he has to first understand what the “Sit” game is.  He has to learn the word where he can focus on his handler, and receive a consistent reward long enough that the game makes sense to him, and then he will be able to quickly and easily produce the behavior of placing his rump on the floor when he hears a specific cue to “Sit”, and sees a corresponding hand signal as well.  No surprise there, right?  It makes sense to you so far, doesn’t it?

Teaching dogs to simply sit all by themselves (no command or hand signal) is often where I start my training with dogs. It helps them learn to earn something from me!

This next part is where I often see a disconnect in humans understanding how dogs learn.  Dogs simply can’t generalize their behavior quickly or easily, and that’s very difficult for humans to understand!  Owners often place unfair and unreasonable expectations on their dogs, feeling frustrated when their dog is “stubborn,” “willful” or “disobedient.” Most of the time, when I see the “stubborn” behavior in a lesson, I can easily see why there’s a disconnect between the dog and owner.  Often, it’s simply because the dog has not yet figured out exactly what the rules are for the specific game, or, sometimes, the owner has made things too hard, or too fast for their dog to figure out.

In order for a dog to really, fully understand the “Sit” game, his handler must carefully add distractions one by one until his dog can generalize his behavior in relation to that specific word cue.  This means that for success, the handler and dog must  practice the “Sit” game many times in various contexts.  For example, training needs to happen in various rooms of your house, when people are walking in and out of those rooms, outside in the back yard, on walks in the neighborhood, at the park, etc. When dogs have worked through the generalization process, and fully understand the desired behavior, then they can quickly and easily produce it. The generalization process just simply takes time, and humans aren’t terribly patient creatures.  We want what we want….the way that we want….and when we want it!  That can be very frustrating and unfair to our dogs!

Dogs Aren’t Robots!!  They Learn at the Rate That They Learn!

None of the dogs that I train are robots.  They can think, feel, experience and choose.  They aren’t something that we program and then they spit out consistent data in a weekend. Yes, we can “program” the behavior that we want to see, over time and with consistency.  But unlike a computer, dogs can think and choose what they want to do!  If we want positive results, we have to respect our dogs for who they are:  living, breathing, thinking, feeling, creatures!

Dogs learn at the rate that they learn.  So do you and I!  Some complex concepts are easier for me to grasp than others.  In that regard, it’s no different for Rugby James as well!  Some dogs can quickly problem solve and figure out a new behavior lickity split.  Others take more repetition.  Neither one is bad, wrong or stupid.  They just are what they are!

For good training success, think of being a partner or teammate with your dog, rather than looking at your dog as a “minion” or something that you can boss around.  Ain’t no dog got time for that!  You’ll feel far less frustrated with the process if your dog is your partner and you’re building a team with him.  Trust me on this one!!

I just love the look on Rugby’s face here. He is SO happy and focused on learning. This photo screams that we’re a team, and that’s what my training is all about!

Rugby James has plenty of opinions on this subject!  Let’s hear what he has to say!

Rugby James

I’m a lil dogger what has had lotsa different homes and mamas, so I know about these fings.  I has lived at the shelter before, on deaf row even, what means that I was gonna get putted to sleep when I was just a lil pupper and not even all growed up!!  I gotted fished out of the shelter by a rescue group, but then I hadda go to sum new foster homes before I gotted my forever home wif the Mama I gots now.

When you’re a lil dogger what has been in lotsa different homes, you understand fings in the Upright world purty good.  Uprights like you and then they doesn’t like you.  Sumtimes they does fings a certain way for a while, and then they changes fings and does it a completely different way….just when you’re trying to figure out what the first way is!!

Sumtimes, if there’s a bunch of Uprights what lives in the house, sum of them does fings a certain way, and then sum of the udders does it a different way too….only it’s really hard to know what way they all want you to do stuff.  It’s like a game you can’t win what gots lotsa different rules to it, and the rules changes every single time you play the game!

Doggers isn’t dumb critters.  Nopawdy wantsa play a game when they can’t win.  So sumtimes, doggers just stops playing the games, what can make Uprights mad.  It can get you dumped at a shelter or gived back or gived away! Uprights expect doggers to be mind readers and just “know” how you’re supposed to act.  I always tried so hard to figure it out, only when I maked mistakes, I gotted yelled at a big much, what hurted my feelings.  When my feelings gotted hurted, it was really hard for me to trust the Uprights again when they was nice to me after they was all done being mad.

The Mama always tells me what a smart lil pupper I am.  I fink I’m purty smart too!  I try really, really hard to get fings right, and to do the fings what I knows that the Mama likes and wants from me.  I know lotsa words and what specific fing I’m supposed to do when I hears those specific words.  And the Daddy uses the very same rules, so nuffing changes between them what makes it a lot easier for me to know what to do!

It taked me a long time to trust the Mama on account of the udder Mamas and Daddies teached me how flaky Uprights can be. When the rules always changes, and when a lil dogger doesn’t understand and can’t figure out what to do, the world can really be a scary place.

But, I want you to listen to the Mama in this lil movie where I was working a puzzle.  Isn’t she a good coach?  Doesn’t she encourage good?  I lubs the happy, escited sound she gots in her voice, and even when I mess up, she doesn’t fuss at me.  She just helps direct me to the right fing to do.

The best fing, is that when I work for the Uprights at my house, they gives me a good paycheck for that work.  I doesn’t get snacks for basic fings what I has learned really good, but the Mama is always teaching me new fings, so I always getsa chance to earn snacks wif new stuff I’m learning or for puzzle play.

Next time, we’ll tell you how we faded snacks sos you can learn to do it the right way!


Thursday Training Tip: Re-visit Your Basics From Time to Time

Mama Sally:

Lately, what I’ve noticed with Rugby James, is that he’s started slacking on some of his basics.  Yes.  I said it.  A dog trainer has a dog who is a slacker.  In basic work even.  Oh my.  I’m just keeping it real!  Rugby still responds well to his basic work, but he’s just gotten a little slower and a bit sloppier with his responses, and his real life applications aren’t as sharp as I would like them to be.

You don’t have to use a clicker, but I find Rugby’s focus and attention is better, and he learns things more quickly when I use one.

Well, here’s the truth:  All skills need to be polished, don’t they?  If we don’t practice any skill, over time, doesn’t it get a bit rusty?  I played the flute coming up as a kid, but I haven’t  picked it up to play in probably thirty years or more.  Am I going to have the same skill level?  Absolutely not!  I haven’t practiced.  I’m not even sure I still remember how to read music anymore, to be perfectly honest with you.

If we want to see our dogs performing consistently well, we need to keep things polished up from time to time and practice all learned skills so that our dogs will stay sharp and quickly responsive.  Thankfully, Rugby is not a robot!  He doesn’t respond as a robot.  He’s a thinking, feeling, expressive dog who can choose to comply with work or not.  And if I want him to comply, I need to practice, and I also need to make practice fun so that he will want to participate with me.

Once your dog hears, “Come”, at the moment your dog looks at you….he is making the decision to either come or ignore you!

We tend to think that once our dogs learn a skill, it’s a permanent addition to them….much like putting a collar around their necks.  When we fit a collar and buckle it, we never give it another thought.  We think of it being permanently attached to our dogs.

On the other hand, I think behaviors are a bit more fluid….they are alive, and change and grow right along with our dogs.  In order to maintain those good habits and skills, we need to keep our dogs thinking and working!  It’s always a good time to revisit basic skills, as well as work on new skills to keep our dogs from getting bored with their work.

This past week, I’ve started putting the polish on some basics with Rugby, and I’m finding that he and I are both enjoying that.  Rugby typically likes any and all sorts of work and I rarely wait until his behavior gets off in a ditch before I work to correct it.  I start after he’s gotten sloppy a time or two, because then it’s not much work to sharpen things up again.  In just a few days, he’s back on track and working at his best performance levels.

Training your dog to “Place” is a great way to have control with your dog inside your home…especially when they are rowdy dogs!

I’ve noticed that as Rugby is aging, he has less patience in work when it comes to learning new things, so he seems to be very happy to work on his known skills.  Rugby has never been a poster dog for impulse control.  In Rugby’s world, those two things are mutually exclusive terms!  My huge battle with him for nine years has been teaching him to slow down and think through a task!

Rugby is one emotional dog, and he has rarely been able to cognitively attack tasks initially.  He frustrates super easily, and he’s ridiculously food motivated, so when I’m trying to teach something new, he often just completely melts down with frustrated barking and barking and barking.  *sigh*  Once he melts down…sometimes several melt downs….then he can often start the cognitive process to think through what he needs to change and adjust to get what he wants.  His first response is always emotional.

I had hoped that going back to focus on the basics would boost his confidence and allow me to see a more patient side of Rugby come to the surface.  He doesn’t have to think very hard on the basics, so he’s able to perform them quickly and get a great, fast reward of some kind.  I do think that in revisiting his basics, he’s enjoyed being able to get quick rewards for known tasks.  Rugby is all about cutting right to the chase and getting that tidbit of food!

He’s known basic commands for nine years now, and he really is very rock solid on them.  I rarely “have” to offer treats to him, but I know that intermittent food rewards are the best way to win Rugby’s heart and keep him working hard.  It’s just important to remember that practice makes perfect, and all skills need to be practiced to keep our skill levels high….dogs included!  Let’s see what Rugby has to say about this subject!

Rugby James:

Well, lately the Mama has been working on fings what I already knows.  It seems silly to me, on account of I already knows how to do this stuff, but there’s snacks in it for me, and sum good play, and lotsa good pets, so I go along wif her!

Sumtimes we works inside the house, where there isn’t nuffing to distract me, and sumtimes we works outside in the back yard where there is varmints, and smells and sounds what can distract me.  Sumtimes we works in the back yard when our neighbor is out working on his car, on account of he does that wif friends, and they talks and laffs a big much what usually gets me into a big barking jag!  When all of the neighbors is away at work, the Mama and me works right in front of the house just a lil bit, on account of that is super scary to me!  The Mama calls it “stretching me out of my comfort zone” only I doesn’t know what that is.  Mostly I fink it means scary.

Because I gets very excited wif food rewards, the Mama mostly uses dog kibbles, and she usually trains about firty minutes after I has had a meal.  She always lets my breakfast or supper settle a bit in my tummy before she does any training.  And mostly, I’m not as hungry, so I’m a lil bit more patient wif her, and I works a lil bit better.  She saves the real exciting treats for times when we is working on very hard stuff….like don’t bark at the blender, or when the neighbor dogs is barking outside and I likesa give them my two cents!

I like to use treats that break easily so that Rugby is getting dime sized bites. Your dog only needs a taste…not a 12 course meal!

We works on basic command fings, like Sit/Stay, Down/Stay, Come When Called, Place, Get It, Leave It, Watch Me, and we does old tricks what I has done for a long time too.  When we works on a short leash, I hasta do the fing a few times before I getsa kibble or lotsa petting.  The Mama is a really good encourager, so she always uses those sweet words wif a soft sweet sound, she smiles, and she squints up her eyes a lil bit too.  I always gets encouraged a big much, and once in a while, the Mama gives me “jackpots” of kibbles, what is free or five of them, one at a time, really fast!  I does lubs me sum jackpots!!

Make sure you balance new things while you’re training the basics. Dogs love to learn new things all the time!!

We always works on new fings too, but I has really been lubbing sum extra work on stuff that I already know.  It makes me feel extra smart on account of I can do fings really fast and I doesn’t hasta fink very hard.  After we does a few of the basics, the Mama always frows in sumping new for me to mix it up a bit sos I doesn’t get all bored, and I likes that a lot.  And, she knows I’m smart, so she doesn’t make me do stuff a billion times in a row.  She has me do sumping I knows well free or four times and that’s it.  Then we getsa move onto sumping else.  She starts wif a lil handful of kibbles, and once that lil handful is gone, we don’t work anymore, so it usually goes really fast, and I likes that!  We just repeats it at different times during the day, and not all at once, so I like getting lil snacks froughout the whole day!

You might fink that your dogger won’t like doing stuff he already knows, but hopefully, you’ll try sum of these ideas, and see that he’s gonna be all in on the fun!  This kinda stuff is how you and your dogger will learn how to be a team, and we’re all about teamwork at my house!!

Building a great relationship with your dog is what training is all about!



Scary Things and Body Language

I’m big on reading a dog’s body language!  I look back on my early months with Rugby, and I see an epic fail on my part to fully understand what he was communicating through his body language and facial expressions.

As a dog trainer of many years and dog owner virtually my entire life, I had a very good idea of what my dogs were speaking to me most of the time.  I recognized many of the common signals that all dogs use to speak in some form or fashion.

However, until I lived with Rugby, I didn’t realize how many different ways a dog can communicate fear and anxiety.  I didn’t know how much Rugby was constantly speaking with his body and face, and I didn’t realize that I could mimic some calming signals right back to him with success!  If I had known this information in the early days of my life with Rugby, I might have seen him deeply trust me sooner, and I might have seen much more progress from him in those really critical late puppy months when he was sprinting into adolescence and adult behavior!

When Rugby is fearful, he furrows his brow, and pulls his ears up much higher on his head. He often loudly pants when he hasn’t had any exercise, and his body is very stiff.

When dogs are really fearful, and an owner disregards that fear, it’s like throwing your dog under the bus.  When high emotions of any kind hit your dog, no new learning is taking place.  This is why even excited dogs can’t easily comply with known commands.  Think of your dog’s response to a doorbell ring and company coming in. When I arrive at a lesson, I often hear owners telling their dogs to sit and stay on the opposite side of the door, and I know that the moment the door opens, that dog is flying up to jump on me.  The excitement has overruled any thinking taking place in your dog.  It takes time, practice, and maturity for a dog to work through the over-excitement to respond consistently to given commands.

When fear is the emotion, however,  your scared and fearful dog is simply thinking that he has to survive.  His survival instincts kick in, and the situation can quickly morph into fight or flight.  When a dog trusts his owner or handler, he can learn to ask them for help.  But when there’s no trust, your dog will feel very much as if he’s completely on his own in the scary situation.  This is why it’s so very important to read your dog’s fearful, anxious body language.  Dogs will often quickly show anxiety or fear in their body language, which will give an alert handler time to respond in a helpful way, which will engender trust from your dog!

Rugby had been in our home for less than an hour. He was heavily panting, his ears were flat and pulled tightly back, and he was leaning against my leg for support.

When Rugby is overwhelmed, even to this day, fight or flight is exactly the behavior that I see from him.  Once he’s outside the safe parameter of his yard, he is very tense overall.  His ears are high on his head, and his forehead furrowed.  He starts a heavy pant when he’s had no exercise.  He looks frantically left and right, trying to see something scary before it sees him!  He often yips an excited, high pitched yip, and he starts to pull on the leash as he looks frantically around him.

Rugby working on a Down/Stay in our front yard. He is very tense, his body stiff, and his ears pulled tightly back into “bunny ears.”  He’s tightly bunched up, as if he wants to make himself invisible.

Once he sees or hears a trigger. he tries first to bark….to keep the scary things away, and then he runs, as if barking and running will keep him alive.  Because he thinks he’s trying to save his own life, in his mind, he can’t stop either behavior and still survive.  In our early days together at home, this was my daily life….trying to catch my little spotted greased pig who evaded capture like his life depended upon it!  This behavior happened multiple times every day and for twenty to thirty minutes each time.  No matter how much you love your dog, that’s some wacky behavior to live with on a daily basis!

My first step was to stop the running behavior by leashing Rugby to me, so that he would have a safe protector in his corner.  I wanted him to learn that coming to me would always be his best line of defense…not running and barking to escape!  Puppy Rugby did respond well to this training, when the stimulus wasn’t too big, and as long as we were inside the house.  Big issues or moving outside saw a completely different response from him.  I had the opportunity to reinforce the behavior I wanted from him much more easily since he was right next to me. Rugby did continue to bark….only now, he was leashed to my side doing it!  Ugh!  However, he did stop barking a bit sooner than he had when he was running through the house, so I knew I was heading in the right direction with him, anyway!

Outside, because we didn’t have a safe fence to contain Rugby, he was always on a leash.  Instead of running to escape when triggered, his responses included lunging against the leash and wild barking, and when that was unsuccessful, he turned to aggressively bite the leash to free himself so that he could escape.  He usually managed to snag the leash, but there were a few times that he missed and got me instead!  Clearly, he was one scared, reactive pooch, but it has always been puzzling and challenging to know how to help him work through this issue because he reacts negatively in a nanosecond!  I can rarely get enough lead time to set up a successful trial to teach him new behavior.

When your dog is aggressively barking on walks, it’s absolutely terrifying!

When you’re a handler with a fearful, reactive dog, time and distance are your best friends.  Having distance from the stimuli gives both you and your dog time to think of and plan for what to do, and time will give you a buffer to re-direct your dog into new behavior so that he can learn to respond differently.  In Rugby’s case, if he hears a trigger he immediately reacts, and his sight triggers with dogs often start at a football field distance from us…that’s 100 yards!!!  It’s been virtually impossible for me to get the really tough stimuli far enough away that he can stay calm at all.  He often negatively reacts at everything….just in case!

In my early socialization work with Rugby, I missed his early anxious signs:  yawns, whale eyes, heavy panting, lip licking or a tongue flick, etc.  I am sure that he exhibited these obvious signals throughout our walks together, but I was focused on other things on our walks.  When he was showing obvious signs of fear that I recognized, by that time, I couldn’t get him far enough away from the scary thing or help him calm down.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I needed to start much sooner to intervene before he exploded into his meltdown.

I kept thinking that if he saw a neighbor’s scary garage door go up and down day after day, over time, he would be able to generalize that garage doors do go up and down, but they never eat small dogs on walks!  Instead of helping him work through his reactive fear, all I did was reinforce his fear of garage doors and things that move!  Instead of calming down on walks, he became more and more reactive, looking around him in a panic, wondering what awful thing would overtake him next!  In all honesty, I think that those early days of repeated exposure to fearful things still haunts our relationship to this day….some nine years later.

For many, if not most dogs that I train, this socialization method works, especially when food is used as a reinforcer, and most dogs do sort out something like a garage door, over time.  It often doesn’t take many exposures for most dogs to figure out what it is, and when a yummy treat gets shoved into their mouth, just at the moment the door starts to go up or down, over time, they learn to stop reacting to the movement or noise.  In Rugby’s case, he has always refused all food when we leave home….a huge indicator of his stress, because my little dog is a chow hound when he’s relaxed.

In his early life with me,  I kept thinking that Rugby just simply needed more exposure to generalize things that set him off. I just never realized how terrified he really was, and day after day, I exposed him to terrifying things, without offering him tools to cope.  I wish I had worked more on helping him cope with his fears, but I just didn’t recognize his behavior as having a fear base.  I thought it was simply a lack of exposure, which was likely absolutely true.  However, the lack of exposure created deep fears in Rugby that triggered his fight or flight responses, and I was completely clueless to what he was telling me right from the moment that I leashed him! Rugby became the Guinea Pig to teach this dog trainer a different and better way to recognize and handle fear in a dog!  This is exactly why all young puppies need massive amounts of socialization well into adulthood!!  Doing so will prevent your dog from being socially handicapped as an adult like Rugby is.

More than anything, I had hoped to give puppy Rugby a safe home and a big, big world!

To be sure, Rugby does trust me now, and for the most part, I really do think that he believes that I am in his corner to have his back and keep him safe.  However, there are still times when I see shadows of his old fears surface, and the look on his face and body tells me that he’s going to revert to old behaviors rather than trust me.  I’m not sure Rugby ever would have figured things out….even if I had handled things differently in our early days together.  He had many critical puppy months of improper training long before he came to live with me.  I do wish I could have a “do over” with Rugby, to fix the mistakes I made in our early days together.  Unfortunately, that ship sailed, and Rugby is who he is.  The good news, however, is that to this day, I closely watch every dog’s body language, and when they talk to me, I listen!!  I’m able to intervene so much quicker and help frightened dogs learn to work past their fears.

For more information on understanding what your dog is saying to you, please read a book review I did on a book called, “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas.  Here’s a link to the post.  It’s a great read and one I recommend for every dog owner’s book shelf!