Rugby’s love affair with his beloved polka dottie piggie toys has become legendary to anyone who knows him. When he was a new puppy in my home, I noticed that he seemed to have much more devotion to toys than any other dog I’d ever owned. It was almost like he just couldn’t believe that he had TOYS!!
Rescue dogs just don’t typically get “things.” They don’t have their own food and water bowls, their own beds, their own toys. Usually they come with a collar and that’s it. Even dogs in foster homes generally share with other dogs, and they use old and recycled items from previous dogs. When they are adopted out, they don’t always get to bring anything special with them. Rugby brought nothing with him except a little red collar that barely fit him. When he walked into my house and saw toys that were really his very own…his little brown eyes just shown! He couldn’t decide which toy to play with first, almost like he was overwhelmed with having 5 toys to choose from. He must have thought he’d hit the jackpot because he didn’t have to share with any other dogs! Daily, I remember being impressed with the absolute joy I saw in my little speckled puppy…all over simple toys: balls, Nylabone chew toys, a Kong toy, rope tugger toys, small stuffed toys, etc. Each day, his delight was brand new as he continued to show the very same level of enthusiasm for his toys, even weeks later.
As time went by, I figured out which toys were the right ones for him to play with. By the time his polka dottie piggies were introduced, he was about 18-20 mos old, and he had learned to play gently with most toys and not destroy them immediately. I still tried to supervise carefully, but he was honestly pretty reliably trustworthy with most toys.
Once I introduced his piggies, and he had made peace with his pigs, I got an extra piggie or two to have as backups.He always had at least one noisy piggie, and 1-2 quiet piggies who had lost the ability to grunt. He loved the noisy ones, but I found that by evening, it was time for the noisy piggies to go to bed, and the quiet piggies came out. Otherwise, I couldn’t hear myself think because of all of the grunting.
Rugby has always been quite a musician, and the polka dottie piggie has been his instrument of choice! He can pull amazing sounds from his piggie, much like an experienced musician who can “feel” the music and play it accordingly. Rugby has that same skill grunting on his pig.
As time went by, he left his other toys behind, and gravitated only to play with his piggies. Even though he loved to play Fetch until my arm fell off, before long, he refused to play the game unless it could be “Pig Toss,” which is simply Fetch played with piggies instead. His skills with the polka dottie piggie were growing and expanding.
One thing that has always made Rugby difficult to live with, is his strong reactivity to most sight and sound stimuli. He doesn’t just react, he REACTS!! Certain trigger sounds, like a doorbell, for example, can cause the most reactive and dangerous response. When he hears something that sets him off, unless he is allowed to run and bark (which can go on for 30 minutes), he will often re-direct with an aggressive response to anything or anyone close by. This means a very hard nip or bite. He often goes for shoes or pantlegs, but he is an equal opportunity reactor, and you can roll the dice to see what you’ll get. I learned to give him a wide berth as he was running off his stress and anxious response.
One day, he happened to hear a doorbell, and started his usual crazy, frantic, loud reaction. I braced myself for what I’d get….30 minutes of my life that I’d never get back. On this day, however, he happened to have a noisy piggie at his feet, so he grabbed it and furiously grunted it with all of the aggressive energy he had. There was no barking and no crazy running, and in about 5 minutes, he seemed to spend all of his energy, and he went back to the delightful, sunny little dog that I knew. Boom! A new coping skill was born!
After that time, I added additional piggies to the pack, and kept them laying all over the house, so that no matter where Rugby was, he had access to a noisy piggie….just in case! And I discovered that he really seemed to like this new method of coping. He would often seek out one specific piggie to grunt. Even though he has had several, he generally always has one favorite until it wears out. It’s been fascinating to me that he will consistently use self control to locate the specific piggie that he wants, rather than just melt down. And, when he’s focused on trying to find a specific pig, he’s typically very quiet…just frantic to find it.
Over time, I noticed that while I had initially made sure he had a piggie available to him, Rugby himself started to herd them up and keep them nearby. He slept with them, he carried them around, and he seemed to treat them almost as a security blanket. If one was good, he seemed to prefer having 2-3 nearby…just for good measure!
As the owner of a special needs dog, Rugby’s relationship with this simple dog toy has absolutely captured my heart and soul. His world is SO small….his home and his back yard. That’s it. He can’t cope with much more, so field trips are few and far between so that he can enjoy them. Seeing his eyes light up when he has a brand new piggie makes me smile like few things can. When you share your life with a difficult dog, you cherish the simple things in life. You focus on trying to provide a quality life like all dog owners do. It’s so easy to focus on the negative, because with a difficult dog, the negative slaps me in the face several times daily. But having a daily bright spot like watching Rugby with his very favorite toy in the world, can erase the bad from a day, and I can smile and absolutely love my little speckled hot mess of a dog.
What triggers your dog, and how do you help him cope?