When I was driving home with my little speckled pup in the back seat of my car, I felt like a million bucks. I was so proud of him, and so proud of being a dog owner again. Having a rescue dog was a new chapter in my life, but I had trained so many, and I really felt confident in sanding off Rugby’s rough edges.
Within a couple of weeks after arriving at my home, I was calling Rugby’s foster mom with all kinds of questions about occasional wacky behavior I was seeing from him. He was so reactive! I was starting to see some crazy coping patterns, and everything seemed to trigger them! She assured me that she had never seen that behavior from him, and because she was a fellow dog trainer that I knew and trusted, I chalked it up to settling in jitters. He had been so calm when I evaluated him, and didn’t react to anything out of the ordinary at her house. I was sure things would improve as he settled into his new forever home.
I knew that some of his reactivity was likely because of inadequate socialization. Many dogs that I train have just not been correctly socialized, and it can lead to all kinds of behavior problems in a dog’s life as they grow up into adulthood. Even though he was well past the prime age for puppy socialization of 5-16 weeks, I was hopeful that I could capture some of what I knew he had missed in his previous homes.
I started systematically socializing him little by little, trying to keep his world a bit small and expanding as he seemed able to cope with things. Normal house sounds didn’t seem to bother him much, but noises in particular really seemed to set him off. When he heard noise out in the neighborhood, he simply came apart, and it was often up to 30 minutes after hearing the sound before he would settle down.
Through doing some standard behavior modification and training methods I was able to improve Rugby’s behavior at home in some areas. I was able to stop some of his coping patterns just by using a leash and re-directing him to me for treats. Thankfully, he was very food motivated….as long as we stayed in the house. Once I took him outside, he was overstimulated by his environment, and was bouncing off the end of the leash, often barking as well. He was anxious enough that food had no interest, no matter how yummy it was!
He seemed to like having outings with me, and I tried to take him with me when I ran errands, making time to let him see and experience everyday life. For the most part, he seemed to be a standard, curious, excitable puppy. He pulled a lot on the leash, and if he couldn’t get where he wanted to go quickly enough, he started barking with his pulling. He jumped on people when he first met them, but other than that, seemed to greet people well, and didn’t seem fearful or skittish when they petted him.
I began to re-evaluate my immediate goals for him, because clearly it was going to take longer to get him comfortable and socialized. I was in no hurry, and as long as Rugby was content and making progress, I was willing to be patient with him. I just knew that we would work through Rugby’s social issues and he would sort things out over time. I continued to tell people the dreams that I had for him, and because I’m an optimist, I had no doubts that we would get there, so I continued to dream big. Unfortunately, I had just discovered the very tip of the iceberg with Rugby.