I was completely stumped by how to “fix” Rugby’s ongoing reactive behavior. I hated to admit defeat. It’s just not in me to surrender or give up. But it’s one thing to train someone else’s wacky dog and completely something else to live with one of your own!
Dog professionals often cycle through dogs fairly quickly. In my dog show days, I often saw some of the top obedience people with a new dog every six months, saying that the last one just didn’t have that special spark. Rugby’s foster mom was a performance trainer, and she fostered dogs to try them out. That way, she found just the perfect dog who fit what she needed, and she simply found homes for those dogs who didn’t fit. Rugby had been the latest puppy for her, but he didn’t make her cut, so that’s why he had been available to me.
So many other dog professionals could recycle through dogs to get that right fit for their needs. Why couldn’t I do that? I really did need a dog who could be used when I needed a decoy dog for work. People suggested just getting a second dog, but I knew that there was a good likelihood that Rugby could and would teach a new dog some of his overly reactive, wacky behavior! I could barely manage Rugby, so getting a second dog for work was completely out of the question.
The bottom line is that I just couldn’t be that ruthless. It’s not in me. Logically, I had every reason to return him to the rescue and wish him well. But if I had done that, I knew that I could never live with myself. I knew that he was such a mess that he’d get put to sleep. At the very least, if I returned him, he was going to go back into a foster home, and then another permanent home. More caos and abandonment. He was so young. He had so much life ahead of him, and he got no vote whatsoever about what would happen with his life. His future and what happened to him was completely at the whim of the humans who ran the world and controlled his life. He had no say so whatsoever, and yet he wanted what we all want….love. Acceptance. Security.
That might have been the turning point for me. When I looked at life through Rugby’s eyes, I saw a little puppy who came into the world as all puppies do….happy, cute, fuzzy, curious, loving….and along the way, something had gone wrong. But I was pretty sure that Rugby hadn’t been the cause of that. I was pretty sure that humans had let him down, and I was thinking that I would be the next in a long line of humans who had failed him. What choices in life had this little puppy really had? Didn’t he just want his very own family who would love him and take good care of him? He didn’t choose to live with me. I had chosen him. Without his vote.
Maybe I had been looking at things all wrong. Maybe it was the lens I was using to look at this little nutty dog. What if he was a blessing instead of a curse? What if he was an amazing dog and I just needed to find a way to unlock what was inside of him? What would change if I could teach him how to really trust me? What if he was a dog who could teach me terrific things? What if I just chose to look past the exterior of problems that held my focus? Maybe the “what ifs” really held the truth for me, but “what if” I was asking all the wrong questions. It was time to change the lens that I was using to see my little speckled hot mess of a dog. And changing the lens became the turning point in making the decision.