Asking the right questions made all the difference in the decision making process with Rugby. Once I stopped being focused on what was wrong with him, I could begin to see everything that was right with him. It certainly didn’t change the difficult things about him, but it helped me have hope for living with him. He stopped being a “problem” to solve, and became a unique little dog unlike all of the others.
Up until that point, I had been focused on how to “fix” his behavior. I felt so frustrated that he just wouldn’t “fix!” I used every well established training method. It made absolutely no sense to me that he was making marginal progress. I just had never, ever seen a dog who was so completely reactive! In keeping him, I knew I was going to lose the peaceful life that I had enjoyed, because there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind that maybe, Rugby would never improve.
By this time, my husband and I had moved to another state so that I could be in business for myself as the new owner of a well established dog training business. I wasn’t sure if Rugby would do well with the move, but I also knew that our existing home and neighborhood was not working well for him.
So, to help him settle into his new environment, I stopped working on the behavior I didn’t like. I just focused on living with him, and letting him be a dog. We didn’t do any serious behavior modification work, but we sure did play and snuggle together. I kept his world small, and gave him a break from all of the things that had been so stressful for him. I decided to look past the naughty things for the time being, and just let my little charge adjust to his new home.
Our new home had a huge yard that was bordered by lots of tall shrubs, so it was much more private. Rugby loved his new yard. I saw an immediate change for the better with him! For the very first time, about six months after our move, I saw Rugby roll in the grass like all dogs do, relaxed and comfortable in his space. He started to lay down and just observe….something I had never, ever seen him do. There were no more “stray” neighbor dogs to wander around the corner of the house, and as a result, I watched Rugby visibly change and relax over time.
Because our yard was so wonderful, I was able to work with him in doing some fun exercise and training, and he really seemed to enjoy this. We tried our hand at soccer with a basketball, frisbee toss, lots of jumping games, and all of the usual dog activities. I had never seen a dog who enjoyed running more, and with his long legs, he easily covered the length of the yard over and over for as long as I would keep him out. Most days, he had a happy, exhausted look on his face.
Our new home had a wonderful room with a thick carpet and pad where I could do trick training and inside play with Rugby. Anytime I said, “Do you want to go train?” Rugby ran to his special room with joy on his face, eager for the chance to earn some kibbles and anxious to learn something new! He was just a rock star when it came to jumping and learning tricks. He had wonderful focus when the world could go away, and he really loved playing games with me. I started to feel as if a door of trust was opening between us, and hope remained strong. For the first time in a long time, I felt really great about my decision to keep my little speckled dog.