I don’t often travel for any length of time. At heart, I’m a homebody. I sometimes take business trips, but typically those are only overnight, so I’m rarely ever gone more than two days. Because of Rugby’s background, I’ve chosen not to board him in a commercial kennel, and because it takes him so long to warm up to new people, it’s tough to leave him with a pet sitter. So typically, if Rugby can’t come with me, Michael stays home with him when I need to be gone. That way, Rugby’s routine and surroundings can stay the same, and the only change for him is that I’m not currently home!
Recently, I took a short trip….a long weekend, really, but it was the longest time I’ve ever left Rugby. Keep in mind, he’s lived with me for almost 8 years now. That’s a whole lot of predictability and consistency in routine, right? You’d think after 8 years of daily coming and going, that my little spotted and speckled boy would understand that I’m coming home to him.
Well, it was a very interesting re-entry into Rugby’s world, and one that I did not expect. Note to self: With Rugby, expect something unexpected. He’s not going to do something you would expect….so don’t!
Michael had gone to shoot pool, so Rugby was all alone when I got home. As I peeked my head into my office and said hello, I didn’t see much response from Rugby at all. When I opened his crate door and he came out, I got a couple of tail wags and he quickly grabbed a piggie and took it out to the living room….leaving me in his dust.
I called him back, and he trotted right back to me, and dropped his piggie as I petted him, but he was very subdued. It wasn’t at all close to the excitement level I typically see from him on a day by day basis. Usually he’s turning himself inside out with huge tail wags, and lots of happy “C” curls where his bum nearly touches his nose. I didn’t see any of that.
As the evening went on, I could see Rugby looking at me with genuine hurt in his eyes. If I could caption him, he would have been saying, “Who are you? I thought I knew you, but you left me. You abandoned me. And you were gone for a long, long time. You’re just like all the others! You LEFT ME!!”
He wasn’t mad in the least, but he was very, very hurt, and I could see that he was looking at me trying to decide if I was like all of the other humans who had walked out of his life and never come back to him. I felt crushed that I had hurt him. I also had momentary panic that all of my hard work to teach him that I was trustworthy and predictable was now out the window. With Rugby, one never knows about these things.
I had brought an ice cream home to share with him, knowing that with dogs, food can often fix hurt feelings. Rugby was thrilled to get the ice cream since he rarely gets anything so special. He patiently waited for me to take photos and set down his bowl for him, and he gobbled it right up, licking his bowl clean and making sure that not one drop got missed.
But for the rest of the night, he was growly around me….guarded, grumpy, and a bit unpredictable. He didn’t want to play with me. His play growling quickly spiraled into ugly growling as he flattened his ears and put his paws and head down on his piggie….eyes dilated. He was in his resource guarding mode, which is something I honestly haven’t seen in months. He clearly didn’t want much to do with me, and in his mind, anyway, I was going to have to “suck up” for hurting him by leaving him.
I had no intention of “sucking up,” but I did want to reassure him that I was the same Mama as before, and that life would continue to go on, just as it always had. I decided that it was best to let him pout and I left him to his grumpiness. When I stole glances at him, he was often looking at me with eyes that said, “I just don’t know who you are anymore. You left me.” Ouch. Most dogs bounce back quickly from upsets like this, but I had never left Rugby for this amount of time, so I didn’t have any track record of what to expect.
So Tuesday came, and I had taken most of the day off to get caught up in my office after being gone. I was letting Rugby have his space and hoping for the best. I spent much of the day sitting at my desk, catching up email, bills, returning phone calls, and doing some household chores. And I saw something amazing, all day long.
I would glance down at my feet to find Rugby before moving so that I didn’t step on him. But instead pf napping in his “Man Cave,” he would be standing and just looking at me. All day, he stood and looked at me….taking short cat naps in between. The look on his face was one of amazement. It was a very different look from what I had seen the night before.
Instead of “I don’t know you anymore….you left me,” the look now said, “You came back to me. I can’t believe it. You didn’t abandon me. You came back for me. You came home.” And what a difference it was! When I sat down, he wanted to be in my lap. He followed me all day, not wanting to be more than a couple of steps away from me. And all day, his look said, “You came back. You didn’t leave me.” He would sit on my lap or next to me, and just look up with those beautiful chocolate drop eyes that he has. Those little chocolate drops studied my face and he just soaked it up and took it all in. And he was so blissful and content.
Rugby is a dog like no other I’ve ever trained or owned. He’s so very complex, and I honestly don’t always know how he will respond in a given situation. I never saw this one coming. I just guessed that he would be happy to see me and that would be it. Despite the hours and weeks and months and years of training and trust building that I’ve done with him, to me, his trust seems very fragile at times. I guess I can’t ever get complacent and take that trust lightly. It’s a real treasure of a gift that Rugby gives to me.
These photos were taken on Tuesday…the day after I returned. Rugby hopped up on my lap, and just leaned into me and snuggled down deeply with me. I’m not holding him there….my arm is simply resting on him. That’s all Rugby, standing on my lap, but leaning right onto me…head against my chest and shoulder. Michael was able to get several very special snuggle photos of the two of us…and Rugby stayed on my lap for a good long while, which was just a wonderful experience given his hurt feelings.