I brought Rugby home in the backseat of my car on December 1, 2007. He walked into my house like a boss. He acted like he owned the place from the moment he arrived. Not in an arrogant or dominant way, necessarily, but with confidence….and like a dog who had been in new homes before. It wasn’t until later on that night that he seemed to show a bit of his insecurity…once he started to realize that history was repeating itself.
He really adjusted to the rhythm of my life and the patterns of our household fairly easily. There weren’t a lot of day to day things with my family that seemed to cause him any concern. He was a very happy puppy, playful nonstop, and energy that seemed to rival the Energizer Bunny! He insisted that we fetch until our arms begged for mercy, and happily trucked around the house following anyone who was moving.
And then…10 months later….we moved to a new city in a different state. I realized that Rugby had now lived with me longer than he had ever lived with any of his previous families. That was a sobering yet exciting thought to me, because I hoped he was understanding that I was keeping him for the rest of his life.
Because he had settled in so easily a year earlier, I honestly didn’t think that he would have any difficulty with our new home. Afterall, he still had Michael and I, and even though the house and yard were going to be different, the furniture was the same and our schedules would be similar to what he was already experiencing.
When we moved, he got to check out the house before the furniture arrived, and he was like a kid in a candy store! He happily ran from room to room, sniffing and sniffing, and looking high and low…checking everything out. Once our furniture was settled into place, Rugby seemed to understand that this was his new place to live, and he made a seamless transition initially.
Probably the biggest surprise that came along, is that a few weeks after our move, Rugby suddenly decided that our coffeemaker posed a threat to national security. Whenever a pot of coffee was being brewed, Rugby would fire up at the coffeemaker, barking and jumping at the kitchen counter where it was making noise. Every. Single. Time. For the duration of the brew. Ugh.
Keep in mind, this is the very coffeemaker that Rugby had heard for 10 months in our old home. We wondered if there was some sort of sound wave difference from North Carolina to Tennessee, because it made no sense that he would suddenly decide that he didn’t like that noise and make it his job to put the coffeemaker out of commission. This was problematic for us, because Michael and I both love coffee, and the coffeemaker is well loved and used in our home!
At first, I thought it was simply a fluke….just a weird coincidence. However, it happened with enough consistency that I finally had to concede that we had a new issue to work through with Rugby.
In a situation like this, counter-conditioning is the correct training protocol. Rugby was “conditioned” to respond with barking and jumping at the counter when he heard the coffeemaker. I simply had to “counter-condition” his response to stay calm when he heard this noise stimulation. In everyday terms, this means that I had to turn a “bad thing”…the coffeemaker….into a “good thing.” Typically that means offering treats when a dog can produce calm behavior when exposed to the sound stimulus. Usually, it doesn’t take very long to work a dog through something like this, so I expected that in a week or two at most, Rugby would be just fine. He was getting multiple opportunities to work through it, and we were very consistent with him to make the most of the training.
Unfortunately, as I was to learn, when Rugby gets fired up about something, and that something gets locked into that little Herding brain of his….it’s as if that response is sealed in cement! It took three months….yes, you read that right! Three. Long. Months. Click and treat through the entire duration of coffee brewing….multiple times every day. Once he finally decided that brewing coffee meant kibbles from Mama or Daddy, he gave up his crazy response, but it was a long road to get there with him.
And, as I was also to learn, with Rugby, the over-stimulation and negative response never fully goes away. He simply trades out one for another. It’s like he’s hard-wired to respond negatively to some noise….but that noise is always in flux, so it might be the garbage disposer one time, and a door closing the next time. Sometimes he fires up at specific neighborhood dogs who bark outside, and other times he completely ignores them! With Rugby….there’s not always consistency in what he does, which is part of why it’s hard to train through it. However, there’s always excited barking about something in his world, and it’s who he is.
When I’m tempted to frustrate about the relentless wacky behavior of his, now that he’s nine years old, I know that the day is coming closer when I’ll miss that wacky behavior and the house will be far too quiet for me. So….I try to train through the things that I can, and let the others go. He’s one wacky little nutter…..but he’s mine. Eight years ago, I didn’t know that I had a hole in my heart, and it was exactly the size and shape that Rugby is. All that wackiness filled up something deep within me, and eight years later….it’s all good! At my house….we definitely celebrate the journey!!