It just didn’t make sense that I had caused the problems I was facing with Rugby. He should have been able to make even small, marginal improvements for socialization, and he simply didn’t. ANY change in his environment set him off…wildly! I had to come to the conclusion that most of the problems with Rugby had started prior to December 1, 2007, the day I brought him home.
In his time living with me, he had made some small improvements at home…inside our house…in living with us. I had been able to break some of the patterns he used to cope with things when he heard or saw something that sent him over the edge. Generally, what could set him off was something like a loose dog walking right past our windows on the porch or sliding back door. If he heard any dog bark in the neighborhood, that could send him barking and racing through the house for fifteen minutes or more. Phones ringing, timers going off, doorbells real or on TV….oh the doorbells!! He was crazy when he heard a doorbell, and that sound…to this day…still puts him over the edge of over-stimulation!
For most of those things, he had actually improved in his responses, not gotten worse, so I had to console myself with the knowledge that I hadn’t caused any serious damage to him which manifested in the behavior that I was seeing. It was a small consolation when I wanted to help my dog, and yet felt so helpless to figure out what he needed in order to improve. Inside the house he was making baby steps, but when we walked out the door….view haloo….he was a completely different animal altogether! NO progress….NO focus….NO taking treats….just scoping out the environment to see who or what was going to get him!
He had gotten to the point where we couldn’t take him anywhere away from home without him barking wildly the entire time. He was calm in a crate in the car, but once we took him to a park, for example, if he saw anything that moved or startled him, he took his stance, and barked and barked and he barked some more. It didn’t matter how far away from him things were. If he could see or hear it move….he was barking at it. There was no way that I could seem to get his focus on me. He refused to watch me or leave it, and wouldn’t take any form of treat, no matter what wonderful stinky thing I offered to him!
At this point, I really missed my show dogs, who could focus and ignore anything and everything whether I had liver in my hands or an “air biscuit.” I realized just how blessed I had been to have had 20 years with wonderful Corgis who were stable, and predictable, and easy to take anywhere with me!
People were often so rude and hurtful when they saw us struggling along. Most were critical and unkind in their comments, and I felt so discouraged after virtually any outing with Rugby. I had hoped other dog owners would be kind and encouraging, but most who had dogs who were well behaved made snide comments suggesting that I try training my dog before I took him out in public! As a professional dog trainer, I can’t tell you how those things went right to my heart and stung… especially after having the perfect dogs in public for 20 years! I was doing the best that I could with Rugby, but just wasn’t making progress and having hurt feelings and embarrassment all for trying to make things better!
One of the things that these mistakes taught me, is that as a dog trainer, I really wanted to create a welcoming community for hurting owners and difficult dogs. Not every dog CAN connect the dots! Experience is a powerful teacher, and sometimes dogs who have had horrible experiences in life….just aren’t willing to let go of fear or aggression. Still others, who didn’t come up in a very good way, missed vital nutrients to help their brains form correctly, so they are unable to figure things out and behave differently.
Let’s face it: Our love for all of our dogs is genuine….no matter if we have a well behaved dog or the nutter of the neighborhood! It was humbling for me to have to have that neighborhood nutter, and after having been on the receiving end of lots of criticism and ridicule, I decided that I was going to do everything I could to create a safe and welcoming community so no one else would have to go through the experiences that I’ve had.
I’m very proud of my group classes where virtually almost any dog that I train is able to come. Some stay off at a distance while they work on techniques including focus on their owners and learning to stay calm around people and or dogs. All of the owners with the friendly dogs are so kind to those in the distance, and generally really go out of their way to make them feel welcome and a part of the classes.
Rugby’s Facebook page was started when I decided that I was ready to come out of the closet with my difficult dog, and be transparent and real in my struggles to live with him and help him improve. People expect Pitbulls to be aggressive, or out of control because of lots of negative media reports. No one expects a really cute….adorable dog that looks like Rugby, to be the out of control hot mess.
ANY dog can be that hot mess! Lots of things can cause this behavior. But because of the mistakes that I’ve made with Rugby, I have compassion and love for the other “odd ducks” of the dog world. I want them and their owners to be included in my group classes, and to visit Rugby’s Facebook page and this blog to feel hope, love, encouragement….and most of all….to know that they just aren’t all alone in the world.