A dog’s trust in us is a precious thing. I never understood that before I had Rugby. I thought I understood it from working with client’s dogs, and had a few who were challenging to win over. However, it’s one thing for me to train a client’s dog, and another thing when it’s my very own dog who is having a tough time trusting me! That broke my heart!
So one of the big mistakes I made was thinking it was going to be a quick process. I assumed that since Rugby was a puppy, he would come along with things quickly and easily. It took honestly about four to five years to build what we’ve got now. I’m always aware of Rugby’s trust level, and I’m always working on things to boost it, because it was so hard for Rugby to initially trust me deeply.
I don’t think Rugby was ever mistreated in previous homes. I think he might have been neglected from getting the things that he needed socially, but I honestly don’t think that he was mistreated. However, when a dog is re-homed multiple times….over and over and over again, it really takes a toll on their ability to trust.
Think about it. I expect any average rescue dog that I train to need thirty to sixty days….one to two months…to really settle into a new home. A damaged dog who was in an abusive home will likely need more time. Rescue dogs have no idea why they lost their previous home. They have no idea why they were in shelters, or left to fend for themselves on the mean streets, or given to a rescue group. They don’t understand that.
So when they go to a new home, they give it another college try to be that great dog their new family wants. They walk on eggs for a while, trying to figure out the rules, and the pattern and rhythm of their new home. And when they get kicked to the curb again, only to repeat that process all over again…..and again….and again….over time….some dogs just give up. They quit trying. They learn not to get attached, because it will only be temporary anyway.
This is the sad fact that gets hidden away when dogs have multiple homes. It takes its toll in trust for one of the most trusting creatures God ever created. A dog’s nature is to trust and to bond to his pack. I never understood the depth of that until Rugby came to live with me. The thought of my precious little speckled and spotted puppy with his amazing floof of a tail and beautiful expressive eyes not wanting to trust….or maybe just not being willing to trust anymore….really absolutely broke my heart.
Puppies and dogs behave the way puppies and dogs do. When you choose puppies or dogs, it’s imperative that you not worry about the looks of a dog and instead choose the dog who is the right fit for you and your home! This means doing careful research to be sure you know what breed of dog you are looking for. You need to consider things like energy levels, grooming (including shedding), size, good with kids and strangers, protective nature, etc.
Once you’ve chosen a specific breed, you also need to look at dominance levels within a specific dog. For the average owner, you want to find a calm, chill dog or puppy who isn’t overly excitable or rowdy. More dominant dogs are likely to be challenging to live with, so if you opt for one of those, you would be wise to get professional help immediately so your dog is not putting his name on your mailbox!
If you choose a shelter pet who is an All American Dog like Rugby, made up of several breeds, be sure you know what each of those breeds is all about, because honestly, breed characteristics do carry through in mixed breed dogs. When I know what mix I’m training, I have a much better idea of what to expect for learning style, temperament, and naughty stuff.
Time after time when I evaluate dogs, and I ask an owner why they chose that particular dog, most often I hear: “We just liked the way he looked.” Or, “His puppy picture from the breeder was so cute we had to have this one.” I’ll be honest and tell you that Rugby’s face jumped right off the computer screen for me. His little chocolate drop eyes melted my heart and I couldn’t stop thinking about him.
Now…having said that, I will also say that I was looking for either a Sheltie mix or an Aussie mix of some sort. I am well familiar with both breeds and knew what to expect with an average mix of those breeds. I also did an evaluation of him before I went to see him…with his foster mom over the phone. Had I heard anything along the way that really raised a red flag for me, I would have stopped in my tracks and not gone any further forward.
Time after time, I hear people say that they had doubts about the breeder, or the kennel, or the puppy….but they felt so sorry for the puppy that they went ahead with the purchase. That’s never good, because often those dogs end up being re-homed when they don’t work out. When people haven’t done homework about their breed of dog, they are often not prepared for the naughty stuff they see from their dog and guess what? Yup….that dog goes to a new home or to a shelter or rescue.
And the biggest mistake I made was in thinking that trust was really no big deal. I thought as long as Rugby settled in, trust would naturally follow, so it wouldn’t be any big deal to produce. Was I ever wrong!! Trust is absolutely everything to a dog. He puts his whole heart into his life with you. He loves his owner and his pack and is loyal like nobody’s business!
For those of you with special needs dogs, this might help explain some of the fear, anxiety or wacky behavior you sometimes see from your dogs. Rugby has always been great at home in the trust department. When I first noticed there was a problem, it was when I had him away from home, and he completely disregarded me like I was invisible and made it very obvious that he was nervous and on high alert, even with me along. And when scared, he never came to me to save him. He wanted to run! So I felt as if he had been left to fend for himself and decided that humans couldn’t or wouldn’t help him when he needed it.
So if you’re having a tough time moving forward with training or working though a tough behavior, take a good look in the trust department, and see what that balance sheet looks like for your dog. Be sure the trust is high before you try to tackle the really tough stuff.
Never, ever again, will I take a dog’s trust for granted. It’s a very precious commodity!