Rugby is the only dog I have ever owned who growls away help when he’s hurt. ALL of my previous dogs have seemed to really appreciate and ask for help when they’ve been hurt, welcoming that help with open paws and big smiles!
Rugby? Not so much!
It honestly took me months to realize that he really didn’t trust me, and also didn’t know how to ask a human for help all the way around in general. Even though he was a rescue, he didn’t have hallmarks of a dog who had been abused in any way, so I really expected that working and living with him would be pretty straightforward. Boy was I ever wrong!
I wonder at times if Rugby was left to raise himself in his previous homes. He has only recently in the past 2-3 years seemed to learn that when he gets scared, I will help him. He’s always acted like he was going to have to figure things out all by himself, which has been so heartbreaking for me! I think there’s been a combination of things to create his behavior, of course, and much of the trust, I think, has come from having too many previous homes.
At some point, most rescue dogs with multiple homes figure out that it just doesn’t make sense to keep trusting when they’re only going to get abandoned anyway. So they learn how to cope, and they do the best that they can, but they keep their emotions at a distance, to protect themselves.
I stopped trying to comfort Rugby when he was hurt, because he always consistently growled a deep and ugly growl anytime I tried to help him. His eyes took on a wary look, and he would become withdrawn and make himself small, looking a little pitiful. It was awful not being able to help him, but any attempts on my part only seemed to make things worse. I wrote a previous blog about how I learned to apologize to him in a way that he could understand. That completely revolutionized how he and I have begun relating to each other! (See previous post Training Tip Tuesday: Saying I’m Sorry with Body Language).
Over the years, I’ve followed this same method of apologizing to Rugby, and I’ve watched him go from ugly growling at me as I tried to help him, to starting to growl, and then remembering that he didn’t need to do that any more, and stopping immediately. That’s pretty terrific progress in my book!
Well Tuesday night was one of those situations where I was getting into bed to settle down and give Rugby some snuggle time. I sat on the edge of the bed, and he was already laying comfortably on the opposite side of the bed, up near the pillows, his rump end toward me. What often happens, is that as he relaxes, his floofy tail doesn’t come up over his back any longer, but stretches out behind him. And that night, it was tucked under the covers a bit, so I never saw it.
I placed my hand on the covers, and pushed down to pull my legs up on the bed, and of course, I had my hand on his tail or the floof, anyway. Immediately, he started to growl and hop up to protect himself. I got up at once, and faced the wall, clearly ignoring him to help him calm down and recognize that I wasn’t out to get him!
In just a matter of a few seconds, I heard him make his little noise that I often call “start your engines,” because he sounds a little like an engine turning over….”Rrrrr…..Rrrrr….. Rrrrrr.” At this point, I knew he was saying, “Mama, come back to bed! I’m ready for our snuggle time!”
As I turned around and looked at him, his little face said it all. He was sitting on the edge of the bed nearest me, and he had a little scowl on his face as if to say, “You hurt me! I’m sorry I got cross, and I know you don’t like it when I do that, but you hurt me!” I told him that I was sorry I had hurt his tail, but I didn’t see it under the covers. I sat down on the edge of the bed and told him that I never meant to hurt him, and I wished he would understand that. Even though things have really improved between us, it’s still a heartbreak to me that he still assumes that he’s going to get really hurt.
I gently placed my arm around him, and he put his two front paws on my leg and gave me two gentle licks on my left cheek to say, “It’s okay, Mama. I forgive you and I love you. We’re friends again.” And just as quickly as it had come up, it was over, and we had a really sweet snuggle time together.
I’ve been pondering this experience for the past couple of days, and I keep coming back to just how far we’ve come together. He no longer stays angry with me….growling a deep ugly growl for an extended amount of time….keeping his distance, staying guarded, looking so emotionally hurt and disappointed in me. Those days are gone.
This was such a sweet, sweet moment, and it reminded me of the deep relationship Rugby and I have. Like any relationship with a friend, we have misunderstandings from time to time. Cross words can be spoken rashly. Feelings get hurt. Apologies are made, forgiveness is extended, hugs exchanged, and life goes on. Such is life at my house…with its ongoing adventures, living with my little Rugby James.