It was bound to happen sooner or later….writer’s block finally hit me! I’m rarely in a position where I can’t talk or write about something, but for several weeks…a few months, even, every time I started a post….it fizzled out and I just couldn’t find the words or emotion to finish it! But this topic is one that has great passion for me, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back in my blogging groove once again!
This month’s positive training blog hop has a topic about “Training Mantras.” Those little words that you speak to yourself to keep things positive and moving along when you’re training. I guess if you read the title of this post, you can guess what my mantra is when I’m training!
A dog like Rugby is clearly enough to make anyone want to throw their hands in the air and give up! High energy, emotional, reactive dogs are sooooo tough to train! They really, truly are! The reactivity can be aggressive, and these dogs often have multiple hairpin triggers, which means that can they go off like rockets, from zero to two hundred in three point five seconds! That can be absolutely overwhelming for the average owner, and I really do understand that!
When Rugby initially came to live with me, those first few weeks were daunting, to say the least! As I worked and worked and he either didn’t respond or made marginal progress forward, I remember feeling like I had really gotten in way over my head with this speckled and spotted puppy! I was at an absolute loss over what to do and where to turn to get help for him!
SO MANY PEOPLE TOLD ME TO GIVE UP!! They did! Colleagues, family members, friends….strangers on the street….you name it! At every turn….I felt like everyone said to give up, and a part of me really, truly wondered if that’s what I should do!
But….in all honesty, I knew that the buck had to stop with me. Rugby had no one else. He had been on 24 hour death row at the animal shelter before the rescue stepped in and pulled him at the last minute. I was a professional dog trainer, and if I couldn’t make things work for him, I knew that no one else could either, and that meant euthanasia. I couldn’t bring myself to give up on him. I just couldn’t. If you have ever looked into his eyes of liquid chocolate, well….nothing more really needs to be said. I just knew I wasn’t going to be the next human to fail him. I just couldn’t do it.
I’ll tell you something about myself: I’m a bit of an optimist, but I like to think that I temper that with being a realist as well. Initially, I was super optimistic that I could “fix” Rugby’s broken behavior. He was only eight or nine months old, so easily young enough to create new patterns of good behavior.
However, getting Rugby on board with that created a hiccup in the giddyup of my training plan! Rugby is one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever trained. He really is. But….when it comes to connecting the dots on social issues, much like a special needs child….he seems unable to put the behavioral pieces together, no matter how I order them or what I try. He seems to have a piece of his thinking that is broken, and I’m unable to fix that for him and make it work.
It sounds like it would make good sense to just give up and accept things as they are, and move along with my life, right? Well, that’s one option for sure. But at the end of the day, what does that get me? A crazy, wacky dog. If I don’t at least try and keep trying, I know for sure that I’m going to have a crazy, wacky dog, because that’s what I’ve started with.
So while I was thinking all of this through, the quiet, little voice inside of me said, “But what if the next time you try….it works and he figures it out? What if he can improve? What if he’s less wacky tomorrow? Doesn’t he deserve someone who will try? You’re all he has in the world. If you give up….where does that leave him?”
It’s so easy to get hung up on our own perspective and our own needs, wants and desires. We’re selfish, really, especially when it comes to life with our dogs. We want what we want the way that we want it! Bottom line.
We can’t ever, ever forget that our dogs don’t get to choose who they have as owners. Rugby had no vote in coming to live with me. I chose him….he got stuck with me. I started thinking about how scared my little puppy had to really feel on the day that I brought him home, and that perspective has made all the difference in the world to me.
I thought about my little speckled and spotted puppy, eight or nine months old, sitting in a new dog crate in a complete stranger’s car, driving him away from his foster home where he had just begun to settle into a new life. Prior to that, he had been in a transitional home or homes while the rescue tried to find the best possible place for him. And prior to that, he had been in a kill shelter for who knows how long….but long enough to end up on death row and a twenty-four hour countdown to euthansia! How he got to the shelter remains a mystery, but he had to have had at least one prior home before ending up in the shelter.
I wondered just how terrifying that had to feel for him. His entire life up to that point had been one transition after another, and he was simply at the mercy of the humans who were calling all of the shots in his life. One human after another put him here or there, and he got stuck with the luck of the draw. Did I mention that he was only a puppy? He was trying to figure out how the human world worked, but that world for him had to feel like quicksand with all of the constant and consistent change that he encountered in his young life.
When I looked into the sweet little eyes of my adorable but very broken puppy, I saw two little eyes who searched my face, looking for what, I didn’t know. But Rugby often looks at me this way, even ten years later. His eyes get soft and moist and he looks from one of my eyes to the other, searching and searching.
I knew that if I gave up on him, I’d never, ever forgive myself. I was all Rugby had. I had to become his advocate and his cheerleader! I knew that I could provide him with a safe home and a soft place to land, even if he never, ever improved. It wasn’t what I wanted, if I’m going to be completely honest with you. I didn’t want a broken dog that couldn’t be fixed. I wanted a dog who was stable and whole. That’s what I wanted.
But then I realized that I was forgetting Rugby in all of my wondering. What did Rugby want from life? What kind of home and human guardian did HE really want? When it came to working through his wacky behavior, what if HE didn’t want to give up? What if HE wanted to keep trying, even if it meant that he would fail over and over? What if he had things that he wanted to teach ME that would forever change my life and my heart? If I gave up on him, I would never have an opportunity to let him be my teacher, and let me tell you something: This little broken dog that went from home to home has had plenty of truly amazing things to teach me over the ten years that I’ve lived with him.
I’ve come to a really important conclusion that God doesn’t always give us the dog that we want, but He will always give us the dog that we need. And where Rugby is concerned, that is absolutely the truth. I didn’t want a broken dog, but I needed one. He’s fixed broken places in me that I never knew were broken. And he’s taught me never to give up, because that’s the heart of my Rugby James. He doesn’t give up. And if I never learn another thing from him, that alone is more than enough.
Never give up….Never surrender!!