So, I realized something this week. I guess I always knew it, but sometimes you just need a simple reminder. My epiphany this week - Rudy really is a good dog! I have spent the two years since I got Rudy focusing on all of his issues. They are many: his lack of confidence, his separation anxiety, his reactivness, his territorial issues with the house, his dog on dog issues - it seems it has been a never ending parade in my mind of all the things I must do to help Rudy.
It began the first time he gave a warning snap to my daughter's friend. It was about a year ago. My daughter was packing up her stuff for college. Rudy was incredibly anxious, following her around, and ramming his big block head into the back of her knees every time she stopped to put a box downstairs in the living room. He pouted outside her door, hid in the bathroom, hid in his crate, and just couldn't seem to stop pacing. This went on all weekend while she packed her stuff. The night before she was supposed to leave, my husband and I had a wedding to go to. My daughter invited her friend to come stay over since we weren't sure what time we would be home and she doestn't particularly like staying home alone at night. This friend had been over several times before, and Rudy really seemed to like her, so I didn't give it a thought. However, my daughter reported that Rudy had acted strangely while we were gone - sitting near her constantly, and watching her friend intently - staring at her, all night while we were gone. But I brushed it off - just thinking he was nervous. The next morning, when her friend came down the stairs to have breakfast, she reached down to pet Rudy - and it happened. He lowered his head, and gave her a warning snap, followed by a growl. I was completely and utterly stunned. Rudy had never snapped at anyone - or growed for that matter. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know what to make of it! He didn't bite her although he clearly could have if he wanted to, but he gave her a clear signal - back off and don't touch me. Of course, I overreacted! I yelled at him, grabbed him, and put him in his crate.
I didn't know what to think. Here was this sweet dog that had never been anything but gentle to me, my daughter, and the husband. Now here he was snapping and growling at a friend of the family. Was this the dreaded pit bull "snapping" that I heard debated so much? Was he going to turn on us now?
I called the trainer we had been working with during obedience classes. I was hoping she could tell me something about why he had acted out. Instead, we focused on "avoidance" issues and I began to wonder if I was going to have to change my entire life to accommodate what I thought might be an aggressive dog. I spent the next few months worrying, and locking Rudy up in his crate every time someone came over. Then, it started to get worse. He would charge the door when someone knocked, barking growling, acting like a monster. I would put him in the crate, and he would bark the whole time someone was here. So, eventually I began locking him in the bedroom. I was so frustrated. I wanted a dog that was part of my family, not a monster I had to lock in the bedroom every time someone came over to the house.
Then, I met Rhonda. And what I realized was that Rudy was not aggressive at all. He was a scared, nervous dog who needed rules and boundaries. More than love and compassion, and all of the spoils I was showering on him in his new life, Rudy needed clear guidance, he needed structure, and he clearly needed me to be a leader. I was providing all the love he needed, but what I learned from Rhonda was that more than love, he needed a strong, confident leader.
So we began training. And all of you that have read this blog know how far we have come, and how much progress Rudy (and me) have made. But I still worry. I still have this tendency to focus on all the work we still need to do. I focus on Rudy following the rules at all times. I see every experience as a training moment, and I tend to always think about what I can do for Rudy to give him guidance.
So this week, my parents came to visit. I thought, oh great, the rules are probably going to get a little relaxed. And we all know what happened when Rudy got a weekend of no rules from the husband while I was gone a few weeks back - he was out of control when I got home, and it took him nearly a week and removal of many privileges to get back into the swing of things. So, when my parents showed up from Florida to stay with us for a week - I knew it was going to be really hard to make sure the rules were enforced all the time. It started with food. Rudy has to go in his place every time someone is eating in order to keep him from begging or being intrusive. But my mom was slipping him food whenever she could. He was getting out of his place. He was being way more table food than he ever got.
Usually, Rudy is not allowed on the couch to cuddle until the evening - and only by invitation. Meaning, he goes over to the couch, puts his head on the couch, and looks at me until I tell him, ok "up". But my mom and dad were letting him on the couch constantly, with no invitation - just constant cuddling and no invites. My dad even let him get up in bed with him one morning and sleep while my dad had a headache. Then, my dad even started wrestling with Rudy. I couldn't believe it. I said "no wrestling" - and then I began to explain how adrenaline gets Rudy in trouble, and how he previously was hooked on adrenaline, and used to living his life in a constant adrenalized state. I saw my parents' eyes glaze over, and they looked at me like I was crazy. Then, my dad said something really simple and heartfelt - he said "Laurie, he is a good dog." Period. It was that simple. Rudy really is a good dog. Rudy's behaviors are not the behaviors of a "bad" dog - he is a good dog. Plain and simple. Rudy is a dog - and some of his behaviors are just that - dog behaviors. Dogs beg for food, dogs sometimes pounce on the cat, besides all the training and all the rules - Rudy is after all just a dog - and sometimes, he just does what dogs do. And that really is ok.
I have spent so much time focusing on Rudy's issues and on Rudy's behavior, and on changing my own behavior, that I often times just forget to stop and enjoy Rudy for what he is - a dog! Sometimes he is silly and hyper and revved up. But like my dad said - "If I get hurt wrestling with the dog and winding him up - it's my own damn fault!" And when I thought about it - he's right! And he knew what he was doing. I needed to just sit back and trust that Rudy would be a good dog. And I'll be damned - he was! He didn't rip by dad's arms off - yeah, he got a little unruly, but the minute I stepped in, and said "Hey"! Rudy stopped, and looked right at me. He got it. Rudy knew what was expected of him when I stepped in, and he responded appropriately. And that was the difference I was looking for. Before training, when Rudy got worked up, it was like I didn't exist. I would yell and rant and rave. And it was like I wasn't there. But now, he knows, and he waits for me to give him information. And he responds appropriately. Sure, sometimes I need to repeat myself if he is a little more excited, but I can actually reign him in pretty quickly, and get him to respond how I want him to.
So, this morning I took him for a walk off leash, and I thought for sure given the lax rules this week, he would need more correcting and guidance while on our walk. But to my suprise, he didn't. He followed right in step in heel. I gave him time to stop and sniff, and said "come on" when I was ready to go. And sure enough, he followed me. I barely even had to use the ecollar. We were in synch. He stopped when I stopped and he came when I called. He barely tried to get out ahead of me, and when he did, I would say Rudy, and sure enough, he would heel for me. I was so suprised. Despite the flexibility on the rules this week, he still knew what was expected, and he was still viewing me as the leader. As I walked back to the house, I realized my parents were right, Rudy really is a good dog!