It's been six months to the day today that we began "Operation Tuff Love" with my sweet pit bull Rudy, and our dear friend and trainer Rhonda Bilodeau! Some of you may be wondering after all is said and done, what did I get out of this? What changes have I seen in Rudy? What do I know now that I didn't know before? And even if you aren't wondering, I am going to tell you anyway!
The changes in Rudy are incredible. Not only is Rudy now a great companion, he is the kind of dog that is fun to have around! He isn't constantly pacing anymore, wandering around the house, unable to settle down and relax. Instead, he is calm, he is relaxed. He can lay at my feet while I play on my iPad. People can come into my house now, and not fear that Rudy is going to stalk them, or stare them down, or follow them around and bark at them. He may bark when they first knock on the door, but I can put him in his place, and he will stay there. Sure, it still takes one or two tries sometimes, and a little bit of "help" from the e-collar, but usually after two tries, he gets it, settles into his place, and starts to relax.
Even if someone he doesn't know comes to the house, he may bark more, and he may stay a little bit more "alert" for a little longer while in his place - but I am confident that he is not going to run over and bite the cable guy while he is looking at my computer. I didn't have that kind of confidence before. And Rudy certainly didn't have that kind of confidence before.
I can take Rudy outside now to play ball - and he actually plays with me! He is very focused on me, and his attention is on what I want him to do! We play catch, we play our own version of soccer, and I have even started hiding on him in the yard, and letting him find me! He doesn't take off, he doesn't chase the squirrels, he doesn't get distracted by the kids riding their bicycles by us. Sometimes he will look up, and I can see him thinking, and processing the information when the kids ride their bikes near us. But a quick "come on Rudy" or "look at me" and wham! - he is focused on me again. That never happened before.
When crossing our busy street to go for a walk - I don't even have to put Rudy on a leash. I make him sit next to me, he waits for my command while he traffic goes by - watching me intently, and when I say ok - he knows that is our signal to cross the road. When we go for a walk now - on or off leash, Rudy is checking in with me, he is looking at me, and he is wanting to know what I want from him. When off leash, if I see "ok - you can go", he knows he can wander over that tree and sniff it, and I will wait for him. When I say "ok, come on" - he know that means it is time to start moving again. A lot of times now, I don't even need to verbally command him because he knows. He is in tune with me, and even when he stops to sniff something, he is watching me. If I keep walking, and am getting too far from him - he comes running right along back to my right side.
We have been able to go on three separate pack walks with dogs from Vermont Dog Socials - and Rudy has managed to be calm and relaxed at all three walks, even when surrounded by other dogs. Several dogs have been able to walk alongside him with no reaction from him. I will see him lick his lips to calm himself, or move closer to me to give the other dog room, but because we are walking with other calm dogs that are being controlled by their owners in the same manner, Rudy is building his confidence and feeling like he can handle it. And so am I! I am beginning to see a calmness in Rudy that I never saw for the first two years that I owned him.
The other day, Rudy and I were able to ride in the same car as Danielle and her lab Cash to go to the pack walk. For those of you that don't know, Danielle is my friend and neighbor, and her dog Cash and Rudy have gotten into two "skirmishes" outside in our condo's common area. We had kept them apart from each other - always coordinating with one another to see when the other one was taking their dog outside. But we don't have to do that anymore! We have been able to be outside, and both play with our dogs in surrounding areas, and have the dogs stay calm and not bother one another. Same with our successful car ride this Saturday. Sure, we don't let the dogs "interact" or try to play, but just to be able to have Rudy and Cash in the same car, and have both dogs stay calm and chill, was in itself a spectacular feat! Rudy was so chill he even laid down, and just put his head on the head rest. He wasn't tense, his ears weren't back - he was completely and utterly chill!!
All I have ever wanted for Rudy was to find balance and calmness. I wanted a companion that I could bring places. Now, I am comfortable bringing Rudy to more and more places because of his calm demeanor. I know that Rudy has learned to calm himself, and he is not amped up on adrenaline now, which means he is able to make good choices. The girls at the Bank love when I bring Rudy in. He waits so patiently with me in line for our turn, and he walks up to the desk so quietly, and puts his paws up for a treat - only after being asked!!
I am not going to lie. It hasn't been easy. It's been a lot of time, a lot of work, and constant attention. We are still training! We train every day because Rudy is still learning. He is not perfect, and probably won't ever be the perfect dog. But he is a great dog - and he has come so far that I tear up when I think about where we were before, and how close I was to getting rid of him because I thought I had adopted way more dog than I can handle. Rudy is a fantastic dog - because we are working everyday on learning and growing, and building our relationship. I can say now that Rudy and I have a relationship - yes, I am in a relationship with a dog! He is the other "boy" in my life. It is one thing to say you "own" a dog - but it is another to say you have a "relationship" with your dog. Because if you have a relationship with your dog - there is understanding, there is knowledge, there is structure. Your dog knows what is expected of him or her, and you know exactly what your dog needs and expects from you. It is a mutual understanding, and that is when the bond really begins to form. I always knew that I had a special bond with Rudy when he put his big block head in my lap that day on Church Street, wearing his little blue vest that said, "adopt me" - and looked up with those big brown eyes. I made a promise to Rudy that day - that I woudl give him everything he needed for a happy, long life. And what Rudy needed more than anything was a confident leader willing to put in the work.
So if you want to ask me about training, or you want to tell me I am crazy to spend the time and money and effort I have put into my dog, well that's ok, because the relationship I have with Rudy now is the best investment of time and energy that I could have ever made!