I have a not-so-fun secret to share with you guys today.
After almost two years together, Rufus still won’t give Alex his whole heart.
When Rufus came to us, he was weary of a lot of people and dogs. Even today, there are some people that he warms up to immediately (kids, most laid-back adults) while other rub him the wrong way. I am completely prepared to deal with new people that come in and out of his life – he does best when he is ignored and allowed to sniff and greet on his own terms, which most people understand.
At worst, Rufus gives a low and deep growl. He sometimes bares his teeth, but only for a second before I correct him. He does not have a bite history, but he lets you know vocally that he’s uncomfortable with you.
I have had plenty of experience fostering and socializing shy and weary dogs, but I’ve never had a dog that just wouldn’t warm up to one of his owners…and it’s really exhausting and confusing.
I know that it hurts Al’s feelings when Rufus acts disinterested and even growls at him in certain situations. Rufus seems most unsure in the evenings. We used to think he was being territorial of the bed, but soon realized that he acted just as weary on the couch, the floor, etc.
We have worked with three separate trainers, and for the most part, they gave us the same advice: make Alex the one that gives “good things”, give Rufus a safe space, and set him up for success. So, that’s what we did.
Alex started to be the one who fed Rufus both meals, gave treats, and even took him running a few times a week. I gave the baths, cleaned his ears, and did other not-so-great things. Of course I also continued doing good things with him as well, but Alex was the jackpot.
We kept this up for months, and while things definitely got better, this issue just seems unfixable.
The one piece of advice I often have to remind Alex of is that he needs to set Rufus up for success. There are definitely situations in which we both know that Rufus is going to give us lip, and if we don’t want to reinforce that behavior (or if we’re too lazy to turn it into a training session), it’s better to not even approach him in the first place. No one wants to be growled at by their constant companion, so why would they want to put their dog in a place of fear?
We continue to train in these situations – treating and offering praise when Alex can approach Rufus in uncomfortable situations without being growled at – and will continue to do so for as long as it takes. Rufus does wonderfully when food is involved, but will immediately revert back to his old habits without a reward. If the issue gets more severe (snapping or biting), we will obviously consult yet another trainer. As of right now, I would just love for Alex to understand dog language a little better. The first thing he feels is hurt, and he gets frustrated and angry with Rufus, which leads to distancing himself in a lot of ways.
I am constantly reminding Alex of the ways in which Rufus shows his love for him: he trusts him in most situations, he gets SUPER excited when Alex walks through that front door – I mean…more excited than he does for anyone else. He starts jumping and whining and gets out a toy to play with, flopping over to expose his belly, etc. It’s one of the cutest and happiest moments of our day.
So maybe Rufus forgets from time to time that his dad is a wonderful human being? Maybe it’s some kind of energy Alex puts off that Rufus finds threatening during certain times? Or maybe Rufus is just a grumpy gus that wants life to be a certain way, and when we try to have a say, this is his way of laughing in our faces…or you know, growling in our faces…
I don’t know if I’m seeking out more advice or if I just needed to vent a little, but either way, thanks for giving me a space in which I can do both.