When Time Isn’t Enough…

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.

A more cuddly moment.

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.

Mom dresses me up because she needs to get a life.

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…

Rufus loves his dad, there’s no doubt in my mind.


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.

20 thoughts on “When Time Isn’t Enough…

  1. Maybe (and I say this in the best possible way), it’s you. You are the ultimate treat that they both share. I think it’s very promising that they have some great moments together and at the end of the day, we are all works in progress. Maybe they just need more alone time, weeks when Alex is the only care giver. Either way, both of your boys are ADORABLE and the hoodie shot and caption made my day!

    • You are absolutely right – even though they shared many activities alone, most of his time is spent with me. Alex is working 60 hrs. a week since our big move, so quality time has gone way down for everyone unfortunately. I’m hoping that once things settle down, they can have their buddy sessions back in some form.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. It was encouraging (and discouraging??) to read, as Pyrrha still doesn’t like my husband, Guion, much. She doesn’t growl at him, but she totally avoids him. She will play with him in the evenings if I’m home, but other than that, she completely ignores him. We’ve been doing the whole routine that you were advised, too, but it doesn’t seem to help much–at least, not yet. We’ll keep it up, but it’s just a little encouraging to know that someone else is in the same boat. Seems like you have a good man on your team and on Rufus’ team! Hope Rufus will discover this in time.

    • Oh no, don’t get discouraged! You are doing everything right with Pyrrha. I think one thing to keep in mind is that, unfortunately, many dogs that tend to be timid or weary do seem to bond very strongly to one person. This doesn’t mean they can’t build their way up towards trusting others, but you are probably going to be her favorite thing on the planet for a very long time 🙂

  3. Oh Rufus, what can I say… we have some moments like that here in our house too. Dottie is a skittish little thing that will get growly towards people sometimes. She never really does it to me, just the hubby and our other dog Boomer. We just work our way through it when it happens. It’s still no fun though!

  4. Elka doesn’t “like” my fiance as much as me.

    It isn’t as much as you describe Rufus doing, and he in fact is the one who even went and picked her up on “homecoming day”, but he is far less consistent than I am on cues, and on acceptable behaviors, and on criteria for rewards. I think she just gets tired of trying to figure him out!

    I love the description of Rufus’ “Alex is home!” joy dance, though. And I love his hoodie; Elka has the same one (or similar, anyway) in red.

    • I definitely think it was easier for Rufus to bond with me from the very beginning because , like you, I let him know what I expected in a very structured way. Alex takes cues from me, but their relationship isn’t as consistent.

  5. From what I’ve seen, you guys are doing great. Rufus couldn’t have “picked” better parents. And…..you know me, I don’t usually like dressed up dogs, but Rufus is really rockin’ that hoodie!

  6. Rufus used to push Daniel and I apart in bed when we first got married. We’ve been married for four years (together for nearly seven) and Rufus still tries to push us apart from time to time. He also growls and tries to bite Daniel sometimes when he is feeling defensive. It is so frustrating. I know exactly where you are coming from. It’s hard to understand but you are doing all the right things to help put Alex in the best possible light with Rufus. It just might take a really, really, really, really long time. Sorry you guys are going through this though – it is definitely frustrating!

    • Ugh…maybe Rufus has some chihuahua in there somewhere.

      Time seems to always be the key to a well-balanced pup. Two years seems like forever, but hopefully it’s just the beginning! Thanks for sharing your struggles with me as well.

  7. Pingback: Pup links! « Doggerel

  8. That’s really tough. I really feel for Alex as if I were in his situation, I would be feeling pretty hurt as well. Our cat has always preferred my husband over me, probably because he was his cat first before we moved in together. It took years before he’d ever approach me on his own and even now, while he likes me more than most people, I will always be number two.

    I know cats and dogs are very different, but I do understand a little of what Alex is going through. Rufus will probably never love him the same way he loves you but hopefully he will grow to love him as much if in a different way.

  9. Our little mama Braylon came to us with a fear of men and she super-bonded to me but was not always great with new men and was unsure of her dad. We remedied it quick by making sure he walked and fed her more often and like magic they were fine. Now she seriously loves him so much that I wonder if she even knows I’m in the room sometimes! I even get a little “jealous” now. We got way lucky there.
    I can’t imagine how tough that is on Rufus and his papa. 😦 You are amazing and patient for working with him!

    • I think the process would be faster if I didn’t spend SOOOO much time training him and bonding with him (but it’s a passion of mine, so I can’t help it) and Alex didn’t work so much. I have more than one unfair advantage, but I’m hoping that one day Rufus will adore Alex as much as Braylon adores her dad 🙂

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