Rudy the Rottweiler’s Story, pt. 2

Rudy at home, June 2013.   Photo by Lesley Keefer
Rudy at home, June 2013.


Rudy lived at the shelter from July 5th until October 2nd, three months altogether. The staff there did a remarkable job of working with him, comforting him, and getting him used to being touched. The people at the shelter didn’t just let him languish in his run – when time and circumstances allowed, they brought him up to the lobby and let him hang out , so he could get used to folks. They pet him, they bathed him, and they loved him. And he loved them back, so much so that he didn’t want to leave. As described in part one of this story, once he got more than a few hundred feet away, Rudy’s modus operandi was to turn and face the shelter, and make haste for it if allowed. The concrete and chain link was so much better that being chained in dirt, that to Rudy, it seemed the safest, best place in the world.

My dog Iggy had died just before I met Rudy. My grief over his loss was profound, and though I wanted another dog right away, I worried I would not be able to bond with a new dog, or that I would compare the new dog to my old dog, or that I just would not be able to fulfill a new dog’s needs. Pia, the wife, and I talked about this a lot.

It was actually reflecting about Iggy that caused us to decide on adopting Rudy. Instead of worrying about comparisons, or worrying if we could love a new dog as much, or any of that, we decided this was all normal, and instead of avoiding it, we would embrace it. Yes, another big dog in our home will invite comparisons – and for us, no dog would ever be Iggy. There, done, easy and over with. It took away a lot of pressure on him and us, actually. A new dog will be our new dog, and we will be his people – whatever that means to the dog and to us. What we decided is that love will come. There is no hurry about that – what is important right away is patience. Patience to teach a new dog what we need from him and patience for us to learn what a new dog needs from us. And we didn’t need our new dog to be like or unlike any other dog, we just needed our new dog to be himself.

The people at Whatcom Humane Society were wonderful. They were forthright and honest about Rudy’s issues. He was reactive toward children who approached his kennel. He had only been in a vehicle twice, and was terrified both times. He didn’t know how to walk on a leash, and his house-training was unreliable. Angi at Tails-A-Wagging was incredibly helpful, too. Rudy had been going there for day care and I wanted to make sure he could continue to come. She was very frank about what he would need to learn in order to keep coming: his almost non-existent obedience would have to improve, he was susceptible to becoming quickly over-stimulated, and his crate-training was below par.  Angi has rehabilitated more dogs than me, by far, so was able to offer really good advice, too, about reasonable expectations and a realistic time-line. She recommended an extended timeline of rehabilitation: 18 months from when we adopt to when we will expect the reliable and predictable behavior we require. A year-and-a-half of rehabilitation overall.

Because Rudy missed so much socialization and obedience training when he was a puppy, and because he had never even been inside a residential home, we decided to not treat him a like a 1-year old at all. We treated him as a 6-month old for behavioral and training issues such as fear and obedience, and treated him as an 8-week old for house training. This proved to be a good approach. I am afraid we would have become frustrated if we had not made these allowances. He was really big, to be sure – almost 90 pounds when we brought him home – but not very strong for his size. I think it was because he had never really gotten any exercise. The people who chained him never walked him, obviously, and the shelter tried, but Rudy didn’t want to go. The only exercise he had ever gotten was at Tails-A-Wagging when he visited for the day.

Rudy enjoying a rub from his namesake, WHS ACO Katy Barnes. July 5th, 2013.
Rudy Barnes enjoying a rub from his namesake, WHS ACO Katy Barnes. July 5th, 2013.

The first and most important problem was the car. He was terrified of getting into the car. The day I brought him home, it took 20 minutes to get him into the car, and he peed on the seat during the drive home. If day care and vet visits were to be a part of our lives, we would need to overcome the fear of the car, and right away. I don’t like to force dogs to do things. I always try to lure them instead, whether the lure is me, another dog, a toy, or food. It is better for the dog’s psyche if they make their own choice. I started with dog treats, graduated to chicken, and finally tried apple fritters and bacon. Rudy would not be lured into the car. I tried putting my other dog Frankie in first. I tried getting in myself and calling him. I tried having Pia getting in and calling him, while I applied gentle pressure from behind. Nothing doing, Rudy was not getting into the car. His strategy was to lie down. It was quite effective. I would walk him on leash into the front yard, and if we turned toward the sidewalk, he would only be somewhat scared. If we turned toward the car, however, he would lie down and refuse to move. All 90 pounds of no-muscle-tone – not a very easy mound to move.

Finally, I created a slurry of bacon and apple fritter in a shallow bowl and put it in the back seat. I put another bowl of the same thing on the roof of the car, just for easy access. Then I went inside and picked up Rudy while still in the house. I carried him out to the car, put him in it, and let him eat the apple fritter- bacon slurry. When he was done, I gave him the second bowl of it then let him out. I led him back to the house and prepared more slurry, then did the whole thing again. The next day, I did the same thing, but I drove around the block, and then let him go back inside the house. On the 4th day, I was able to lure him into the car with bacon and apple fritters, and we drove to Tails-A-Wagging, where he got to play. When I opened the door, he got into the car no problem. He still balks occasionally, but only when leaving the house, never coming home. He always wants to come home.

Rudy visiting with WHS Humane Education Coordinator Krista Unser
Rudy visiting with WHS Humane Education Coordinator Krista Unser. July 5th, 2013.

After the car we had many hurdles, but I quickly realized they were almost all symptoms of one major problem: fear. I did not approach it as though Rudy had dozens of behavioral issues; I approached it as though Rudy had one major behavioral issue, with different symptoms. This approach has been very successful – dozens of problems was overwhelming, but I only see one problem: fear. All of his idiosyncrasies and worrying behaviors are simply manifestations of the fact that he was often terrified. My approach has been to introduce him to new things and people slowly, and create positive associations through conditioning with food.

Rudy is gentle and loving with other dogs. This is friend Olive.
Rudy is gentle and loving with other dogs. This is our friend Olive.

One of the most surprising things about Rudy is how completely and totally he believes in the television. I expected him to be a little weirded out by it (remember, he had never been inside a house before), but he actually sees the images as though they are in the room with us. At first, this caused many problems. The MGM lion at the beginning of a movie caused him to panic – he peed on the floor, ran through his own pee, and attacked the television.  When I thought we had the television thing under good control, we tried to watch Walking Dead. A zombie came on the screen, and Rudy attacked the television with such enthusiasm, he put a 4-inch scratch right down the screen. Angi and Jason Lenz from Tails-A-Wagging gave him a “Zombie Killer” name tag to commemorate that incident.

Rudy attacked the television when we tried to watch "Walking Dead".
Rudy attacked the television when we tried to watch “Walking Dead”.

After a time, though, I began to see training opportunities related to the television. He was afraid of children, so we watched Sesame Street and clicked and treated when new children came on the screen. We did this for a couple weeks, and he does much better with children now. We did the same thing with fireworks by watching To Hell and Back over and over, and clicking and treating for explosions. It really helped us get a head start on fireworks. Plus, who doesn’t love Audie Murphy?

After living with us for 6 months, I brought him into Northshore Veterinary Hospital for new x-rays on his hips and legs. His atrophy was gone by then – the definition on the muscles of his haunches was, and is, visible from across the room.  He can hike all day, and play all night, and do it again the next day. He is strong, but his gait is still very odd, with his right rear leg being particularly worrisome, as it seems to be sort of out of synch with the others. Dr. Coyne consulted with two specialists: a radiologist, and a veterinary orthopedic surgeon. Most of Rudy’s problems are a result of poor breeding – he does have slight dysplasia, and his rear legs turn outward a bit. Neither of these is likely to debilitating in the near future, and neither requires treatment. They don’t cause him any pain, and while they may in the future, we just think of these as quirks that make him special.

The other piece of news was bad, though. The surgeon discovered the reason his right rear leg looks so odd is a buildup of bone on his hock from where his leg had been broken when he was a little puppy, and had not been set. It healed well enough so that he can walk, but there is a sort of ridge that causes his hock to have an odd slant. It is unlikely that it causes him any pain anymore, and fixing it surgically would definitely cause him great pain and discomfort, while the outcome is not assured. Everyone agrees the best thing to do is leave things as they are. The thought of him, though, the little puppy, chained with a broken leg no one probably even noticed… well, it haunts me, and enrages me, and reminds me of how courageous dogs are in general, and how brave this dog is in particular.

Rudy has lived with us for 9 months now, ½ of the 18-month rehabilitation goal. Today is one year to the day Katy Barnes was lowered into that hole to pulled him out. There are days I think we are close to our goal, and there are days when it feels like we have not even begun. Every day, I love him more. I love his softness when he is gentle and his power when he is in motion. I love his calmness. I love that he is incredibly smart, learning so fast it is a challenge to keep up with him sometimes. I love the way he accepts coaching from older dogs, and I love the way he is loving with younger dogs. I love watching him learn about the world around him, watching him be afraid of things and try them anyway. I love how silly and goofy he is, even though to him, much of the world is such a scary place. Mostly, I love his courage.


This video is from 9 months ago. We were working on just going up and down stairs. It was very hard for him.



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