Saving a dog is one of the most rewarding and difficult jobs you’ll ever face.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and all behaviors and personalities should be assessed on a case-by-case basis when returning a new pet from the kennel. Love and train a rescue dog It can be hard work, but understanding rescue dog behavior will make it much easier for you and your new family member.
When you bring a rescue dog home, be prepared for the experience to be a journey, not a quick transition. With work and training, your dog can become a beloved member of your family, but improving your dog’s behavior won’t happen overnight. Instead, prepare for the training and time it will take to gain your new dog’s confidence and establish the habits that will allow him to live happily in his new home with you.
Each rescue will also have a specific set of challenges to keep in mind that stem from the characteristics, size and age of the breed. These common dog house obstacles are encountered by all dog owners, whether or not your dog is a rescue dog.
For example, older adult dogs are going to be a bit annoying no matter how well they have been trained and raised. This can be caused by external pain, loss of sight or hearing that makes them more easily frightened, as well as health issues. These dogs may have lived in multiple foster homes, making good behavior partially at the mercy of any previous training methods used.
It is the same small breeds. They have their own attitude and behavior issues, and home training can often be difficult. Some of these issues are rooted in every dog based on their lineage and can never be completely resolved.
Rescue dogs have a few common barriers that they face due to neglect, abuse, or both. These overlap with all of the special race quirks they have in their DNA, and suddenly you’ve got your hands full!
Much of the love of a rescue dog is understanding why he behaves the way he does. If you can understand why they might act unfavorably, you have a better chance that you can re-train your rescue in their new life.
1. Food stress and protection of resources
This is a big deal with some rescues and sometimes prevents dogs from going into homes with children. Long neglected or stray dogs protect their food.
They may have lived from day to day fighting for food, not knowing when they were going to have their next meal. So when they have food, they become protectors, bark, snarling and even biting because they feel threatened.
Some dogs overcome this behavior after being in a home, gaining weight, and realizing that no one will take their food away from them. Other dogs need to be caged when fed for this reason. Cage training is also a recommended form of dog training for your rescue dog with behavioral issues.
Most dogs adopted out of shelters have been tested to see if they are showing signs of feeding aggression. If that’s a problem, the adoption counselor will let you know. However, some dogs may not show this behavior problem until they are in a new environment.
Resource protection is essentially the same as food assault, but includes food, all other objects, and even people. It is in fact a holdover from the ancestral instincts of dogs. In the wild, they would protect their survival resources (dens, food or young) from predators.
In rescue dogs that have been primarily stray, this instinctive reactive behavior often resurfaces in the form of guard toys, beds, people, or anything else important to the dog. Training is a great help with any aggressive behavior and an important factor in successfully hosting a home rescue.
This is a very common and very unique obstacle for each dog. Each dog will have different fears, different levels of fear, and different reactions to that fear. Much like humans, dogs have a fight-or-flight response to fear, each of which is equally dangerous. If a dog reacts to fear with a fighting reaction, that’s a big deal and puts potential owners at risk. A dog responding to fear with a flight response can also be a problem. When left alone, dogs have been known to chew on walls to get away from anything that scares them.
If they are outdoors or on a leash, they can be scary and fly away. This is one of the reasons why it is important to microchip your pets. If they’re trying to get away from something that scares them, they’ll find a way, and it’s important that they have a way to get home in case something like this happens. There are several ways to help dogs with their fears through training, positive reinforcement and exposure. A canine behaviorist can help you with these common fear-based behavior problems.
Disciplining the rescues when they slip is probably the hardest part. Whether it’s a pointing finger or a high-pitched command, they react differently from other dogs. Over time, this gets better as they learn to believe that you are not going to hurt them if you scream or have a negative interaction with them.
You need to teach rescue dogs things that most dogs already know how to do. Some people need to learn to play with toys or use the outdoors potty. I had to teach my rescue dog to play with toys, up and down stairs, not to chew on his paws, and all the basic controls. These are milestones that may not seem important to owners of non-lifeguard dogs, but they are very important in saving parents.
Depending on the context of the rescue, socializing with humans or dogs can be difficult. This is largely based on the history of the specific rescue dog and how it was treated or presented to humans and dogs. Socialization can be done in a number of ways, and it’s up to you to find a method that works for both you and your puppy. Some dogs benefit tremendously from exposure therapy. You will also need a solid understanding of canine body language so that you can monitor your dog’s comfort level. Repeatedly putting the dog in a situation that makes him nervous will eventually put him at ease with the stimuli. For other dogs, this doesn’t work and only makes them more nervous.
Other dogs benefit from activities like a dog park that can slowly introduce them to new stimuli and environments over time and in gradual increments. This gives extremely nervous or fearful dogs a chance to gradually warm up to something that gets them on edge.
6. Burglary and tagging
For shelter dogs who have never learned where to go to the bathroom, housebreaking can be a significant rescue dog behavior that sometimes brings dogs back to the shelter. More often than not, they’ve been severely reprimanded for accidents when they just don’t understand where they should eliminate. Male dogs will also score in a new home or environment. They may feel uncomfortable or threatened, so it’s an act to take ownership of the area or show dominance. Some dogs cannot be trained to come out of this behavior based on its severity. They make belly bands for this problem, and some male dogs may need to wear them at all times in the house.
7. Destructive behavior
Destructive behavior problems are usually related to separation anxiety or too much energy. When dogs are anxious or bored, they may engage in destructive behavior just to do something or to calm their nerves. Scolding a dog for behaving destructively is not the solution. Dogs don’t act this way out of spite, but instead try to tell you that something is wrong. Consulting a professional dog trainer or canine behaviorist can help.
Rescue dogs will bring a level of unconditional love to your life, but they will test your patience and need help in becoming a successful family member. Understanding rescue dog behavior can help you and your new dog become better friends. With love, patience, and practice, you will have a new, loyal and loving member of your family.
What types of rescue dog behavior have you experienced? Tell us about the Wide Open Animals Facebook Page!
This article was originally published on February 21, 2020.