Adopting a rescue dog and giving them a new chance in life is a wonderfully fulfilling act of kindness but in order to make it a success, it is important to go into the process with an informed mindset. When adopting a rescue dog you should bear in mind that many have been abused or neglected and many have had several failed homes and landed in a succession of previous shelters. Others are found abandoned, picked up as strays on the street or have been surrendered for a range of reasons. Some dogs, such as Staffies, and other bull-breed mixes end up in rescue centres because of stigma, often created by the media, blaming aggressive behaviour on particular breeds. In reality, most of these breeds can make for some of the most loving and dependable pets.
As a professional dog behaviourist, I have helped thousands of owners to successfully transform troubled dogs, and some of the most unlikely breeds, have actually gone on to fulfil new roles in society as trained therapy dogs for people disabled or suffering chronic health issues. Ultimately dog behaviour is down to the deed and not the breed. The behaviour of a dog is shaped by its interpretation and responses to its environmental surroundings and the relationship and responsibilities which the dog assumes from the behaviour of the owner.
Choosing A Rescue Dog
When choosing and adopting a rescue dog, it is essential to prepare for the commitment and training that will be required to ensure that you can provide a forever home to break the cycle of the dog being passed from pillar to post. This all too common occurrence is termed ‘Rescue Dog Syndrome’. Rest assured that no dog was ever born bad, so every dog deserves a chance of redemption and any behaviours that have been learned, can be successfully unlearned with the right training and leadership. For further information when adopting a rescue dog see resolving-bad-behaviour.
How To Ensure Love At First Sight
When visiting a rescue centre and choosing a dog to adopt, your initial meeting with the dog should be positive and conducive to the dog feeling as unthreatened as possible. For many dogs, direct eye contact and forward advances can be intimidating and challenging, as can sudden advances, so approach from a side angle with lowered body posture and a relaxed indirect sideways glance without reaching forward.
Dogs are able to sense our emotions, but they do not interpret human body language in the same way we do, so allow the dog to sniff the back of your hand at their leisure with your body turned sideways and stay calm and still, giving plenty of time for the dog to assess you.
Don’t Take Pity On The Dog
However unfortunate and horrible the dog’s previous life may have been, It is important to look forward not backwards, without attempting to overcompensate for the past. Most importantly, don’t take pity or feel sorry for the dog’s previous plight. Dogs interpret the sense of pity as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Thoughts of pity can actually make the dog feel stressed and more vulnerable. Instead, think positively and confidently about a wonderful new beginning full of possibility for the dog’s future life with you and your loved ones.
The biggest mistake people make when adopting a rescue dog is to over-compensate for the miserable previous life that the dog has been assumed or known to have had. Humanising a dog will not make them feel safe and loved, it may do the opposite and could lead to the dog being stressed and feeling that it has to adopt the role of guarding and protecting you rather than feeling protected by you.
How To Show Meaningful Canine Love
Dogs just adore structures and boundaries, so the best way forward to ensure a happy integration into your life, is to create some rules and to remember that dogs like decisiveness. It may sound like a strict approach, but confident leadership is the style of existence which allows dogs to relax and feel safe in the sense that you as the owner are providing for their safety and their enduring survival. The following simple tips can ensure that your new four-legged friend will form a bond of trust and establish a harmonious and functional relationship with you and your family.
Before Bringing The Dog Home
Prepare the Family– by sitting down and having a pragmatic discussion so that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Lay down the ground rules for the whole family and ensure that everyone is committed to sticking to them. Set boundaries and, in particular, ensure your children understand that the new dog is a living being with feelings and not a toy. Make sure they know to respect the dog’s space. Also, understand that in coming into the unfamiliar territory it will take a few weeks for your rescue dog to adjust.
Be Patient– Know that when your dog arrives you’ll need to give it time to settle in. Especially in the first 3 weeks, use warm tones when addressing him/her but try not to handle them too much and give them time to settle into their new environment and relax. Dogs have different needs to us humans, and overly fussing a dog as you would a baby can be unnecessarily stressful for a dog. Many owners make the mistake of over handling their new dog and introducing him/her to all the family and friends within the first few days. Often this overwhelms the dog and as their tolerance gets pushed to the limit, they may sometimes nip out of fear. Sadly this is the point that many inexperienced dog owners give up, blame the dog and the Rescue Dog Syndrome cycle repeats as they are sent back to the shelter!
Dogs Make Wonderful People Trainers
Leadership!– Pay little attention to the dog’s advances at this time to enable you to establish natural leadership. Dogs make wonderful people trainers, which can be amusing, but it is important that you don’t allow your dog to train you. By being aloof and ignoring your dog’s advances, they will see you instinctively as a proactive leader rather than as a reactive subordinate. This will send a clear message that you are the decision maker and the provider for their needs which will allow them to relax and feel more accepted into their new home. Less = More! By ignoring their demands for attention, and only engaging on your own terms, your dog will quickly see you as their protector! …It may feel opposite to instinct at a human level but this is exactly what happens when dogs are living in a natural wild situation driven by their survival instincts.
Sleeping Arrangements– Provide a warm, comfortable area for your dog to sleep in. Your dog should be guided to sleep in a position physically lower down and away from other family members to establish its place. At Angel Dog Training we recommend providing dogs with their own safe and cosy den-like nest, a safe haven such as a professional dog crate to give your dog a dark area to retreat to while they adjust to a new environment. If your dog is sleeping, make sure family members know not to disturb him/her.
Identification– Microchipping and traditional collars are a good way to ensure you can find your dog if he/she were to become lost. Especially in the beginning, as sudden noises or lack of training & leadership might trigger your dog to run away. Be prepared for this.
If In Doubt Muzzle-If you’re uncertain about how they’ll react to other dogs then consider the responsible option of buying a muzzle as an interim measure to have better control over him/her while you’re out walking.
Secure your Garden– Before your dog’s arrival, make sure you have a secure garden or area you can let him/her explore. Make a habit of scattering some of their dog food and fresh fruit and veg in the garden. This will allow your new dog to feel more secure in its surroundings. It’s also a lot more natural and fun to sniff out their food rather than eat it out of a bowl. We call this approach “Scatter Feeding” and it is a wonderful way for your dog to begin to trust that its new environment is capable of fulfilling its nutritional needs.
Communication – Use ONE word in a low-pitch deep growly tone (e.g.: AHH!) to correct when your dog is doing wrong, and a different positive sequence of words (e.g.: Good boy Monty) delivered in a soft higher mellow tone for praise. A moderate middle pitch tone should be used for delivering commands. Remember that dogs do not understand the meaning of words like humans, so utilise as few command words as possible into your repertoire. The essential obedience commands are: Come, Sit, Stay, Down and Go To Bed when interacting with your dog. Finally, never reprimand your dog by using his/her name, as your dog should always associate their name with positive outcomes, which is essential for reliable recall.
Body Language– This is an essential part of training as 80% of dog communication is non-verbal and dogs mirror our own body language. Avoid aggressive handling of your dog i.e. tapping its nose or grabbing the scruff of its collar. Other than your keywords for training and praise, adopt a steady and soft tone when communicating with your dog. Use your own body language to indicate what you’re trying to communicate with simple clear hand signals and upright posture. Overall when you are adopting a rescue dog the key is to be patient.
Loose Lead Walking– When adopting a rescue dog it is important to ensure your dog doesn’t pull on its lead but walks beside you. If out in the park, use a long 10m training lead first to ensure your rescue dog knows who its new pack is and will come back to you. When at home, make sure you keep him/her from running to the door when someone calls. It’s your home so you answer the door. You must be the dog’s leader, not its follower!
Separation– Try to establish conditioned acceptance of separation between you and your dog. Taking him/her everywhere you go will only create problems if you eventually have to leave them for short periods of time. If you do go out for the day then make sure your dog has a constant supply of water and some crunchy vegetables to eat.
Speaking their language– When you are adopting a rescue dog show them plenty of love and patience while they settle into their new environment. Communicate with your dog in a way that he/she will understand. Simple tones, few words and clear body language will ensure your new dog knows its leader.
Love reading all about your success stories. The dog I have now ,(Treacle) was taken back by the breeder as the owner starved kicked and beat her because she pooped on the floor. Poor dog had bloody diarrhoea (not swearing) because she was being fed the wrong food. I thought she was ill. Put her on a good diet and she has been fine . She was scared and barked at people so I took her to Go Outdoors which is dog friendly armed with lots of treats. First off she barked at everyone. I told her it was safe and fed her the treats and it wasn't long before she relaxed and even let strange men stroke her. So pleased. She is great with other dogs. I only have one problem and that is when I leave her she tends to jump up on the work tops in the kitchen and collect things. Paper she shreds. At the moment she goes in her crate and as far as I can tell she doesn't bark. Lately I have been taking her with me in the car as she is fine there but having just seen your tips on rescue dog syndrome I will try and leaver her at home a bit more. May you carry on doing your great job of educating people and ensuring that there are more happy dogs and owners. Love Jacky and Treacle.