How to help your new pet feel at home

Rescuing a dog is one of the most rewarding and challenging tasks you will ever face.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and all behaviors and personalities should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis when bringing home a new pet from the kennel. love and train a rescue dog can be hard work, but understanding rescue dog behavior will make the job easier for you and your new family member.

When you bring home a rescue dog, prepare for the experience to be a journey, not a quick transition. With hard work and training, your dog can become a beloved member of your family, but improving your dog’s behavior won’t happen overnight. Instead, be prepared for the training and time it will take to gain your new dog’s trust and establish the habits that will allow him to live peacefully in his new home with you.

Common Rescue Dog Problems

Each rescue will also have a specific set of difficulties 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 your dog is a rescue dog or not. For example, old adult dogs are going to be a little unpleasant regardless of how they were trained and raised. This can be caused by external pain, loss of sight or hearing that makes them more frightened, as well as health issues. These dogs may have lived in multiple foster homes, making their good behavior partially at the mercy of any previous training methods used.

It is the same small breeds. They have their own attitudinal and behavioral issues, and home training can often be difficult. Some of these issues are ingrained in each dog based on their lineage and can never be fully resolved.

Rescue dogs have a few common obstacles they face due to neglect, abuse, or both. These layer on top of all the special breed quirks they have in their DNA, and suddenly you have your hands full! A big part of loving a rescue dog is understanding why they behave the way they do. If you can figure out why they might be acting unfavorably, you have a better chance of being able to retrain your rescue into their new life.

1. Food aggression and resource protection

rescue dog with food aggression

This is a big problem with some rescues and sometimes prevents dogs from going into homes with children. Dogs that have been neglected or stray for a long time protect themselves from their food.

They may have lived hand to mouth fighting for food, not knowing when they were going to have their next meal. So when they have food they become protective, barking, growling and even biting because they feel threatened.

Some dogs outgrow this behavior after being in a house, gaining weight, and realizing that no one will take their food away from them. Other dogs need to be crated when fed for this reason. Crate training is also a recommended form of training your rescue dog with behavioral issues.

Most dogs adopted from shelters have been tested for signs of food aggression. If this is 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 aggression, but includes food, all other objects, and even people. It is in fact a remnant of 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 mostly strays, this reactive instinctive behavior often surfaces in the form of guarding toys, beds, people, or anything else important to the dog. Training with an E Collar or other methods is a great help for any aggressive behavior and an important factor in successfully welcoming a rescue into a home.

2. Fear

This is a very common and very unique obstacle for every dog. Each dog will have different fears, different levels of fear, and different reactions to that fear. Just 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 fight response, that’s a big deal and puts potential owners at risk. A dog that reacts 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 outside or on a leash, they can startle and fly away. This is one of the reasons why it is important to microchip your pets. If they try to get away from something that scares them, they’ll find a way, and it’s important that they have a way back home in case something like this happens. There are several ways to help dogs overcome their fears through training, positive reinforcement, and exposure. A canine behaviorist can help you with these common fear-based behavior issues.

3. Discipline

Disciplining rescues when they slip is probably the hardest part. Whether it’s a pointing finger or a pointing command, they react differently than other dogs. Over time, this improves as they learn to believe that you won’t hurt them if you yell or have a negative interaction with them.

4. Teaching

You need to teach rescue dogs things that most dogs already know how to do. Some need to learn to play with toys or relieve themselves outside. I had to teach my rescue dog to play with toys, walk up and down stairs, not chew his feet, and all the basic commands. These are milestones that may not seem important to dog owners who are not rescue dog owners, but they are very important in rescuing parents.

5. Socialization

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 introduced to humans and dogs. Socialization can be achieved in many different ways, and it’s up to you to find a way that works for both you and your pup. Some dogs benefit immensely from exposure therapy. You’ll also need a solid understanding of canine body language so you can monitor your dog’s comfort level. Putting the dog repeatedly in a situation that makes him nervous will eventually make him comfortable with the stimuli. For other dogs it 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 is getting them on their nerves.

6. Burglary and Marking

For shelter dogs who have never learned where to go to the bathroom, housebreaking can be a big rescue dog behavior that sometimes brings dogs back into the shelter. More often than not, they were severely reprimanded for crashes when they just didn’t understand where they should be eliminating. Male dogs will also mark in a new home or environment. They may feel uncomfortable or threatened, so this is an act to take ownership of the area or show dominance. Some dogs cannot be trained for this behavior depending on its severity. They make belly bands for this problem, and some male dogs might have to wear them at all times in the house.

7. Destructive behavior

Destructive behavior problems are usually related to separation anxiety or excessive energy. When dogs are anxious or bored, they may engage in destructive behavior simply for something to do or to calm their nerves. Reprimanding a dog that shows destructive behaviors is not the answer. Dogs do not act out of spite, but rather try to tell you that something is wrong. Consulting a professional dog trainer or dog behaviorist can help.

Rescue dogs will bring a level of unconditional love to your life, but they will test your patience and need help becoming a successful family member. Understanding rescue dog behavior can help you and your new dog become best friends. With love and lots of patience and practice, you will have a faithful and loving new member in your family.

What types of rescue dog behavior have you encountered? Tell us about the Wide Open Pets Facebook Page!

This article was originally published on February 21, 2020.

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