Congratulations! You just rescued a dog! You already went to the pet store and got them all set up. Good food, toys, leash, collar and a sparkly new tag proudly claiming your new pet as your own. You bring them home and get ready to embark on your new lives together.
This wondrous day is unfortunately often the beginning of one mistake after another which results in exacerbation of behavior problems, development of new ones, and the worst case scenario, returning the dog back to the shelter.
We as humans hear the sad stories of horrific lives led by these poor creatures and want nothing more than to just “save” them. What we often do, is save them physically, while stalling them emotionally. With the best of intentions we embark on our journey with our new canine friend.
Please understand that the number one reason dogs are relinquished to shelters is due to behavioral problems that were preventable, but allowed to flourish. It is more important to understand that behavioral problems are FIXABLE. We encourage adoption and hope to help many a “damaged” dog become a healthy happy member of the family.
We’ll list several common mistakes we see from rescue day to “Thank you for calling Chris The Dog Trainer, How may we help you?”
Selecting the dog
When we go to the shelter to pick out a new dog, we often don’t know exactly what we are looking at. Sure, there are tons and tons of adorable furry faces with big eyes begging to go home with you. Which one is right for you and your family? Often dogs are chosen based on two criteria: how cute they are or how sad their story is. When choosing a dog it is important to take into account many factors. Their age, energy level, size, temperament etc are all very critical to your future happiness.
If adopting a senior pet, can you financially afford their vet care? If you have a hectic work schedule, can you devote the time for exercise for a high energy breed? Is it fair to get a Labrador retriever if you live in one bedroom apartment? If the dog has behavioral problems can you devote the time and money to training?
All of these questions are often not asked, however they get answered fairly quickly and usually the hard way. The dog that looked “so sad” huddled in the back of the cage is likely extremely fearful and will need very specific and often professional training. The cutie that was jumping up on the bars barking at you is likely more dominant and will need training as well.
The first ride home
Little Fido is all over the back seat, maybe into the front, looking out the window and having a blast! You may even open the window a little so they can hang their head outside. You smile at them in the rear view mirror and talk to him the whole ride home. “You going home ? Gonna see your new house? Yes you are, who’s a good dog ?! You’re going home!”
We have just taught your dog that we have no control over the situation, no rules for riding in the car and that they will be praised and encouraged to be in an overly excited state.We have told them to make up their own rules for the car.
Entering the house
You bring your new dog into the home and let them run loose and investigate their new surroundings. they go from room to room checking things out as you stand there with a proud smile. Translation:You own all this. We have no rules for how we behave in the house and you must decide for yourself what to do. Anything you want will be fine with us…..
This is a BIG one. “I just RESCUED them from prison! I’m not putting them back in there!” This is a human concept not a canine one. Dogs are den animals and prefer to have a nice comfy place to call their own. Especially in a new environment, having their “own room” will make them feel more comfortable and less anxious. There is no question about what to do when they are in there. They lie down and relax or chew a toy. The crate should be kept in a common area of the house so they can be part of everything that goes on, without getting involved where they shouldn’t.
It also KEEPS THE DOG OUT OF TROUBLE…..we forget they are babies that don’t speak our language. Yet, we expect them to always know exactly what we want or don’t want from them. Most parents I know have used a playpen for their kids. A crate for a dog is no different. Just like with kids no longer needing a playpen, when the dog knows what to do and how to behave safely they no longer need their crate.
No immediate medical checkup
This is very important. Just because the dog is spayed or neutered and “had all of their shots,” does not mean they should not go immediately to the vet. As mentioned earlier the vast majority of shelter dogs come with some degree of behavioral problems and there are many medical conditions that can mimic behavioral ones. (Eliminating in the house is the number one there.)To be fair to the dog you must always rule out medical problems first. Treating a problem with training that the dog cannot help because they have something wrong with them will not only prove futile, but make things much worse.
Letting them just “settle in”
We excuse transgressions that need to be addressed because the dog is new to the house and hasn’t figured out what to do yet. He peed on the rug because you didn’t know his schedule, he chewed your couch because he’s teething, he growled when you went near his food because he must have had to fight for it before. “He’s new, he’ll settle in.”
Nobody ever wants to show any discipline to a new dog on the first day. As humans, we understand that. As dog trainers we know it is the most critical time to start implementing the rules and teaching the dog the ropes.It is the only way to make our new dog feel relaxed,comfortable and truly welcome into our family.
What we inevitably tell them is that there are no rules, you are not in fact the leader and therefore have no directions for them. So what choice do they really have? Of course they are going to make up their own rules. And canine decisions in a human world are what we refer to as behavior problems. Only a clear understanding of what is expected of them, who is in charge of decisions and a consistent, patient instruction each and every time is what actually will help these dogs to “settle in.”
Living in the dog’s past
Several issues we find with rescue dogs are fear, anxiety, barking, whining, chewing, jumping, aggression, begging, stealing, the list goes on and on. We blame the dogs past, and feel for them in their pain.
“I think he was abused.” “They said they were neglected.” We hear many descriptive and quite horrific stories on a daily basis. While these things may be true, it is very important to know that they just as easily may NOT be true. Often times we just don’t know what happened to the dog and we make things up to justify the behavior.
The good news is: IT IS ALL IRRELEVANT.
Dogs live in the present and are not thinking about what happened to them prior to entering your home. They are looking for their place within your pack and want to know the rules of your pack. When they have no rules, no direction and no clear communication, they do not know what to do, who to trust to lead them and it makes them very anxious.
It is also important to realize that dogs do not ever do anything without a valid reason. At least it’s valid from their perspective which is the vantage point in which we need to be looking. Dogs do not have the ability to speak human and never will, yet we all have the ability to understand and speak dog.
Every single behavior problem needs to be addressed the same way and from the first time it happens. Any dog, rescue or not, enters your home and immediately begins to look for its place in the pack, as well as to try and ascertain what the rules are for this pack.
Waiting for them to do it themselves, only causes the opposite to happen and frustration for us as well as the dog. Loving their fear away will never work, it only praises them for their fearful behavior and keeps them in that state indefinitely.
Imagine the worst thing that ever happened to you. Now imagine someone reminding you of it every single day. That is what happens to the dog when we “empathize” with them over their former lives.
Live in the present with your dog. You know that you will always care for them and never hurt them so there is no reason for you to live in the past. Have a bright and happy future with your dog by learning from them how to simply live in the moment.