As we get closer to having dogs this week it’s good to review some of the issues that rescue dogs can have prior to adoption. Please know that dogs need training whether they are puppies or any other age. If you are thinking it’s easy then maybe a dog is not for you. But if you are willing to work hard, invest in training, listen and watch for cues, do research, and call us with problems before they get out of control a rescue dog could be the best part of your life.
 
I can honestly say that compared to other stories I have heard about rescue dogs we got off pretty easy. As I look back at our two-plus years with Coconut I think the main difference between me and those who chose to rehome their dog after one last straw happened is that I was naïve. I knew nothing about dogs and I’m really stubborn. I figured that I was smarter than any dog and more stubborn. I was wrong on both counts. But I also refuse to give up and that was my saving grace.
 
The other thing about me is that I don’t care if I sound stupid so I ask lots and lots of questions and now I have learned that there are no stupid questions when it comes to rescuing, training, and making a dog part of your family.
 
That said, rescuing Coconut has been one of the most rewarding, challenging, and joyful times that I’ve done maybe ever. I will say it’s also been costly beyond the vet bills and food but I will take all the blame for that.
 
The first thing to remember is that getting a dog settled into your home, understanding their quirks, and training them is a long marathon and not a quick sprint. No matter how cute or how long you’ve waited, turning your dog into a beloved family member is not an overnight event. It will take time to gain your new dog’s trust and establish those habits that allow him to live peacefully in your home.
 
Besides being a rescue, each dog comes with their unique breed characteristic and most rescue dogs are not purebred so that means multiple breeds. They also have their unique personalities as well as being in certain stages of their development. A ten-week puppy will be a different challenge than a three-year-old who has never lived in a home before.
 
The biggest challenge is not knowing their past. As a rescue, we try and get information from the Kentucky high-kill shelter but more often than not we have zero clues as to the multiple things that your dog has gone through that might pose training and behavioral problems.
 
The best thing to do is to assume that all rescue dogs will have all or some of these obstacles when they finally make it to your home. Neglect or abuse or sometimes both combined with their own quirks will complicate things but with hard work, love, training, and being unwilling to give up most new owners end up saying that adopting their rescue was the best decision of their life.
 
A big part of loving a rescue dog is understanding why they behave the way they do. If you can understand why they might be acting unfavorably, you have a better shot at being able to re-train your rescue. So here are a few of the issues that many or most rescue dogs have that can cause problems in their new homes.
 
Food Aggression/Resource Guarding
 
Dogs that have been neglected, or a stray for a long time, get protective of their food. They may have lived day to day having to fight for food or not knowing when they were going to get their next meal. So when they do have food, they get protective- sometimes snarling and even biting because they feel threatened.
Imagine if there are young children who get too close to the dog at mealtimes. Another dog in the mix could also be a problem.
 
Some dogs outgrow this behavior after being in a home, putting on weight, and realizing that no one is going to take their food away. Other dogs need to be crated when they get fed for this reason.
 
If we have been advised that food aggression is a problem or we see it at our shelter we will advise potential families and make recommendations such as dog-only home or no children under the age of twelve.
 
Resource guarding is essentially the same as food aggression, but including food and all other objects, and even people. These behaviors respond well to training.
Fear
 
This is a very common and very unique challenge for each dog. We don’t know their story and even which fear they come with and why they are fearful. Usually when faced with fear dogs have a fight or flight response, each of which is equally dangerous.
 
My dog’s response was flight and he destroyed property trying to escape. Thankfully, I realized that stuff could be replaced and decided to work with him. Dogs have been known to break through windows, chew through walls and doors, or whatever else they need to do to get away from whatever is scaring them. Depending on their strength even being leashed is not a 100% guarantee because they can pull and run away. For this reason microchipping and tags essential in the event that they do run away.
 
Fighting can quickly turn into aggressive behavior but both flight and fight responses are highly trainable and positive reinforcement helps.
 
Discipline
 
My dog hates loud noises and sounds and even barking. We have no idea of why, but when we discipline with a loud voice it’s not only useless but it scares him more. Some dogs respond badly even to a pointed finger and they do pick up on body language and your anger and stress. Time, consistency, and learning their language and triggers are all needed to make discipline not part of the bigger problem.
 
Teaching
 
Potty training, leash walking, playing with toys, not chewing on what is not theirs, going up and downstairs, and basic commands are all things that need to be taught. These all seem basic but if a dog has lived in the wild or been neglected by a previous owner it will be a big deal to reach these milestones. The good news is that there are lots of fun ways to teach your new dog these things.
 
Socializing
 
Depending on the background of the rescue, socializing either with humans or dogs can prove difficult. This is largely based on the history of the specific rescue dog and how they were treated or introduced to humans and dogs. For example, my dog hates loud parking and nothing in the world will get him to go and meet a dog who parks like crazy in a loud, and to him, an aggressive manner.
Socializing can be achieved in many different ways, and it is up to you to find a way that works for both you and your pup. Working with a trainer or a behaviorist helps as well as lots of online searching can help.
 
Housebreaking/ Marking
 
If a dog has had the freedom to go wherever he wants because he lives in the wild or has owners who don’t care this can be a huge problem. Our FAQ page and blog have many articles and links on this topic.
 
Rescue dogs bring an unconditional level of love to your life, but they will test your patience and need some help to become a successful family member. With hard work, you and your new dog can become best friends. With love and lots of patience and training, you’ll have a loyal, loving new member of your family.