There are many wonderful abandoned dogs out there looking for new homes, and adoption provides a great feeling of giving a dog that second chance.
It’s important that prospective owners remember they are looking for a dog to be a loved member of the family that will fit well into their lifestyle and not cause issues or heartache.
No matter how cute a dog is, when choosing a rescue dog it’s important not to let the heart rule the head. Dr. Katrina shares her tips on setting up your new rescue dog for success.
Setting a rescue dog up for success
Rescue dogs can come with their own special set of behaviours, due largely to the circumstances in which they’ve been living and/or due to their abandonment.
These behaviours can vary in intensity and seriousness but may include:
- Anxious behaviour
- Destructive behaviour
New owners need to understand that these behaviours may have developed because of fear and/or poor treatment. As with the more common problems, many of these issues can be overcome with good management and consistent training.
An understanding owner that’s prepared to develop a trusting bond with their rescue dog will help them overcome their fears and anxieties.
However, not every person will have the skills and time to take on a rescue dog with serious behavioural problems. If you find yourself in this situation, we recommend seeking assistance from an experienced professional trainer.
Training tips from Dr. Katrina
The key to success with a rescue dog is positive reinforcement, consistency and training. Lots of training.
Following are some simple tips to help get a rescue dog’s training off to a good start. These are tips I (Dr. Katrina) used to help my own adopted dog, Riley, settle in.
I remember when I first brought Riley home. He looked at me blankly when I spoke his name. He didn’t know his name because he’d been abandoned, and ‘Riley’ was a new name given to him by the shelter that meant nothing to him.
So my first step was to teach him his new name. Simply speaking or calling your rescue dog’s name often, and then rewarding their acknowledgement, is a good place to start.
Dogs like routine. It helps them feel secure. Establish your dog’s routine from the start. Feed them at the same time and in the same place every day.
If they’re not allowed on the furniture then keep them off the furniture right from the beginning. Make the rules of the house clear and be consistent. It will help your dog understand what’s expected of them and assist them with settling in.
Riley was fearful when I first brought him home. To build his confidence, I used food to my advantage. Instead of putting down a bowl full of food for him to eat in one go, I used his daily ration of food for training him.
I would call his name, then give him some food. I’d ask him to sit, then give him a treat, and so forth. Each time I asked him to do something, he would get a reward for doing so.
Be sure to keep your rescue dog on the lead for at least the first few days. You should keep them on the lead until you’ve established the following:
- They will come back when called
- They’re social with other dogs
- They’re not likely to be spooked or frightened by things going on around them
When you first let your rescue dog off the leash, you’ll need to do it in a space that is:
- Somewhere safe and quiet
- Not full of dogs or other distractions
- Somewhere they can’t easily access a road
When I first ventured to the park with Riley, I made sure that I always had a treat pouch full of food. I would never let him step far away from me before calling him and offering him a treat.
This process has set Riley up to have a wonderful recall and four years later, he always comes straight back to me when I call him in the park. Likewise, I used rewards to encourage him into my car and gradually built up his confidence in car travel from short trips to longer journeys.
Socialising your rescue dog is just like socialising a new puppy. Over time, you should carefully expose them to a wide range of different experiences to gauge how they respond.
New experiences could include bicycles, prams, busy roads, loud noises, children, and so on. You will soon develop an understanding of anything that frightens them. With this knowledge, you can develop a strategy to initially avoid the problem and eventually modify their behaviour.
Riley had a tendency to become destructive when left home alone. To help combat this, I always try to give him a lot of exercise right before I go out for an extended period of time.
I always give him something to chew on when I leave the house and I use dog toys that dispense food to keep him entertained when I’m not around.
Anxious behaviour around separation needs to be distinguished from boredom, although both can result in destructive behaviour.
Amongst other things, affected pets may follow their owners from room to room and may behave anxiously when they anticipate you are about to leave the house.
These dogs need to be rewarded for all calm behaviour and encouraged to spend time on their own when you are home. Don’t allow them to follow you around the house and avoid carrying small dogs from room to room.
Providing chew toys and food dispensing toys to keep your dog occupied can help – the actual chewing process can provide stress relief for an anxious dog. Lots of exercise can also be beneficial.
Made with Australian hemp oil for dogs, Houndztooth’s Hemp Anxiety Aid has been professionally formulated and may help ease anxiety in your dog, including any separation anxiety your new rescue dog may experience.
Despite a difficult start, Riley is now a happy, well-behaved member of my family. Riley wasn’t the perfect rescue dog – he had a variety of health and behaviour issues – but he was perfect for me.
His rehabilitation required experienced management and consistent training (and a lot of effort and tolerance!) on my part. The outcome has been very rewarding for everyone, including Riley.
I honestly believe that almost any rescue dog can be happy and well-behaved. It just largely depends on sensible management and the quality and amount of love and training their new owner provides.
I’m optimistic that one day, in the not too distant future, there will be fewer dogs like my Riley ending up in pounds and shelters. I hope that soon there will be more people seeing the value in rescue dogs and that no healthy, adoptable dog will be euthanized.