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Rescue Regrets: common problems with rescue dogs

Having a dog is a hugely rewarding experience, and there’s no doubt the feeling doubles when that dog is adopted from a rescue. Offering a dog another chance at a happy life is amazing, but it’s not without its challenges.  


While it’s easy to criticise rescue centres for being overbearing with their requirements when it comes to potential adopters, they do so for good reason. They know precisely how difficult a rescue dog can be, so it’s important to take into consideration your current family situation, lifestyle, and home environment, as well as earlier experience, when deciding if a dog is right for you.  


No two rescue dogs are the same; however, there are some common issues many rescue dogs can experience, all of which can cause some problems for their new owners. With the right guidance, training, support, and huge consistency, many of these issues can be improved or resolved.  

So, what may you be faced with?  

   

Poor social skills  

Compared to other dogs, many rescue dogs have poor social skills. This is mainly because they’ve not had the opportunity to experience positive interactions during their formative window—up to six months of age. As a result, they can be overbearing or very anxious when meeting other dogs, neither of which makes for positive interactions.  


Although there is no immediate quick fix for this issue, the good news is that with time and patience, poorly socialised dogs can become desensitised and learn to interact more positively with other dogs (and humans). The reality is that, as an owner, you need to play the long game with this kind of problem, and consistency will be your best friend.  

   

Lead reactivity  

Many rescue dogs do not cope well with being on the lead. While we know it’s there to keep them safe and under control, for your dog, this can be restrictive and cause anxiety. As a result, they struggle and fight against it, which, depending on their temperament and size, can lead to handler injuries.  


Some dogs cope very well with being on the lead until they’re in the presence of another dog. Thinking back to poor social skills, many dogs are likely to experience a degree of anxiety when they see another dog approaching. For the dog, this is an unknown factor, and with earlier negative associations, it’s something they’re likely to want to avoid.  


In a natural environment, your dog is likely to want to turn tail and run to get away from the situation. The problem now, though, is that you’ve put your dog on a lead, which means the other part of their fight or flight instinct must kick in, and that’s why your dog may start growling, snapping, or lunging at dogs approaching or passing by.  

   

Anxiety  

Rescue dogs have rarely been properly socialised, which means they are not used to new sounds, sights, smells, people, or places. As a result, they tend to have reduced confidence and don’t know how to handle new situations because they just don't have the experience.  

   

A car alarm, a vacuum cleaner, or even a fork being dropped on the floor can all be worrying events for your rescue dog, and it takes patience and a lot of positive reinforcement to encourage them to accept such things as part of their everyday lives. 

 

It’s impossible to know what your rescue dog has experienced in the past, but the reality is that they are likely to have had a lot of upheaval. This means they’re more likely to suffer from separation anxiety; they won’t know where you’ve gone when you’re coming back or what will happen to them while you’re away.  


The good news is that, in most cases, separation anxiety can be worked through and resolved.  

   

Resource guarding  

Many dogs can develop resource-guarding behaviours. This tends to happen when a dog fears their prized possession—food, a toy, or even a person—is going to be taken from them. This fear often prompts aggressive behaviours, which can range from a growl to barking and even biting.  

Dogs who have been raised in difficult circumstances or on the streets may have learned to fight for whatever they need.


The good news is that learned behaviours can become unlearned with time, patience, and a strong plan of action. In some cases, it may simply be a situation of managing the behaviour, especially if you do not have other pets or children living in the home.  


Alternatively, you may want to enlist the support of a dog trainer to help with behaviour modification.  

   

Destructive behaviour  

Chewing is a perfectly normal and natural canine behaviour; it can help keep your dog’s jaws strong, their teeth clean, provide mental stimulation, and generally make them feel good. However, when you come home to find your sofa has been destroyed, it’s hard to take any comfort in it.  


Destructive chewing can have many causes, but for most dogs, regardless of their background, it can stem from stress, frustration, anxiety, or boredom. As such behaviour is a symptom of another problem, once you know why your dog is being destructive, you can start to take steps to resolve the problem.  

   

Housetraining  

Many people assume that when they adopt an older dog, it will already have been housetrained!  

The stark reality is that not all dogs in shelters are there because they are stray or street dogs. Some have surrendered because of a change in family circumstances, whether it be because of divorce, debt, or even bereavement. Others are there because of challenging behaviours an owner feels powerless to cope with.  


As their new owner, you are going to have to take the time to teach them the behaviours and habits you want to see in them. Maybe they need to learn to communicate that they want to go outside. It may be that they have never lived in a home before and have absolutely no concept of toilet training.  

If you go into your relationship with your new adopted dog with the acceptance that there will be some form of toilet training needed, things are likely to progress much more smoothly. Older dogs absolutely can learn new tricks; it may just take a little more time and patience.  

   

Adopting a rescue dog is immensely rewarding and something we wish more people felt able to do. The reality is that most of the dogs who end up in shelters were once much-loved and wanted puppies, which makes it difficult to understand the obsession with getting pups. They require a lot of hard work, and an inability to put that work in often leads to the adult dogs being surrendered.  

   

The gift of giving a dog another chance at happiness is worth it; they deserve all the support we can give, and so do you.  

 

With that in mind, if you do have any questions or queries, please feel free to contact us here at Paws for Thought

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