Adopting a Rescue Dog… Are you Ready?

Its a great thing to want to add a dog into your life, it’s an even better joy to bring a rescue dog into your home. It isn’t for everyone, but someone willing to bring a rescue dog into their home is starting a new journey with this dog.

Rescue dogs can be seen as something to fix, or change to suit your home. What people need to understand, that most of the time these dogs need someone, or some place to adjust to their massive change in circumstances. These dogs have had their whole life turned upside down, and need time to adjust to new things. While many settle into a new home quickly, some get over looked as their are not “quick fixes”.

Are you ready to walk into that rescue centre and not be drawn in by a look, but by that dogs personalty. Their behaviour, and exercise needs to suit you. To look past a fluffy breed, or a small dog in favour for one that really suits your home, and life. To be told no that dog isn’t suitable for you, no matter how hard you’ll work. Rescues are looking for homes that suit their dogs, not for you to change the dog to suit your home. These dogs need homes that match them most to help them settle in fastest, and forever.

Rescue dogs no matter how long they have been in rescue need time to adjust to new things. They need time to work out what is happening, and how their life is going to be. You cannot explain to a dog what is happening, they simply have to experience it. They cannot control their environment or day, but they can control how they interact with you. This little control is all some dogs have, and this is why they can lash out at the people trying to help them, why they turn into themselves or generally act out of character.

Even when that dog gets into a new home this behaviour can carry on. Dogs have no control of their life generally, and the choice to not got for a walk, or tell you to buzz off with growling is how they can make their own choices. Instead of deciding the dog is aggressive or not suitable see it from their point of view. See how all this change is huge for them. Yes your saving them, and offering them a new home, where they will be loved, but remember they don’t get to choose, and sometimes they want a choice.

When adopting a rescue dog, don’t dump them straight into the routine you want. Your busy life style might be great for them in time, but right now they might need a calm, and settled routine. They need to ease into the new life, of new walks, and new places. Of new canine and human neighbours. Of new home rules. Of new family. They need easing into the new home and its differences to their old home, or some dogs have never been in a home.

Do not expect a dog to just settle in straight away, they can do in time, but dogs need several weeks to feel at home in your home.  Some dogs takes up to 3 weeks to settle in a new home, this can seem like an age to most dog owners, and is why I often keep all my rescue dogs in for assessment for at least a month. After this time you’ll see the dogs true character. It is not uncommon for dogs to get worried or act out in order to cope with all the change. What you might see as normal, say having the family over for Sunday lunch, could be utterly terrifying for a new rescue dog. People coming in desperate to see them, cuddle them, or play with them. People this dog has never met, invading their new home. Well it is not surprising when this kind of crazy event takes place, that the very friendly dog suddenly becomes unfriendly.

Are you ready to commit time, training and your emotion into that dog? Is your family to make some adjustments to help that dog settle in, or work around their behaviour issues? Are you all ready for a dog that might take a year or more to become the dog of your dreams? If you are then a rescue dog is for you, if not you need to wait til your life can take one on. A rescue dog should never be an impulse idea.

Rescue dogs aren’t always hard work, they can benefit your life and change it for the better. Taking on a dog that needs lots of exercise can get your fitter, and healthier. A dog needing time to adjust to the world, can provide you with cuddles, love and attention. A young dog needing some retraining can help you sort out your organisation and time management skills.

Rescue dogs are amazing, and all deserve a home that suits them. But you need patience to help them settled.

Some top tips are:

  • Give the dog its own space, somewhere it can settle in the main room your use as a family, but not be bothered. The rule of thumb is that if the dog has taken themselves there you leave them alone, even if its time for a walk. Sometimes it is better to leave them settled then force a walk if they can’t cope with going out again.
  • Show them how to exit the house into the garden. This is a simple one. Most rescue dogs are house trained, and find it very stressful when they aren’t sure where to go to the loo. Showing them where the door into the garden is, and hovering there til they go, then rewarding it can help them settle.
  • Hand feed them, as long as the dog doesn’t have food aggression issues, then hand feed them. Show them you can provide them with the basic primal things such as food. In that food, add in the odd goodies such as chicken or treats. Obviously some dogs might be too nervous for this.
  • Look into a calming product such as Adaptil, Pet Remedy, or Rescue Remedy to help your dog settle in. They might need help to cope with the stress, and all this products can help de-stress the dog.
  • Play! Play is a huge bonding and learning exercise for dogs. They learn about you through it, it burns energy and reduces stress. Throw a ball about, hide treats for them to find, play rough and tumble games.
  • Seek help where needed, call the rescue and ask about the dog if theirs anything you need to know. Ask to work with a dog trainer when needed, to help nip some issues in the bud as soon as possible.

Also understand that sometimes the rescue dog you have chosen, might not be the one for you. You might be told by the rescue centre before meeting, you might have doubts after meeting them, you might not click in the home trial and you might find that over time, their behaviour still isn’t something you can deal with in 6 months time. Their is no judgement of anyone if a dog doesn’t suit you. Obviously rescues want dogs to find homes, but the right one, and they are happy to help anyone pick the right dog, but will also put their foot down if you are not the right home for that dog. You should never feel guilty for not being able to provide a home for that dog, because their will be the right dog for you somewhere.

Kathryn Jones FdSc AAB

A Clever Approach to Dog Training and Behaviour