If you have adopted, or are considering adopting, a rescue dog—that's terrific! Bringing home a rescue dog changes that pup's entire life in a profound way. However, that also means more than a few changes in your life as well. Unfortunately, many rescue dogs also come with a sad history of neglect, which may translate into problematic behaviors and tendencies. But with enough love, time, and training, you can correct even the most problematic behaviors.
Trust and Anxiety Issues
There are some cases where rescue dogs immediately warm up to their new owners, giving lots of kisses and love. But many pups who are rescued have moderate to severe trust and anxiety issues, and it's no wonder. Some of these dogs have been tossed out in the cold, others dealt with long-term abuse and some lived in horrible conditions, surrounded by their own waste. They've been dealt a pretty bad hand in life, and they haven't had a good reason to trust anyone or anything. They're worried about how their new owners will treat them and what they will encounter. How they act depends largely on their past experiences. If a pup suffered abuse at the hand of a man, she may be more trusting of women and flee to her secure spot if a guy comes within five feet of her. And sometimes the dog may not trust anyone, shying away from all interaction.
A lot of times, rescue dogs haven't experienced anything aside from neglect. The first time you brighten one's life and bring her home, she's seeing and hearing things that can be really scary at first. You would think every dog loves squeakers, or at least tolerates them, but dogs who've never had toys before may freak out when they hear that first squeak. On the flip side, there are certain stimuli that a rescue dog may have associated with negative experiences. A classic example is a newspaper. It's harmless in your hand, but your new furry friend may have been smacked with newspapers before, so when you lift one up, she cowers.
It's not uncommon to bring your little rescue girl home and hear a deep growl when you walk past her food bowl, struggle to keep her from lunging and sinking her teeth into another dog or otherwise witness aggression. Something usually triggers the aggressive episodes. If she grew up in a hoarding situation, she may have had to compete for food, which would explain possession aggression. If she was neglected, she may act aggressively out of fear. Even though you removed her from her awful situation, her aggressive tendencies still remain. She doesn't know that another dog won't steal her food or that she doesn't need to fight for her life upon encountering another canine.
Some rescue dogs may not have any trust issues, few irrational fears and not an ounce of aggression, but you can almost guarantee they'll all have bad habits. The first few weeks, months or even years with your new rescue will probably result in you trying to break some of those nasty habits. She may jump on people, rip up the couch, destroy things when you leave, relieve herself on your floor and may act like she's deaf when you try to stop her.
Fixing All the Issues
Remember that no matter what problems your rescue comes with, she can be trained and counterconditioned so that all those bad habits, aggressive tendencies, fears and trust issues will go by the wayside. Showing her lots of love and teaching her basic obedience with positive reinforcement will help her warm up to you and mold her into a better behaved canine. As for deep-seated fears, aggression and severe behavior problems, talk to a certified dog trainer, especially if she's aggressive.
By Chris Miksen
About the Author
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.