The key words when taking on any rescue dogs are Patience, Consistency, and Calmness. When you get your rescue dog home it is very tempting to try to be over-cheerful with it, and attempt to jolly it along. This very rarely works, since the dog has no idea that you are (hopefully) the answer to its prayers, and that everything will be ok from now on. It`s important to be very quiet, and low-key, as if nothing very remarkable is taking place. This is especially true for the traumatized dogs, and those who have suffered abuse and cruelty – sadly, both common factors. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t offer your new arrival/s affection, but take it slowly, and keep it quiet. It never works to shout at a rescue dog (dare I say, any dog?), and this is where you may need a great deal of patience!
Bear in mind that if you are taking a traumatized dog, it may take weeks or even longer for it to start to trust you at all, and in these cases, it is often best to leave the dog in peace until it feels able to come to you, or to join in family life with you and, possibly your other animals. In these cases, gently put the feed down for the dog at set times, leave the dog on its own, but keep a discreet eye open to see how it behaves, and to ensure it is getting food. In time, the dog will come to you, and you can let it join in and relax.Above all, make sure it has its own cozy place to sleep and feel safe.
Some common “problems” :
This one is difficult to understand, and may only occur with dogs who have had to share food with other dogs, or who move in to a new home where there are dogs already. The dog eats its food and then pees on its bowl – or even on another dog`s bowl! The only way to handle this is to say “NO” very quietly (remember, no shouting…), and to remove the bowl as soon as you can when the dog finishes eating. Eventually, the problem should disappear, but it may take a while, and you are well advised to watch carefully whilst the dog is feeding and remove the bowl before there it time for a pee!!
Another difficulty with very nervous/abused dogs is that you call them (facing them) and they either try to go the other way, or stand rooted to the spot. Try calling the dog gently, but walk in the direction you want it to go. Keep it casual! Dogs are naturally nosey, and chances are it will follow, probably at a safe distance. This one is usually easier to cure, and as soon as the dog begins to trust you, it should come to you. Even so, don`t stand facing it and cheerfully patting your knees – it will smell a rat!
Putting on a lead : many rescue dogs have been tied up, and even cruelly treated whilst tied up, and very often these dogs panic if you try to put on a lead. A perfectly gentle dog may bite if panicked, so try not to put a lead on too soon, and if the dog really panics, you could try a body harness instead. Even so, there are some souls who will never accept a lead. All you can do is assume that there is a very good reason for this reaction, and it is certainly not appropriate to regard it as bad behaviour. Please do not punish the dog! If you absolutely need to put the dog on a lead or harness, and you encounter difficulties, your vet may be able to help – sometimes, temporary sedation is the only solution, but it doesn`t always work.
I find that it is very often a good idea to change the dog`s name, if it has one, as soon as you get it home. Dogs seem to have no problem accepting a new name, and it represents a break with it`s former life, so everyone starts fresh. Obviously, if you get no response, by all means use the old name, but use the new one at the same time, until you can dispense with the old name.
Bear in mind that rescue dogs very often have to learn how to play. Toys are very important for any dog, and we find that leaving toys around (particularly soft toys, until you know the dog, since some dogs are worried by squeaky toys) is a good idea. It`s also very rewarding when your fragile new friend decides to give it a go one day, and picks up a toy. They won`t necessarily want to play with you just yet, but the important thing is that the dog is relaxing enough to want to experiment. Rawhide chews are also a very good idea, and usually get accepted almost immediately!!
This may all sound a bit daunting, but most rescue dogs are not a problem, and turn out to be delightful animals! Some adapt almost immediately – they are the lucky ones – but whatever your experience, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your new arrival make progress. With really traumatized dogs, I have been known to phone friends to announce each small step forward!! And now, 25 years later, I would only have rescue dogs. They will show you what true affection, loyalty and gratitude mean – assets many humans don`t really understand.