By: Saro Boghozian
Jonah’s Ark Doggie Playcare & Training
1611 Welch St. North Vancouver BC, V7P3G9
Web: Jonah’s Ark
These days, there are many ways for dog lovers to obtain dogs. One of these options is adopting a rescued dog.
Some dogs are unfortunate in that, for different reasons, they lose their homes and the owners, with whom they have bonded. Some are given away, some are rescued from irresponsible owners, and some get dropped off at shelters such as the SPCA, or get lost and sent to kill shelters.
Many dogs stay at no-kill shelters for months and months and some live with foster parents until they are adopted. Whichever way they end up, these dogs go through a major emotional roller coaster while they are being re-homed. In spite of the efforts of shelter workers or volunteers doing what they can to prepare and make the dogs adoptable, they still may have some difficulties.
In many cases, dogs are released to rescue groups or foster parents due to lack of space in the shelters. The problem that these well-meaning groups are facing is that some dogs start misbehaving after few days or a few weeks living with foster parents.
Foster homes are one of the key aspects in the adoption process. Without them, dogs may not have the chance to be re-homed. Foster homes are hard to find and have a very difficult duty on their hands. The foster home acts as a bridge between dog’s past and future as a first-hand observer.
Most foster parents are dog lovers and are willing to help, but loving dogs is not enough for the role they have taken on. They have to remember one crucial point before taking this role. The dogs that they foster are not regular dogs and should not be treated simply like any other dog.
In general, whether you are fostering or adopting a dog, you have to realize and be prepared to accept the fact that these dogs have some emotional and behavioral issues. They may exhibit behaviours right away or later, but it is just a matter of time.
To explain this more clearly, we need to see the situation in two perspectives: the dogs that are being adopted or fostered – and the humans, who are either adopting or fostering the dogs.
First, let’s look at it from the dogs’ point of view.
Due to whatever they had to go through, these dogs may not be mentally stable – they have not had a regular lifestyle or a healthy routine. Their lives have been filled with stress and instability. Even when some shelters try to provide a good life for them, it is still not their home. They often are kept in a kennel or in small rooms on concrete floors – an environment made even more stressful by the presence of other dogs who are as stressed as they are. They bark, growl, shiver and are not happy. This is not a healthy environment, even for a short period. Any dog or any person as a matter of fact, will not be normal after what many go through in the shelters. In the odd case, the dogs may have been given good food, they may have been walked in the parks, the staff may have pampered them, but their mindset has not been stable.
Dogs – whether they know it or not – are Pavlovian. That is, if a hungry dog is fed at a time it is experiencing a particular emotion, the dog can associate food with that emotion. If fed when sad, the mindset becomes sad = food. If fed when angry, it becomes anger = food. They relate the food to the feeling that they experience. If this procedure is repeated over and over again it creates a negative experience with the food that eventually could make the dog exhibit food aggression or food protection or in extreme cases the dog may shut down and not be interested in food at all.
There are many other scenarios that can happen at the shelters and the staff may or may not pick up on these behaviours. The fact is, dogs experiencing confusion and stress, learn to deal with them in their own ways – most likely not the right ways. This causes them to become unstable. Some will show immediate signs, but other canine stress-coping mechanisms may not be observed.
This is why it is very important to treat all dogs consistently, regardless of their past, where they come from, or the duration of their “trauma”.
To gain self-confidence, dogs need to be around people who are balanced leaders and who provide a routine. They need to start becoming balanced dogs: a dog that has self-confidence is calm and stable, social with people, other animals and objects. In order for dogs to be balanced, their daily needs must be fulfilled.
These needs are different than daily essentials, which are water, food and shelter. Needs are the elements that provide a natural, healthy structure for dogs to live in.
All dogs need five basic, common needs to be fulfilled. They are:
- Exercise (Preferably in the morning): Start the day with walking, hiking, running or jogging. Anything that will allow the dog to travel and burn pent-up energy. Exercise is an excellent way of releasing stress, anxiety and negative emotions. Remember a tired dog is a good dog.
- Training (Throughout the day): Try to re-establish the rules by starting with the basics. Practice the basic commands like: sit, come, stay… and move on to any other familiar commands. This will allow you and the dog to bond; will establish you as the person in charge and will maintain the dog’s respect.
- Socialization (Throughout the day): Now that you have exercised and trained the dog, allow the dog to socialize with other dogs and people. Include environment and objects such as: trees, cars, umbrellas, bicycles, etc. Socialization is training that is done one part by you and the other part, by other dogs with whom your new dog is socializing.
- Care (In the evenings): After steps 1 to 3, now is a good time to do a daily physical check to look for any cuts and bruises on the dog; brush his or her coat, clean his or her ears and check teeth…
- Affection (At the end of the day): Since you are performing the daily physical check, it is the perfect time to share affection and spoil them with love now, rather than throughout the day.
You need to be able to satisfy these needs in this order to start building a healthy path for your dog’s future. It does not matter how old, how small or how low or high energy they are, dogs all have these needs which need to be filled in moderate amounts.
Now, let’s look at this from human’s point of view. Humans love to help these dogs. They feel sorry for them. They are ready to provide shelter, food and love for these dogs. Unfortunately these attributes are not enough to start a relationship with a dog that is mentally unstable.
Once you understand why you need to act and behave differently with rescued dogs, you have a better chance to start bonding. It is crucial to learn how dogs behave – especially rescued dogs.
Some foster homes or adopters have their own dogs and some don’t. This may or may not be an issue. Sometimes the new dog is compared to their own dog and the same behaviours are expected which is not fair.
You may believe that your dog[s] is balanced, so it should be fine to add another dog to your family, but unfortunately, in most cases your dog[s] are not balanced. Your dog[s] may seem and act as if he/she is balanced, but that is because there has been no other canine competition in your home. Everything seems normal since your dog is used to the routine that you have created. In this case if you add another dog that is emotionally unbalanced and weak, to your own pack of dog[s] (who may be unbalanced), you have the perfect ingredients for disaster.
You may also have other pets like cats or your own children or both, and you are thinking of bringing a rescue dog into your family. With all these beings in your home, it is no surprise that when you add an unbalanced dog, it creates some sort of problem for the dog as well as for your whole family. So, in order to have another dog in your family, you must balance your own family first so you are able to provide stability for an additional dog.
If you have a balanced family including balanced dog(s), your dog(s) will be able to tolerate and help a rescued dog. The best way your balanced dog would be able to help would be to simply ignore the new dog’s bad behaviours. That is how a balanced dog helps other unbalanced dogs. Your balanced dog basically is sending a message that he does not agree with the unbalanced energy so is going to ignore that behaviour rather than being sensitive or reactive to it.
Whether you are one of those people who have or do not have dogs of your own, you need to be the one who is balanced mentally and physically to be capable of helping the new dog.
It may be hard for you to believe, but you must understand and remember that a weak and unbalanced dog does not need to be showered with affection at first in order to be helped. It works fine in human world, but not in the animal world.
What these dogs have been missing, until you came into their lives, is routine and activities that will make them feel relaxed (the five basic common needs) no matter what they have been through.
Now, you must reassure them that their nightmare is over, that they are in good hands, can relax and trust your capability to give them what they are going to need. If you start providing the five basic common needs as soon as you meet the dog and you do it on daily basis, you will not only have better success, but also, you will see a better behaving dog – one who is easy to deal with and one you are able to help. Moreover, the dog is going to respect you and will be more responsive to your guidance.
Keep in mind whenever a person shares affection automatically, it reflects weak energy. When a person is weak, obviously s/he is not strong or firm enough to be able to help others. If you are weak the same as the dog you are planning to help, you are both on the same level and nobody is helping anyone. That is why it is NOT recommended to start showering a dog with affection as soon as you meet it. The dog will not see you as a person who is strong enough to help. The dog will see you as another weak energy animal the same as s/he is. You will wonder why it is that when you try to help by asking the dog to listen and obey you, it will not listen and might even try to bite you. That is because you are at the same level it is or even lower than it is.
To be effective, you need to have a different mindset than dogs. They need you to be the one who is going to direct them to where they need to be going, which is forward. They don’t want to go back to the past or stay behind.
A touch of tough love should be the key to starting the relationship.
OTHER DOGS IN THE HOME:
Another rule to remember is if you have dog of your own, allow it to meet the new dog outside your home, which is more neutral ground for both. You should walk them together on leash side by side. This way you are sending a message to both dogs that you are in control; you are the one in charge. It is easier for both dogs to be introduced this way rather than forcing your dog to accept the new dog in the home. After you walk them, take them home with that mindset. It is much easier for your dog to accept the new dog in its territory after being introduced outside.
Do’s and don’ts of dealing with rescued dogs:
- Do prepare yourself and your family before adopting or fostering a dog.
- Do not start the relationship by sharing affection with the new dog.
- Do take the new dog for a long walk.
- Do make yourself available and capable of providing the five common needs of the dog.
- Do make yourself be firm, confident and positive about what you are doing.
- Do expect at least two weeks of adjustment time for the new dog and you to settle down.
- Do not give up quickly. The new dog is as confused and anxious as you – even after few days.
- Do not emotionally attach yourself to the new dog for the first two weeks, as the relationship may not work out even if you both have given it a fair try. Also, that emotional attachment will prevent you from making the right decision.
Enjoy your time with your new dog.