My first ever dog was Rocky, a 150lb Rottweiler with a troubled past and an attitude to match. Not the type of dog an inexperienced, first time dog owner should get, but I was sure I could handle it. I quickly realized I was in over my head, but I had been taught that pets were forever, no matter what. So, Rocky and I headed off to doggie school and began a long, hard, frustrating, and immensely rewarding journey.
Adopting a “damaged” dog is a journey I would recommend to anyone, because at the end there is a great dog waiting to make you his everything.
But should you adopt a dog with behavior problems?
It's crucial to set realistic expectations for yourself and the dog. If you're willing to put in the effort to work through any issues, that's fantastic. However, if you have limitations, be honest with yourself and the rescue organization you're adopting from. Rescues want to avoid "returns," so they'll give you all the necessary information, and it's up to you to decide if you can handle it. Multiple re-homing can be as damaging to a dog's well-being as abuse or neglect.
Consider the following
Time – Evaluate your work and leisure commitments and determine how much time you can dedicate to a dog. Lack of time is one of the main reasons dogs end up in shelters.
Resources – Be prepared for additional expenses like a trainer or training equipment.
Preparedness – Do you have enough knowledge about dogs, their body language, their needs, and the specific behavior issues you'll be dealing with? Are you ready to face some stress, frustration, and maybe even shed a few tears?
Space – Remember that you'll need enough room for the dog and their baggage. Create a dedicated space for timeouts, introductions, or simply for the safety of both you and your dog.
Common Behavior Problems
Rescue organizations aim to find forever homes where the dog and the family are a good fit. They'll inform you about potential behavior issues. These problems can stem from genetics, abuse, neglect, or simply a lack of training in their previous home.
Here are some common behavioral issues in dogs:
Some of the most common behavioural issues in dogs
- Separation anxiety
- Food aggression and resource guarding
- Fearfulness or shyness
- Poor socialization
(You can find great articles on common behavior problems and how to spot them on the ASPCA website)
Making It Work - Coming Home
There will be ups and downs in this journey. Every dog is unique, and behavior issues vary, but there are key elements that all dogs need to thrive:
Always remain calm
Calmness is paramount, whether your dog is aggressive, shy, or fearful. You can't build trust if everyone is anxious. Even an aggressive dog can be soothed by a calm and reassuring person.
Dogs are adept at reading humans and can sense anxiety, fear, or anger. They pick up on changes in our tone of voice and reflect our mood.
Take a deep breath
Speak in a low, soothing tone. Dogs respond better to deep, alto-type voices. Keep your body language calm as well. Avoid flailing or pacing, as these gestures can be interpreted as aggression by dogs. They need a calm, relaxed, and confident person to feel at ease before they can learn new behaviors. (Doghealth.com provides valuable insights into a dog's ability to sense our emotions.)
Your new companion will learn faster when you consistently reinforce positive behavior and correct unwanted behavior. Treats can be a fantastic training tool. Keep a baggie of small treats handy for rewards.
Don't let bad behavior go unchecked; correct it until your dog understands what they should do. Remember, you are the leader of the pack, setting and enforcing the rules.
It may take weeks, months, or even years for your dog to fully adjust to their new life. Some dogs may have endured significant trauma, making it challenging for them to unlearn negative lessons from the past. Don't rush or force change. They'll overcome obstacles when they're ready. Impatience and frustration go hand in hand, and a frustrated human means a frustrated dog.
Your home should be a safe haven for your dog. Provide comfort and reassurance. Stay positive and always keep your cool. Together, we can create a loving and supportive environment for our furry friends.