One thing we must be very aware of is how we label our dogs. Labeling a dog is often unproductive. “Aggressive,” “abused,” “stubborn,” all these put our dogs in a category but give us nothing productive to work with. “Rescue dog” is one such label that automatically comes with emotions. We feel sorry for the dog, we feel guilty of it’s past life, and so we may treat it differently and not be seeing the dog for what they are in the present state. These emotions can interfere with training, such as when an owner attempts to comfort their dog, but is inadvertently reinforcing unwanted behaviors. A client had a newly adopted dog named “Chuck” who was found as a stray. He was severely underweight, weak, and suffering from a broken rear leg. His loving owners catered to him and nursed him back to good health. It was only then, when he got his spunk back, they discovered he was quite a handful! Initially any misbehavior was alibied by his “bad past.” He continued to be coddled and spoiled to the point where training became a necessity, and emotions had to be set aside. He certainly wasn’t dwelling on his past, so why should we? Every dog needs some discipline, they need a leader, and they will love you all the more for it.
The biggest concern with adopted dogs is that we just don’t know what type of past experiences they’ve had. When you rescue a dog, you love them despite flaws, and you know it may take to patience and work to rehabilitate them. But as dog parents, we question why does our dog act this way? Well it may make you feel better to know that even pedigreed purebreds who have been with the same family since puppyhood can have all the same behavior problems and issues! It’s not just a “rescue dog” phenomenon, it’s “dog problems.”
Was my dog abused? Many owners of rescue dogs wonder this. Maybe they were, and maybe they weren’t. A shy or skittish temperament is not necessarily caused by abuse, but is often due to a lack of early socialization or a genetic predisposition. When it comes down to it, dogs live in the here and now, and so should we. If your dog has fear issues, phobias, or anxieties, these can all be addressed through training and counter-conditioning exercises. It takes patience and love. Finally, remember that every dog needs a strong leader to feel safe. Dogs sense our emotions, and oftentimes we are the ones who are the most anxious, frustrated, or stubborn– not the dogs. Before you automatically label your dog, take a good look at yourself and the part you may be playing in the equation.