Rehoming a dog, as I am sure you know, is a big commitment. It’s as difficult as it is rewarding- but not always, there are exceptions to the rules. I have rescued dogs since I was small and no two have been the same and each one taught me a new lesson, lessons that guide me even today.
I have spoken to a group of rescue dog parents from the charity Saving Pound Dogs Cyprus (SPDC) with the intent to provide information for anyone facing the arrival of a rescue dog, I asked them to tell me about an unexpected challenge that they were confronted with, how they overcame this challenge and also any advice they would go back in time and give themselves before the new family member entered their lives.
This blog is a summary of these conversations and I hope it offers invaluable advice and insight for any of you at the beginning of your rescue journey. If you’re having issues that are not addressed in this blog, please contact me so that I can help you. The best place to do so is my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Hazel rescued with SPDC by Katherine Rigby-Jones.
1. The dog that you see in the first 2 to 3 weeks is not the dog that you have adopted: this came up a lot! Rescue dogs come from such a vast array of backgrounds and sometimes we really do not understand the extent of what they’ve already been through and experienced in their rather short lifetime. It will take your dog some time to decompress, to learn to relax and for their true personality to emerge. Some parents mentioned that their dogs didn’t go to the toilet for the first 24 hours, some cried for an entire day, some spent 2 weeks shy and nervous before turning out to be a rather exuberant and mischievous young dog. Every day is different for the first 3 months so take your time, lower your expectations and ask for help.
This is Toothless adopted from SPDC by Chlo Jeremy; he was a very unhappy dog that did not want to be friends with anyone for the first few weeks, now he loves to cuddle with the resident dogs and cats!
2. Many owners wanted to talk about the ‘neediness’ that they experienced in the beginning and they want you to know that in most cases, this is not forever. It can be daunting when you’ve had the freedom to come and go as you please and then suddenly there is a being in your home that relies solely on you, that needs your constant love and affection. In the early day’s people found they were being followed around and their new dogs would cry and howl whenever they left a room or the house. Your dog has just entered a place in which they do not yet feel safe, surrounded by strange people, smells and noises and therefore it is normal for many to be ‘clingy’ whilst they settle down. Take it slow and work on building a bond with your dog and create a ‘safe haven’, teaching them that they are safe with you but also safe within their environment. See my other blog on teaching dogs to be confident being alone.
3. Even if a dog has been toilet trained in their previous environment, it does not mean they will be in your home. Not only have the rules most likely changed in this new environment but so have their emotions. They may need you to accompany them to the garden to toilet as it’s too scary to go alone, you may need to encourage them by scattering food across the garden to get them sniffing. You may need to keep any eye on them to help them to learn there are areas where they should not go to the toilet. Be compassionate, you do not know what their previous learning experience has been or what was expected of them before they came into your life.
This is Willow (featured on the One Show) adopted from SPDC by Josh & Gemma Marlow she took a little while to understand where she was supposed to go to the toilet and had a few accidents before she figured it out.
4. Your dog may never have been on a lead before, they may not have ever been walked or they may have but had negative experience in doing so. Imagine if you were scared of something and then I put you on the end of a rope and tried to walk you past several of the scary things each day for no apparent reason… When you put it like that you can understand why this can be a difficult concept for so many rescue dogs that didn’t get that ideal practice as a puppy. Your new rescue dog may bark at people, dogs and cars, it might lunge and pull towards them or worse. Give your dog the time to decompress before you consider taking them for a walk and adding to all of their stress, allow at least 72 hours and if you’re not sure how they are in a lead, try the garden first! A great quote from one of the adopters, Ali was: ‘The moral of the story is that physical exercise IS important, but feeling safe and calm is even more important.’
5. If you’re told your rescue dog already has some training then awesome! Just remember that your dog’s behaviour is not constant, learning and training are often driven by context, environment and relationships. Do not assume that because the person before you says ‘he can go off-lead’ that your dog will have good recall with you. I suggest starting back from the basics and building this up because the better your relationship the easier you’ll find the training. Find a local trainer that can guide you through the basics of lead walking, recall and general manners- it will pay off. See the IMDT website for your local positive reinforcement based professional.
6. In some cases your dog has been rather unlucky and has had to really struggle to survive, unfortunately this can create learning that causes undesirable habits in a household. Some of these dogs may never have lived in a house before and the ramifications of their lives on the street may mean bins are raided, counters are surfed, night times are disturbed, personal space is protected and resources are possessed. Your dog is not doing this to be naughty and to cause problems, your dog is doing this because they do not know any other way.
Bailey, adopted from SPDC by Lucy Taylor was very nervous when he arrived and it took him awhile to come out of his shell and show his owners his wonderful personality.
7. You might not get it right the first time and that’s ok! Learning from mistakes and allowing your dog to grow is what is important. Give your dog the space to make choices and you better make a big deal of rewarding them when they do make the right choices!
8. You may have to experiment with food until you’ve found the right one. I recommend starting with a grain free chicken or fish based food and if their stomach stays settled you can slowly introduce new foods and flavours so that you’re able to identify any that do not work. If even then you’re struggling I suggest boiled chicken or white fish mixed with sweet potato and a few green veg until their stomachs are settled. Many adopters talked about this as a point of difficulty in the early days. Bear in mind that stress itself will contribute to bad tummies.
The reoccurring advice that was mentioned was TIME; nearly every adopter told me that the secret is give them time, give them space, give them compassion and most of all, enjoy your journey, it won’t always be tricky and it’s ALWAYS worth it.
Lettie adopted from SPDC by Kerys Jordan living her best life