Rescuing a Dog

Thinking about adopting a dog? Already rescued one?

Rehoming a “second-hand” pup can be incredibly uplifting and hard work at the same time. Here are a few tips to prepare for the arrival of a new family member and address some issues that arise along the way.

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Giving abandoned, surrendered or abused dogs a second chance can be very rewarding, but it is not suited for everyone. Rescue dogs come with a baggage of varying sizes (from light carry-on to heavy checked baggage) and need extra understanding and work to turn them into well-mannered canine citizens.

Having realistic expectations and investing a bit more time and energy in the new family member can indeed make a match made in heaven.

Background checks

Each rescue animal has a history which the potential new owners may or may not know about. Quite often, even shelter workers are unaware of an animal’s story or receive contradicting and sometimes inaccurate surrender information. There is often a lot of human emotions involved (such as guilt or grief) so always take surrender history with a pinch of salt.

Nevertheless, it is still very important to ask about the dog’s history – was s/he rescued from a puppy farm (in which case lack of socialisation with humans and new environments might cause future problems); did the dog grow up with kids and how s/he interacted with them; was s/he socialised with cats, pocket pets, livestock or other dogs at a young age?

Knowing this information about a rescue animal helps new adoptees to understand the potential behavioural challenges. The life experiences the puppy encountered in the first three to four months of his/her life has a major effect on adulthood behaviour so it is always a good idea to know how the potential new doggie mate has been socialised in that critical period.

Before adopting

Most shelters assess dogs behaviourally before rehoming. Each dog should have a “pet portfolio” in which his/her temperament is discussed along with any other specific requirements s/he might have. It’s best to research an adoption database such as “Adoptapet” or “PetRescue” to check out available dogs for adoption before visiting a shelter or contacting a rescue organisation. Walk-in adoption and impulse decisions might work for some people but rescuing a dog is a major, lifelong decision that should not be taken light-heartedly.

meet and greet

Once you fell in love with your chosen one, bring your family members (or anyone that the dog will meet on a regular basis) to the shelter. Kids should definitely meet the new pup before adopting it, but if you have a family member with a disability, it is also important they meet the potential new furry family member. This ensures everyone feels comfortable about the breed, size and temperament of the dog. It is also important to watch the dog’s reaction to potential adopters – they have to like their new family members too!

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breed research

After the initial meet and greet, do some research on the breed characteristics, even if it’s a crossbreed puppy (you’ll find very few purebred dogs in shelters). For instance, if you are adopting a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Australian Cattle Dog crossbreed, research both breeds as you never know which breed’s characteristic traits will be prevalent in that particular dog (it is always better to be prepared for the worst case scenario such as excessive vocalisation and/or nipping). We can’t generalise based on the breed/s as each dog is an individual, but there are some hard wired behaviours each breed was meant to do so it’s good to know what to expect.

Getting used to the new home

Try to finalise the adoption when you have a few days off in a row – maybe even take some days off so you can be home with your new rescue pup and help them adjust to the new environment. It does take time to settle in and develop a bond with family members. Spending some down time at home allows your new canine friend to get to know you and the new home. Leave them alone for shorter periods initially and gradually work up to a few hours before attempting to the leave them home for 8-10 hours a day.

realistic expectations

Remember whether it’s a puppy or a mature dog – toilet training might take some time. Previously toilet trained dogs can sometimes “forget” about their manners due to the lack of proper elimination opportunities in the shelter, so be patient.

Let your new pup to explore the new home before exposing them to new stimuli. It is already an overwhelming situation for them, so please do not invite over the whole family to meet the new puppy on the first weekend and do not to take your new resuce pup to the local dog park straight away.

Spend time to get to know your dog, work on recall and name recognition (they might not know their new name yet), and just allow the bond to develop between you. Once the new family member adjusted to the new environment, only then introduce them to the outside world and to new people and always make new experiences short and positive.

if problems arise

Settling in can take from weeks to months, and depending on the development stage of your dog, you’ll face newer challenges along the way. Please don’t give up too easily. There will be obstacles and setbacks. It can be challenging to go through rough times but rescue dogs sometimes have life-long scars and need some extra TLC and sometimes careful lifelong management in certain situations.

Most importantly, don’t expect your newly adopted dogs to come well-trained. Shelters and rescue organisations don’t have the resources to teach each dog to walk on a loose leash, to come when called, and not to react when seeing other dogs. Very few (if any) bomb proof and well-trained dogs are given up, so new pet parents have to put in some (or a lot of) work into their new family members – depending on each individual.

If you need help with your rescue pup, Embark Pet Care offers various training options from group classes to one-on-one training:

  • if you adopted a baby puppy (under 15 weeks of age), come to Puppy Preschool at one of our venues
  • if your new pup is over 16 weeks but younger than 18 months of age, you can enrol them in Doggie High School
  • if you prefer to work on a training problem (such as loose leash walking, stay, mat settling, recall, etc.), you can have a qualified trainer teach you and your pup some useful skills during One-on-one training sessions
  • if you are concerned that your new pup has behavioural issues (such as excessive barking, digging, dog reactivity), you can seek a Behavioural Consultation without breaking the bank

Written by Bea Labady

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