A Dozen Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Rescue Dog

Guest blog by David Ryan

1. She will not be grateful for you adopting her. Why should she? You are just one more thing that has happened to her over which she had no control, some of which have been worse than others. She may come to love you and her new home in time but don’t expect gratitude for “rescuing” her, because she doesn’t understand what you did.

2. Adopting an adult is not easier than adopting a new puppy. Okay, she may be house-trained (but not necessarily in your house) and not need to toilet through the night, but you are dealing with a dog that already has expectations of how you will behave towards her and re-learning how to respond is more difficult than first learning. Initially you should be prepared to put in at least as much time and effort as you would with a puppy.

3. She does not know your rules. She has lived with some human rules before (maybe – maybe not if you import a street-dog) but they won’t be the same as yours. Where is she allowed? On the carpet? On the sofa? On the bed? On your knee? When, where and what is she allowed to eat? Food dropped on the floor? Free wild-food (horse manure and squirrels)? Your petunias? She will do what she has done before and, again, re-learning is harder than first learning.

4. She does not know you from Adam (especially if you keep wearing that fig leaf). Why should she do what you say? Because you rescued her (see 1 above)? She may take time to love you and maybe six months before she trusts you (if ever, depending upon what has happened to her previously). She won’t necessarily want to come back to you when you call her – especially if something more interesting/edible/worrying/fun is happening over there.

5. She will not automatically get on with your other dog/ cat/ hamster/ child/ husband/ hair-dryer/ vacuum cleaner/ traditional training methods… Dogs are individuals with personalities. Many dogs can accommodate changes and adapt accordingly but this will need time and effort. Sometimes some just can’t.

6. She is not your last dog. She may have the same number of legs and cute floppy ears, but she is not a replica of any dog you have ever had. She can replace the place in your heart that your last dog left empty, but she cannot replicate them – even if she is the spitting image – so don’t expect her to.

7. She will have odd habits (perhaps amusing, or disgusting). People allow or encourage their pets to do the weirdest things: taking food from her bowl and bringing it into the living room to eat one piece at a time, licking the plates in the dishwasher, licking her bum then your face (kisses for mummy!) or re-eating vomit (more kisses!) –  and the dog might consider these normal.

8. People lie. Or at least are economical with the truth. Do not believe everything on the form the previous owner filled in. They were trying to get their dog adopted and may have glossed over what they think might be her faults – especially if they feel embarrassed about them. Q. Where does she sleep? A. In the kitchen (for the first five minutes until she sneaks upstairs and spends the night in bed with me). Q. What does she eat? A. “GoodBoy!” dog kibble (after I’ve mixed minced beef and gravy with it and fed it to her on a spoon).

9. Rescue societies aren’t perfect. They do their best to match dogs with owners, but might not know that the dog you’re adopting has a tendency to howl the house down when left (the previous owner might not have mentioned it) or that she chews shoes, or hates postmen, or humps cushions or… You might need to work with her a bit…

10. She WILL be stressed when she arrives. The most stressful life events for humans are the loss of a loved one and moving home. She’s just experienced both at once (regardless of how bad they were). She is in a new place with odd rules, which she worries about getting wrong. This will make her nervous and less tolerant of being pestered (for example by dogs on walks or by visiting children). She will feel apprehensive and defensive. Give her a break. Be hyper-attentive of her needs. Does she need to walk away from that yappy dog? Does she need a treat to reward her for coming away? She needs guidance (Guide & Control). Provide it for her before her stress levels tip her into using problematic behaviour. In time her stress will ease as she becomes used to her new situation.

12. She may have a Honeymoon Period. No, not giggly holding hands with flowers, champagne and chocolates, but because she stressed and everything is new, she might not do anything at all for a while (varies but about a month isn’t unusual). Then, when she’s sussed out the new place and folks, she will revert to how she has behaved previously. This might be some forms of problematic behaviour that resulted in her being given up for adoption in the first place. Don’t be another human that gives up on her – work with her.

12. Treat her right and she will bring you joy. There isn’t a day that will pass that she won’t make you smile – probably when she tries to help you rebury the daffodils she has just proudly dug up for you. Or when the postman pats her on the head and says, “What a nice dog, where did you get her?”

David Ryan was a police dog handler and Home Office accredited instructor for 26 years, helping to lead the revolution in professional dog training out of the ‘push, pull and shout’ methods. He was the first police dog instructor to be awarded Southampton University’s postgraduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling and also the first to be accepted as a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, serving as Chair from 2009 to 2012. He is certified as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist by the independent Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour and has a unique blend of practical experience and theoretical knowledge of canine behaviour.

Now retired from the police service, he helps local charities with their more problematic dogs. He has presented educational study days for the Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group and the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors and has lectured at the Wood Green Animal Shelter, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and to BSc animal behaviour students at Myerscough College and Bishop Burton College. He is currently a visiting lecturer on Newcastle University’s MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare.

David appears as a legal expert witness in canine behaviour in civil and criminal cases and has been an independently verified member of the Register of Expert Witnesses since 2008. He is regularly instructed in cases involving alleged pit bull terriers, dogs alleged to have been dangerously out of control, cases of negligence and those involving the 1971 Animals Act, and cases where interpretation of police dogs and their handling are required.

David has written and published four books and contributed to a fifth: Guide & Control Your Pet Dog’s Behaviour, Dogs that Bite and Fight, Dog Secrets, “Stop!” How to Control Predatory Chasing in Dogs and Chapter 2, Our relationship with dogs in David Appleby’s The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour.

David’s website: Dog Secrets

You can book David’s Dogs That Bite and Fight seminar at Enjoy Your Dog on our Events page.

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