Have you ever thought about adopting a dog that needs to be rescued from neglect or abuse?
Yes? That’s commendable. With more than 55 million dogs in the United States, plenty of them need to be rescued. You probably can find a previously neglected or abused canine at your local animal shelter or dog-adoption agency.
But here’s something to chew on. It’s likely that by the time you meet the dog you have gone to adopt, its rescue already is over. The rescue is over, in fact, just as soon as the dog is out of harm’s way, and that’s usually about the time it goes into the shelter or adoption agency. A lot of adoptive owners don’t realize that. Being good-hearted people, they take the animal home, then continue to “rescue” it long after the neglect or abuse has stopped. Sometimes they continue to rescue for years. It not only doesn’t help the dog, it may actually harm it.
Here’s an example of what can happen. A client of mine owns a dog that was rescued from a puppy mill, where the dog spent the first few years of her life as a professional mom and had been neglected. Because of this, the dog had limited socialization and limited life experience. But the puppy mill, as poor an environment as it was, was the only environment she had known, and when she was removed from it she was uncertain and lacked the tools and the confidence to deal with the world.
The woman who adopted her was a lovely person, full of good will and good intentions. Unfortunately, she tried to make it up to the animal for all it had lacked earlier, and all the wrong doing that had been done to her in her life, and so she over sympathized with every behavioral abnormality the dog displayed. She overindulged it, coddled it and failed to create rules and boundaries for it. The result is that she inadvertently encouraged the dog’s lack of confidence by daily reinforcing its own low opinion of itself.
One of the ways the dog’s lack of confidence showed was that when guests came to the woman’s home, the dog ran to the farthest bedroom and hid from the visitors. The woman allowed this behavior to occur and to continue, thus reinforcing not only the behavior but also the lack of confidence that prompted it. The woman didn’t understand that by allowing the dog to hide, she encouraged it to hide. When we do not actively disagree with a behavior, we are silently agreeing with it.
Unfortunately, as this continued, the dog’s flight reflex became stronger, not weaker. The woman didn’t realize that, when given a choice about whether it wants to engage with strangers or with other animals, an unsure dog will always — always — choose not to.
What should the woman have done?
She should have leashed her dog when guests arrived and required it to experience encountering them, even from across the room. She should neither have forced the dog on the guests nor the guests on the dog, but should have required the dog to remain in the same room with them for however long the guests were there. The point would be to show the dog that having guests in the home is normal. Eventually, the owner should have worked gradually toward expanding the experience on subsequent visits by introducing the guests to the dog or vice-versa.
Fleeing from strangers is only one of several possible problems a rescue dog might exhibit. For example, a new owner might discover that the animal is aggressive to other dogs. Improper canine socialization at an early age can lead to dysfunctional canine relationships, which can result in a dog that picks fights because it’s afraid.
Another dog might display aggression for other reasons. For example, it might be one of a breed that is hard-wired for aggressive behavior. Or it might be a dominant canine that finds itself in the presence of another dominant dog. That usually creates a ruffle.
If you have an aggressive dog, you probably will need professional help to determine the reasons for the aggression. But in most cases a professional can easily assist you in managing the problem. Often, that is done by exposing your canine to other dogs and properly correcting it through its leash and collar when it misbehaves.
Not all dogs necessarily like other dogs. We can’t change that. But it is critical that they learn to put up with each other. A dog that is well mannered and well controlled can tolerate the presence of other dogs, and we must insist on it.
Because, with more than 55 million of them in the country, they’re bound to bump into each other from time to time.
Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding, Grooming and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her web site address is http://www.camanoislandkennels.com, or visit us at facebook.