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Now, if you have had a dog from puppyhood, and raised him properly, you probably won’t have aggression issues. But what if you have a soft heart, and you’ve adopted a rescue dog?
Rescue dogs do not typically come to us without issues. One of the most horrendous rescue scenarios imaginable involved the dogs taken from Michael Vick, the football player who did prison time for his role in dog fighting. But if you need an example of how horribly abused dogs can be rehabilitated through the power of love, the Vicktory Dogs are a prime example. Many of these dogs, who knew nothing but horror, violence, fear, and unspeakable abuse are now beloved family pets.
It’s wonderful if you want to rescue a dog. But if you’re not ready to deal with trauma, injuries, and yes, aggression due to fear, it is not for you. Find a nice dog from a goodbreeder and donate to a rescue group.
Okay, so you know what to expect, and you’re still going to do it. You’re going to invite a potentially dangerous animal into your home. If you are a singleton, or part of an adult couple, then all I can say is that you are a hero. If you have children or other pets, please don’t do it. Rescue dogs are typically terrified, and they will growl, bark, and possibly even bite.
Still going to do it? Okay. Here’s what you need to know. There is no “one size fits all” approach to rehabilitating a rescue dog. But to start with, you should try to minimize any situations that are going to provoke a defensive reaction. Stay calm and persevere. Here are some steps to follow.
You want to help your dog to learn the behaviors that are acceptable, and you want to develop an understanding between you and the dog. The best type of training for a traumatized dog is reward-based. In other words, when the dog does something you want, give him a reward – a treat, a tummy rub, or even just some kind words. Generally speaking, dogs are going to do what leads to pleasant results, and repeat that behavior.
If your dog tenses up, pants excessively, or turns his head away, those are signs of stress. So is growling. Now, with growling, many people react with fear. Try not to. Your dog is not likely gearing up to bite – he is just telling you that he is uncomfortable. Never, ever shout or scold. Try to figure out what is troubling your dog, and remove the source of stress. For instance, if another person is causing your dog to growl, step between them – you are protecting your dog and telling him that he has nothing to fear as long as you are there.
You have to be very relaxed when dealing with a fearful dog. If you exhibit signs of stress, your dog will pick up on them, and that is only going to make matters worse. Speak in a low, gentle tone. Smile. Get down on his level and stroke his ears. Sing him a lullaby (I’m serious!). He will love to hear your voice, speaking or singing to him gently, and it will soothe him.
Teach your dog some new tricks. Every time he learns something new, his confidence is going to improve, and he will be less fearful.
This one is simple. A tired dog is usually a relaxed dog.
If you are contemplating bringing a rescue dog into your life, or have already done so, then I know that you are a kind, caring person, and I probably don’t need to tell you this. But just in case – please, please, never punish your rescue dog. He has undoubtedly already seen more than enough in the way of punishment, and he will not react favorably. I’m not saying that he will bite you – that’s not what I mean. I mean that shouting, time-outs or any other type of correction will only further damage a heart that is broken and needs a great deal of love and care to heal. So if he does something wrong, overlook it. Then, try to catch him doing something right, and praise him for it.
The Quick Fit Nylon Muzzle from Barbohas Dog Supplies is a great choice. It comes in a variety of sizes, and you can find one to fit even the largest dog. It is open in the front so that your dog can breathe and pant properly and not overheat, but not so open that biting is possible. If he is still able to open his mouth somewhat, your rescue dog will be considerably less stressed when he has that all-important vet appointment.
With love and training, even the most horribly abused dog can respond with affection and gratitude, and become a loyal friend that you will treasure for the rest of your life. Hold his broken soul gently in your heart until it is repaired, and you will be rewarded many times over. The Vicktory Dogs are proof.
How to Adopt a Rescue Dog