There are many different ways to rehabilitate a rescued dog, but the best techniques for rehabilitating a shelter dog depend on what that rescued dog needs. For example, a shy dog who needs to build confidence will need a very different approach than the fearful dog who hates men, or an active energetic dog who doesn’t have dog manners. There are many dogs that will have multiple issues, and many training beliefs that can be applied to all dogs (for example, a positive leadership approach that does not involve “dominance”, “punishing” or hurting the dog). But what you actually need to do, the techniques that you need to learn and use with a dog, will largely depend on the individual dog you rescue. You have to look at a few things:
- The dog himself: what does he want to work for?
- You: what is your personality like, and what are your own strengths and limitations? Limitations can also include where you live and what your resources are.
- The issue: what it is, and the extent of the issue.
- When the issue was caused: early in life or at the shelter – this makes a huge difference.
Therefore, the same issue can have a different solution depending on the dog. I’ve adopted three incredibly different dogs from shelters, who all have their individual needs. Love and patience was the same across the board, but the techniques I used in addition to that varied depending on how each dog learned, wanted to learn, how quickly they adapted to a new routine, and what their motivation was. While every dog is different, here is the high level approach I tend to take after adopting a dog.
Behavior adjustment steps you can take after adopting a dog
Get a thorough health exam. Not only is this good for their health, it can help you sort out what behaviors are being affected by health. If a dog is ill or sore, this will affect how they act. They might lash out if they are in pain, or they might be lethargic if they are sick. Take your dog to a trusted vet and get everything checked out so you know what you are dealing with.
Give them some time. Time and patience are top of the list in importance. A dog needs time to get used to your house and the people and/or other pets who live there, the smells, the sounds, the routine, a new or changing diet, and the neighborhood. Maybe even a new climate! Give your dog time to adjust before starting any training or behavior plans. If you have other pets in the household, figure out how often they should be together from the start. This depends largely on the personalities of your other animals. It’s a good idea to leave them separated when unattended until you are completely and utterly confident it’s safe to allow them to mingle when you’re away. It’s OK to choose to always separate dogs while you’re away. Mort is always put in a kennel or separate room when I leave the house.
Start with the relationship, and build trust. Let them get to know you, and what your emotions are. Be very clear with what you are happy about them doing. They go potty outside? Be very clear about this being a great thing! Show them love and affection regularly, and even more so when they do something extra special. Start earning their trust from the moment you meet, and make sure this is the focus of any activity you do in these early days. A fantastic way to do this is by taking tons of walks around the neighborhood. Let them discover things, and open your eyes to discovering new things in the neighborhood too. Show them that you are there to keep them safe. This is prime time when your new dog is learning about you. Keeping a family safe is what a good leader does, too.
Learn what motivates your new dog. Trial and error is key here. Experiment. Figure out the toys, foods, and reactions your dog likes the most. Do they like verbal praise, physical, treats, toys, play, freedom. This is the time you’re learning about each other, so try lots of things and experiment. Find something that works? Experiment more in that area to see if you can find something your new pal likes even more.
And now you can start rehabilitating. Oh wait… you’re actually already well on the road to rehabilitation! By giving them time, patience, and building trust and a relationship – you have already started the foundation of the process. Figuring out what motivates your dog just helps you build upon that solid foundation in new ways, which is important if you have more complicated problems (like fear, or true aggression).
If you only do one thing
My overall recommendation? Find out what motivates the dog, and how they learn and respond. And work with that in a positive, confident way. If the problems that arise are complicated, seek out advice from a professional to help you build a plan for you and your dog over time. The fact that you know what your dog responds to, and that you are well on your way to a solid bond, will really help a behaviorist devise a suitable plan for you to work on. Believe in your dog, give him time. Honor your commitment, and the reward is priceless.
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