As many of you know we are quite involved in dog rescue. Currently of our 9 dogs, 8 are rescued or former shelter dogs. One of the things I enjoy most about having rescued dogs is watching them as they grow and change and discover that they are safe. Most dogs when they come to us are coming via a rescue. Most of our dogs have come from SAINTS and Turtle Gardens but we also have dogs from shelters too. One of the things most of our rescued dogs have in common is that they have been neglected (some were abused), many have been starved and several of them lived outside. All of these issues impacts the dog as he or she tries to integrate into our family.
A dog who has spent its entire life living outside never learns to hold their bladder. When these dogs first come in it can be very difficult to toilet train them. In some cases, it is more difficult than puppies. These dogs require a great deal of structure and patience to learn to hold their bladders. We find frequent trips outside and the liberal (or would that be ‘liveral’) application of dried liver treats to be very helpful. We also find that crating them at night helps them to learn to hold their bladders which then translates into them being able to hold it for longer and longer periods in the day. We also lean towards supervising them outside and teaching them to pee on command. Of course there will continue to be accidents and these are handled with patience. If we find the dog in ‘the act’ we will generally take them outside to finish the job. Some dogs will never be toilet trained and may require some other kind of incontinence products.
Dogs who have been starved can be especially difficult particularly when it comes to resource guarding. Quite often these dogs never know where there next meal is going to come from and so they can act aggressively with food and treats. It takes a long time to teach them to take the treats nicely. One must also safeguard the other dogs against the aggressiveness of the resource guarding. We try to minimize this kind of aggression by ensuring that there is no food or treats readily available. We feed raw so everyone gets their portions and the resource guarders are separated from the others. Generally this works well but it does require vigilance.
Dogs who have been neglected often do not associate humans with anything good. It takes them a while to begin to trust us and rely on us to provide a comfortable life for them. Once these dogs do begin to attach you can expect that they will have a touch deficit and need a lot of attention. In fact, the revel in the love! As they get more and more attention their confidence soars and they begin to experience positive feelings.
This post has been prompted by something Zoe did yesterday which indicates some of these qualities/behaviours. Deb dropped a package of melba toast in the living room and all of a sudden it was gone. I was down the hall and I saw Zoe strutting down the hall with something in her mouth. Her tail was up and she looked very pleased with herself. Zoe was a starved dog at some point in her life. Right now she is in the touch deficit phase of her recovery. Zoe is also a very resilient dog. She has overcome so much in a very quick time period. She is able to trust us and she is no longer starved. However, she still behaves like a starved dog. Likely she always will. Tucker was also a starved dog and he will literally dive for any food anywhere, any time. It does not matter what it is he will eat it with gusto. Giving him treats is quite difficult because he snaps at your hand. Tucker can be quite dangerous to humans and other dogs when it comes to food.
Adopting a rescued dog can be quite difficult. It does require commitment, a whole lot patience and hopefully wood floors! However the rewards are many and varied. Watching them grow and change is a fulfilling experience. Not all rescued dogs are capable of this resilience. If you are going to welcome a rescued dog into your life it is important not to have any great expectations. The ability of the dog to adapt depends on many things. Length of time the dog has lived in less than ideal circumstances, age, breed, and health status are all factors that can have an impact. Having no pre-set expectations of the dog’s ability to meet your needs will give the dog the space he or she needs to reach their potential.