The attached photo was created by a fellow dog trainer and colleague of mine. Brandon Steen is a very talented artist and balanced dog trainer. Here Brandon illustrates perfectly how I feel dogs (especially rescued dogs) should be trained once they are given the opportunity for either fostering or adoption. In an effort to improve the dog’s confidence and overall quality of life, it is important the dog experience leadership, and learn basic obedience commands before providing the dog with a ton of affection, and excitement. Affection, and excitement generates adrenaline in the dog. Adrenaline leads to bad behavior, and sometimes pretty devastating consequences.
Why do I believe leadership and obedience training is important for rescued dogs, and dogs in general? Frequently, the clients who contact me with a recently rescued dog will explain a story of how they were shocked to discover their dog was dog aggressive when they brought the dog to their local dog park. Sometimes the dog starts a skirmish and has to be removed, and sometimes the dog actually kills another dog. What they expected to be a lovely few hours of play time in a park suddenly turned into a bloodbath. My clients are usually confused by the dog’s bad behavior because during the adoption they were informed by the shelter, or rescue that their dog was temperament tested and passed the test. They simply do not understand how the dog would not want to run around and play happily with the dogs in the dog park.
I can absolutely understand this very human urge to give the new rescued dog (or any dog really) plenty of freedom, affection, excitement, and treats. Our human perspective is that we want to show this new dog how AWESOME it is going to be to live with us. The new dog should know their life is going to be the polar opposite of how they once lived. They’ll have lots of food, lots of play time with every dog they encounter, and lots of opportunities to be pet by happy excited people… I understand this train of thought. People have their heart in the right place. People feel emotional about the dog’s previous life experience. Often people feel guilty and sad for the rescued dog. This however is a very dangerous combination for many dogs, even for dogs with no rescue history. I can completely relate to feeling emotional about my dog Karma and due to the imbalance of our relationship we struggled with bad behaviors for seven years until I began obedience training with her. The bottom line is that, an emotional owner motivated by guilt and sadness, paired with an under socialized, overly adrenalized, fearful dog frequently leads to dramatic bad behaviors like lunging on leash, fighting at dog parks, food aggression, home destruction, separation anxiety, and a host of other horrendous behavioral issues.
As a society, rescue dogs are marketed to us with guilt, so naturally, we feel sad and guilty when we start off a relationship with a rescue dog because they’ve had a rough life right? Ensuring the dog will never have to look sad behind the bars of a stainless steel cage as Sarah Ann McLachlan moans in the background, is really the least we could do for this poor beloved creature…and surely if we give the dog all sorts of love, affection, freedom, treats, playtime, and excitement the dog will wake up one day and suddenly return the “love” by behaving calmly in our home and playing nicely with neighborhood dogs. Unfortunately, in reality that is generally not how it works.
We tend to look at the rescued dog as if it is a child recently adopted from an orphanage. We perceive the dog park as if it is a children’s playground. Only safe, fun times occur in the children's playground. We are expecting appreciation and gratitude for providing the rescued dog with this awesome life experience.
Now let’s look at this situation from the rescued dog’s perspective. The rescue dog is under socialized, so it is not aware of how to calmly and safely greet other dogs and/or people. Imagine that instead of the rescued dog “feeling” like an adopted child from an orphanage, that the rescued dog actually has more similarities to someone who has been recently released from prison. It is uncomfortable for a person recently released from prison to be taken to a busy park by an overly excited and/or emotional prison guard. From the rescued dog’s perspective they can become quickly overwhelmed and overstimulated. Adrenaline, fear, and aggression are typically the course of action for the rescued dog as it tries to defend itself and escape from the pressure of the park.
In my professional opinion, the absolute worst thing that a person can do with a fearful dog is to feel badly for the dog. Sympathy, kisses, treats, free roam of the home, and high pitched voices will not lead a fearful, nervous, or anxious dog out of that state of mind. By only providing emotion, affection, and food, the dog’s fearful, nervous, and/or anxious, state of mind will be reinforced and the dog’s symptoms of unwanted behavior will continue to be present. If you want to change these types of bad behaviors, lead your dog out of the behaviors by routinely and calmly providing food twice daily, crate training, heeling daily for at least forty-five minutes, and using the “place” command daily for thirty minutes or more. When you are not actively training with your dog, calmly return your dog to its crate. Peace will be restored to your home. Your dog will thrive within the structure of knowing exactly what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not acceptable, this a major element to boosting a dog’s confidence. Build a relationship with your dog through calm obedience training. One more thing…stay out of dog parks! Dog parks are not safe. When you take your dog to a dog park you are exposing your dog to potentially unvaccinated dogs, as well as dogs which are not temperament tested. If you are interested in socializing your dog consult a daycare where the staff ensures each dog is vaccinated and temperament tested. Daycares also supervise the dogs as they are interacting, the supervisors interrupt bad behaviors typically before a fight occurs.
I hope this information is helpful to those of you who are currently struggling with your rescue dog. For more information on training your dog check out my method on my website http://goodkarmatraining.com/my-dog-training-method/