So, you’ve decided to rescue an adult dog: good for you! Adult dogs may come with their own unique challenges, but they'll love you just the same as any puppy. And in return, you'll be providing them with a loving home for the years they have left - something that, unfortunately, adult shelter dogs or rescues don't always get. Whether it be from a kennel, your local shelter, or another dog rescue trying to re-home, you’ve made a very respectable and caring decision that will positively impact both you and your new pet's lives for years to come!
The average pet parent wants to adopt a cute little puppy and raise them as they grow. That’s great for the adorable puppy, but sadly all too often leaves the ‘not-as-cute’ adult dogs in a bit of a tricky situation. An adult is perhaps more in need of adoption than a puppy, since the chance of being adopted into a loving home continue to dwindle as they age. This is especially true for disabled or rescue dogs, as many people either don't have the time or money to properly provide for an ill dog, or simply don't want to put in the effort of helping a pet with special needs. Besides, even if the dog is healthy, there could still be some issues that will need to be prepared for when bringing them home, which will make it more difficult for the dog to get adopted. Of course, not everyone can or wants to adopt an adult or rescue dog, but if you have the means and the will, adopting an older dog could drastically increase their happiness and quality of life for the rest of their days.
When going to almost any shelter, you’re confronted with multiple animals to choose from. Which is best the best fit for you and your family? Jumping straight into a situation without preparing yourself first might not be good for either party. Here are some questions you will want to ask, and things you need to check before making your decision:
If the answers to these questions are compatable to your family and lifestyle, it may be a good time to adopt! When you do, there will be some things you'll need to take into consideration as the new parent of a rescue or adult shelter dog.
Most dog breeds in general are highly intelligent animals. With good training, dogs can do anything from advanced agility to opening doors, guiding disabled owners to retrieving phones, sometimes even dialing 911 to contact emergency services. A well trained dog, however, hinges more on the ability of the human trainer than the ability of the dog to learn. Unfortunately, many adult dogs were sheltered in the first place because they were either poorly trained, or the owner wasn’t able to properly train them. As the parent of an adult rescue, you might have to devote more time in training your dog. However, with a little bit of research and devotion, many of your dog’s behavioral issues can be dealt with.
Some issues you may notice in your rescue include:
What these issues are, where they may have come from, and how to help your dog will be discussed below.
Most adult shelter dogs that have had previous owners will likely not have problems with potty-training, but many rescue dogs that were strays or homeless for a long time might not have been taught not to pee inside, or have forgotten. In this case, you will have to train them as you would a new puppy. Sometimes, peeing in the house may be due to anxiety or fear, which will be talked about below.
Unfortunately, aggression towards an owner in rescue or shelter dogs is a habit developed to cope with an abusive or aggressive past owner. The only way to help in this case is by being kind and understanding towards the dog and training the dog that it's good to be kind in return, such as by giving them a treat each time they let you approach them without growling. Aggression towards people and other pets can also be linked to insecurity, trust issues, separation anxiety, and sometimes resource guarding, which will be discussed below.
Fear and aggression are two sides of the same coin. A fear of people means that at some point in their life, the dog was hurt or neglected by a person and now doesn't trust anyone to not do the same. A fear of animals or other pets has more variable causes, but is usually due to bullying as a puppy. The only antidote to a fear of people is consistent kindness. As with aggression, being kind and patient towards your dog will show them that you mean no harm, and will hopefully calm them down. To help with a fear of animals, try exposing your other pets to the dog for a short time in a calming environment and see how they react. If it goes well, increase the exposure time until they're both comfortable with each other.
Anxiety and trust issues are found most often in dogs who have had bad experiences with past owners or humans in general, and they can manifest in various ways, including aggression and fear directed at people and animals (as discussed above), as well as a fear or sudden movements or loud noises and hesitation towards accepting food. To help a dog get over trust issues, you need to respect their boundaries and create a safe space to let them come to you. Initially, there may be some bumps in the road, but with patience, kindness, and perhaps a natural soothing remedy to help smoothe things over, your dog will come around and thrive.
Additionally, separation anxiety sometimes appears in dogs who were neglected or left at the shelter by a previous owner. Separation anxiety is not something that disappears overnight, or even within a month, but you can try reducing their stress at first by giving them a calming formula for when you have to go away. In the long run, you will just have to consistently show them that you won't leave them and hopefully they will realize that they are safe and secure now that they're in your care.
Your rescue or shelter dog may have had to protect toys, food, or other resources from other dogs, and so now believes that anyone and everyone could try to steal from them. If you have other pets, they might be aggressive towards them or they will constantly guard their food bowl or crate (if they keep toys there) from you or other pets. A temporary solution may be to feed them in a separate room or to keep their toys in a room only they are allowed in. In the long run, you will need to train the dog to realize that having people or pets near their resources is good. There are ways to help with various types of resource guarding, which are explained in this helpful article.
Destructive behavior is most commonly a symptom of separation anxiety. Without healthy ways to calm down, dogs who haven't been trained properly may destroy furniture and other objects to release energy. There are three ways to stop this behavior: give the dog things to destroy that are less valuable; train the dog to stop destructive behavior (here's one resource that may help); or calm them down with a natural remedy.
Asocial behavior (or shyness) and poor social behavior in dogs are the product of poor socialization from a previous owner. If your shelter dog hides from or barks at other dogs, their previous owner may have pushed them into scary situations with unfamiliar dogs or was overprotective and stopped them from socializing as a puppy. Sometimes shyness is due to fear, which is discussed above, but if your new dog simply doesn't know how to interact with other dogs, you will need to train them like you would a puppy.
Similar to an asocial behavior issue, many dogs who lack discipline were not properly trained (or trained at all, if they were strays) as puppies. They do not know what behaviors are acceptable or not, so you will have to teach them. Be wary, however, to use mainly positive reinforcement training and to respect your dog's boundaries so as to not scare them or trigger other behavioral issues. Additionally, some dogs purposefully disobey commands due to a lack of trust in people, which you will have to slowly regain (see above for more).
Despite the difficulties you may have to deal with at first when adopting a rescue, getting an adult or shelter dog will be a great new adventure for you and your family. All dogs, rescues or not, have lots of love to give and are a wonderful addition to your home. The bonds you’ll form and memories you will create will lead to a fantastic new chapter in your life.
Above all, remember that all pets need patience, discipline, and positive attention; rescues may just need it a bit more, but the rewards are priceless!
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