Suddenly you’re in a strange part of town. Nothing is familiar to you. Smells, sights, sounds are all unknowns. Still, it’s better than being where you were – starved, beaten, freezing cold at night and chained to that tree. You run through the streets looking for help, but everyone avoids you. They pretend they don’t see you. Why? You catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and you understand. Your hair is all matted and caked with dried mud. There’s blood on your face from a cut. There was no first aid and it became infected. Now it’s all oozing and horrible looking. No wonder it hurts so much. You’re so hungry you know you can’t go on much longer. You spot a food bin up ahead and run toward it. You smell leftover hamburgers. Heaven! You start to climb into the bin but then suddenly someone is beating at you with a broom, shooing you away. The broom hits the sore on your face and you cry out in pain before you run away, panicked, into the street….
This is the plight of rescue dogs. Each day hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dogs across the nation suffer similar, or much worse, fates. The reason dogs end up in rescue is never the fault of the dog – it is always caused by human shortcomings – because of neglect or ignorance or plain bad luck. Some dogs are surrendered because the owner did not bother to train them as pups and then cannot deal with the unruly adults they have become. The owner may have died or become seriously ill without making provisions for the dog. Some dogs are rescued from the squalor of puppy mills where the unscrupulous value money over life. Regardless of the reason, it is the dog who suffers. The lucky ones are found by rescue groups who provide veterinary care, food and a warm place to stay while a great new home is lined up. But once a rescue dog goes to that new home, the trauma he has experienced stays with him. A rescue dog may have very special needs. His housetraining skills may lapse and he may revert to urinating in the house. He may have problems with separation anxiety because of abandonment. His stress levels may cause him to chew furniture or walls. He may be fearful and shy, afraid of being abused or rejected again. Until he bonds with his new people, he may try to escape, not understanding that he has finally found his forever home. The good news is that all these behaviors can be reversed with time, patience and appropriate training. Hiding inside the matted coat and skinny body of a rescue dog is a shining example of perfect loyalty and love. It just needs the chance to be rediscovered.
The best case scenario is when the rescue group offers ongoing mentorship to adopters of rescue dogs to make sure they will be a good fit in the home. This can take the form of phone calls, personal contact, training manuals, on-line support or all of these. The keys to success with a rescue dog are understanding, patience, and consistency.
•Understanding. Empathize with the dog. Try to put yourself in his skin and understand what he has been through. It does not excuse inappropriate behavior, but it can go a long way toward establishing a real rapport with the dog.
• Patience. Some rescue dogs “take” to their new homes right away and are a near perfect fit. Other dogs may take up to six months to really accept the new home, bond with their new family, and finally believe that they have found their forever home. Go slow and show him you love him.
•Consistency. Perhaps the most important tool for success is consistency. Have the rules in mind before you get your dog and stick to them. Use reward/praise-based training methods and practice every day to build your dog’s confidence and help him to bond with you. Have fun with him!
There is no better feeling than to see a fearful, neglected dog return to health, confidence and the true enjoyment of life – and to know that you made it happen!
Copyrighted Cherie Fehrman 2010. All rights reserved.