Rescue dogs

Rescue dogs

There are thousands of animals, mainly dogs, in rescue facilities all over the country desperately wanting and waiting for a loving home and a caring family to adopt them. For many animal lovers it is the ideal place to find a pet. They look forward to providing the love and affection that these animals may have been deprived of and believe that they will be able to sort out any behavioural problems they may have had in the past.

Why do dogs end up in shelters?

In reasonably well-off societies about 60% of dogs are given up to shelters because of perceived behavioural problems. Most will make perfectly good pets in sensible caring homes. There are also some dogs that are re-homed simply because of circumstances, such as when the owners have died or emigrated, divorced or have moved to a new home where dogs are not allowed.

In societies where poverty is a major problem, many dogs have been removed from streets where they have had little or no experience of the domestic life. They have often had to fend for themselves and have never been inside a home or been subjected to human rules and routines.

In some cases rescue dogs may have been the victims of abuse. Often these animals have been abandoned as well, so precisely what they experienced is not known. Some dogs have been in dog fights or have experienced horrific injuries at the hands of humans e.g. dogs that have been set alight or hung from trees.


There can be no more beautiful sight than seeing a family leaving a shelter with smiles on their faces, carrying a puppy or leading their new doggy to the car. The children cannot stop hugging the animal and they are clearly looking forward to enjoying their lives with a pet that they can love and is going to be a pleasure to live with. What is heart-breaking is to see one member of that family, weeks later openly crying as he/she returns their dog because they have found that they were unable to cope with the dog’s behaviour.

Where it all goes wrong

More often than not, the behaviour that has led to its being abandoned or consigned to a shelter in the first place, repeats itself time and again. When this happens, owners who start with the best intentions, find themselves unable to cope. These dogs are called “Yo-yo dogs” and spend their lives going back and forth between families.

It is not the dog’s fault that it has become caught up in this vicious circle. In over 90% of cases, the dog’s behaviour is a direct result of human mistakes. Not knowing what to do because they did not know better or they did not pay sufficient attention to the Shelter’s advice.

Usually it is because humans allow feelings of pity and a desire to pamper a rescue dog to overrule their common sense.  It takes an adult dog about two days to adjust to its new circumstances and about fourteen days to suss out the place and exploit any weaknesses to its advantage. Dogs look at humans for dog signals and if they get confusing signals they make up their own minds about what they mean.

Think about it and try to understand it from the dog’s point of view. Dogs do not improve their behaviour while in rescue facilities. They are pack animals and desperately want to be part of a normal pack environment – something they do not get in kennels. Yet, as soon as it finds a home it likes, it is elevated to a leadership role.  When the dog finds it cannot cope with this responsibility, it tries even harder to please its owner. They jump up, bark, pull on the lead and even bite.

New owners are often afraid of upsetting the rescued dog by implementing sensible house rules from day one e.g.  Good strong leadership, calm in the house, no sleeping on furniture, no jumping up, only toileting outside, polite behaviour before meals etc. Instead they believe that the dog should be given a settling period where it can pretty much do as it likes.

The first step to establishing leadership is to learn to ignore the dog. Ignore the dog’s antics when you come home or when you enter the room where the dog spent the night. Do not acknowledge a dog that approaches you uninvited. Giving attention bestows leadership on him. This means no eye contact, no conversation, no touching other than to gently push the dog away. But when you call your dog then hug, love and treat him and he will see you as the leader.

In the beginning it is very hard to do when you want to love your dog but it soon can become a new habit. Get it right and you have many years to love your new dog. Unfortunately many of these dogs end up unloved in the backyard and have to be locked away when visitors arrive.

Lack of structure, routine and basic training usually results in a dog that is either an uncontrollable and demanding bully, or an insecure and defensive bundle of nerves.

Read: “Becoming the Pack Leader” and “The First Two Weeks” with your new dog.