All rescue dogs come with their own unique stories and experiences. Some will be extroverts and gregarious and others will be happier in smaller social circles, others may have little experience of a life lived without fear or anxiety.

Like us, our dogs’ emotional lives are rich and complex and each one has a family just waiting to accept them for who they are and to give them the life they deserve to live.

To ensure you can be the best human and family for your dog, take time to educate yourself about their language and their way of communicating. So when you welcome a rescue dog into your life you already know how to recognise their needs, how to support them and be their best advocate. There are amazing free resources out there these days, Silent Conversations being one of the best to learn how to become dog literate and Kristin Crestejo comprehensive videos about canine body language Part 1 & Part 2:

In the first few weeks, manage your expectations of what you want to do with your rescue and how you expect them to respond. Sometimes we have an idea of the dog we want and the life we want to lead with that dog, but often there is an adjustment period when you are getting to know your dog better and their needs, likes, desires and limitations. This is okay. Like our human relationships, friendships need to blossom and they adapt and change over time. Respect is earnt and loyalty grows. Love the dog in front of you.

If you have opened your heart and your home up to a fearful dog, give them the gift of time. It is a human trait to want to display affection by touching and physical contact, however,
dogs don’t use touch as much as we do and a fearful dog might need time before they decide they are able to initiate that contact with you. Replace touch with other communication tools we have to hand, read to them, chat to them, sit quietly near them, this will demonstrate to your fearful friend that you understand their need for space and they will appreciate the consideration.

Choice is a construct we don’t often extend to our dogs. Dogs in shelters often have a very limited amount of access to choice due to the practicalities of running a shelter. So when you open your doors to a rescue, allow them the freedom and dignity of choice. Ask them and listen to their choices. What is their favourite treat? I bet it’s not the dried dog treats you bought from the pet shop. What is their favourite walk? Do they want to walk? Do they get to sniff on a walk? Do they enjoy a lie-in or a cuddle in bed in the morning? Who are their favourite human and doggie friends? The choices can be basic but they can be powerful in
letting a dog know that we are listening and responding to their needs. We are a family. Don’t assume it is you who is rescuing the dog as it is often the dogs that rescue us, they are natural teachers, so enjoy being a student and learn.

Other behaviour tips:

Don’t rush your walks, take time to let your dog sniff as this provides so much cognitive stimulation that research has shown that a 20 minute ‘sniffari’ is just as tiring and good for your dog as a 30 minute brisk walk.

Produce daily opportunities for your dog to ‘contra-freedload’ this means meeting their natural behaviour repertoire by sniffing for hidden food, finding it followed by the reward of consuming the food. You can use treats or their daily food allowance for this activity and it can be as simple as throwing a handful of their biscuits into a grassy area of your garden for them to forage and find.

Asking your dog to sit is not as important as you might think it is. Getting into and out of a sitting position requires our dogs to use a lot of muscle groups and joints, which over time and repetition can cause wear and tear and potentially lead to arthritis etc later in life. As long as your dog is offering a calm behaviour can that replace a sit?

Rather then command your dog to perform a certain behaviour, can you create a game which ends in the behaviour you want? If your dog engages with you because it is fun to do so then their response becomes a positive emotional response to your cue for a behaviour, not a chore for them to get board of and start to ignore.

Reward your dog for offering wanted behaviours. This is not bribing, this is payment. (I am not bribed to go to work, I am paid to go to work. If I wasn’t paid to go to work the likelihood is I would not engage with the work for free). The more our dogs are paid/rewarded for wanted behaviours they are likely to increase that behaviour and are less likely to offer unpaid for behaviours which are less acceptable.

Playing set work games with your dog on a regular bases provides them with an opportunity to hone their sniffing skills. A dogs olfactory bulb is located and linked to their limbic system which helps regulate their emotional wellbeing and their ability to create and retain memories. Research has shown that dogs who regularly use their nose in scent work are more ‘optimistic’ then dogs that don’t, meaning that dogs who engage in scent games are happier dogs then those that don’t.

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