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Common Health and Behavioral Problems of Rescue Dogs: How to Prevent Them

By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS

Behavioral problems can be the most frustrating to handle. Their solution is often not as simple as the treatment for health problems; sometimes trial and error is needed. For some rescue dogs, the help of a behaviorist or a professional trainer may be necessary.

Anxiety

Anxiety, particularly separation anxiety, is a very common behavior problem in rescue dogs. These dogs suffer from this mental storm with good reason. They've left a family they knew (that family may not have treated your dog well, but the dog probably still had some attachment), possibly spent some time in a shelter amongst other scared dogs, and has wound up in a new home with people he doesn't know. Will this home be permanent? Will these people be kind? Your dog is at your mercy, and he does not know what to expect. Of course he is anxious!

Preventing and treating anxiety requires time and effort. Give your dog an abundance of exercise and your attention. Show him he is important to you. Play with him, walk him, wear him out – this will help take care of his nervous energy and build the human-animal bond. Teach him basic obedience, give him toys that make him think – occupy his brain so he has less time to be nervous. It is also important to establish your dog's rules and guidelines and stick with them! Dogs like consistency.

Inappropriate Elimination

Keep in mind your dog might be new to the housebreaking concept, even though he is an adult! Maybe he lived his previous life outdoors, maybe he was allowed to potty inside --- who knows! BE PATIENT – this is key. If your dog is messing in the house, give him plenty of opportunities to get it right and go outside. Reward him when he does! Take him outside after a nap, after mealtime, after playtime, and anytime he is near the door.

Messing in the house may also be due to instinctual marking. If your dog is intact, get him or her neutered or spayed. This will probably help; however, the habit may have become habit by now and the resolution may involve more effort to housebreak.

Another cause of accidents in the house may be submissive urinating. Try to instill confidence in your dog by teaching obedience, encouraging play, and by not scolding but only giving positive reinforcement. Proper body language around a nervous or submissive dog is also helpful – do not tower over the dog and do not look him directly in the eyes. Read PetPlace's Submissive Urination in Dogs for more help.

If your dog is messing in the house only when you leave, it may be due to separation anxiety. If exercise, mental stimulation, and your time and attention do not help this problem, a behaviorist may be needed.
Health problems can also cause inappropriate eliminations, so if the problem is not improving or it is accompanied by signs of illness, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Aggression Toward Other Pets

Anticipate stress between your rescue dog and your pre-existing pets, and follow appropriate steps to prevent it. Do your best to avoid injury by exercising caution. If possible, learn about the rescue dog's attitude toward other pets before adoption. If adopting from a shelter or rescue group, you may able to witness the dog's actions around other rescue animals.

If you have another pet at home, it is important to slowly introduce your rescue dog to your pre-existing pet. If possible, start by giving each animal something that smells like other. When two dogs meet one another, introduce them on neutral turf, such as a friend's yard or a park where neither has been. Introduce both dogs on-leash, so that you can maintain control. When the dogs are comfortable around one another or are ignoring each other, you can move to your own yard. Read PetPlace's Introducing a New Dog Into Your Household for more information.

BE PATIENT

Be patient with your rescue dog as he adjusts to his new life and realizes that this is a positive change. Dogs are expert readers of human body language. If you are frustrated with your dog, he will pick up on that, which will make his transition more difficult. Be sure to make your dog feel wanted and loved, and he will reward you with more than you could have ever imagined!


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