by Trini Gilmore
Owning and loving a dog is a huge responsibility. There is no guarantee that the puppy, or older dog, that you bring into your home will turn out to be *perfect*, any more than a child that you bear will come with a guarantee of physical and mental health and a problem free life. When you are dealing with a rescue who has already learned that life as he/she knows it can disappear at any moment, you now have added *emotional baggage* to the issues you will be called upon to handle.
Much of the behavior that we consider problem behavior in any dog is actually natural behavior for them. It is natural for them to guard their food and their den, it is natural for them to bark to warm of possible danger or to communicate a feeling, it is natural for them to eliminate where and when the urge hits, and if they are a herding breed, it is natural for them to give chase to anything that moves. These little animals are wonderful companions who add both love and laughter to our lives, but they are not human…and when we request that they live up to our human standards, it is our responsibility to be their teachers and to be their advocates when they falter in meeting these *unnatural* demands.
When you bring a rescue dog into your life, it is no different from adopting child who comes from a foreign orphanage. The little dog you now own had previously given his love, his loyalty, his kisses, his tail wags and his heart to his first human family and they, in giving him up, have broken that trust. Sometimes circumstances leave no other choice, as in the death of an owner. But, to the dog that has been dumped, all he knows is that every thing he counted on to feel safe and cared for and everyone he loved, has vanished. Think of how it would feel if someone took you from your home against your will and dropped you off in a foreign country where you knew no one. You don’t speak the language, you are not used to the food and you constantly make mistakes because you don’t yet know the mores of that society. It is not initially a happy place to be and without loving support and patience from the new people in your life, it will never be a happy place. Depending on the personality of the dog you adopt and on the background from which your rescue dog came, it can take weeks to months, in extreme cases even years, to teach this lost soul to fully trust again.
The most important thing to remember as you make this journey together is that it IS a journey that needs to be made TOGETHER. It is not you against him. You both want the same thing. More than anything else in the world your dog desperately wants to feel loved and safe, to trust you, and to please you. He needs that, he is a pack animal at heart and without a pack to which he belongs his life is empty. There are times when you will wonder if your rescue is being intentionally difficult or spiteful. He is not. All he is showing is that he is afraid or is confused as to what you expect of him. Be patient, be loving, try walking in *his paws* and realize that at that moment he is truly doing the best he knows how. To do better, he will need your help, not your anger or your disappointment. Rehabilitation can be tough, there are times when you just need to step back, take a deep breath, count to ten, and then reach down and hug your little lost soul and assure him that you will make it as a family. You are not out to win a race, you are out to build a lifelong bond of trust and love, and build your dog’s confidence in himself. Take it slowly, celebrate each tiny success, and most of all remember to laugh at the funny moments…your dog will laugh with you and believe he has done something incredibly wonderful to have made you feel so happy.