Does Your Rescue Dog Need a Trainer?

Keep these three factors in mind when deciding if your new pup’s behavior problems require the help of a professional.

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Only 10 percent of dogs surrendered to shelters and rescues are given up because of “behavior problems,” according to American Humane Association research. Other reasons are much more likely to be found in the dog’s bio, including that the former owner:

  • Was moving
  • Had no time for the pet
  • Had personal problems

In other words, the dog you adopted wasn’t a “bad” dog, but rather an unlucky one… until you come along to provide him or her with a loving, forever home. But, if your new rescue is displaying some unwanted behavior, how do you know when it’s time to call in a qualified, force free trainer or behaviorist?

There are three critical issues to keep in mind when seeing unwanted behavior.

The dog may have an undiagnosed medical problem

Take your new dog to a veterinarian the first week, even if he or she was spayed or neutered and given vaccinations by the shelter or rescue. Ask for a routine physical exam and additional tests if there are concerning behaviors. For example, if you are seeing ADHD, hyper-activity, or aggressive behavior, ask your veterinarian to rule out a thyroid condition through a full thyroid panel.

Also ask your vet to rule out any physical pain such as hip problems or even broken bones that may have healed by themselves but still cause some pain. You might want to rule out a urinary tract infection if there is trouble with potty training.

I once worked with a rescued Rottweiler who was severely depressed. He had been saved by a lovely couple who observed a coyote chasing him on public lands. The dog seemed dull, lethargic, and depressed. I asked the new owners to rule out any medical problems before beginning training, and boy were we glad we did! The poor Rottie not only had Addison’s Disease, his pelvis had been broken and had fused together on its own. After medication for both conditions, he became one of the cheeriest dogs I’ve ever worked with.

Happy Rottweiler by Shutterstock.
Happy Rottweiler by Shutterstock.

Behavior problems will not get better on their own

No dog arrives in a home automatically understanding the house and human rules. We have to teach them in a kind, compassionate, and effective manner. For example, in the dog’s previous home, he or she might have been permitted on the furniture, but if you don’t want her there, you must gently show her the places where she should relax.

If you are seeing fearful or aggressive behavior, act NOW not LATER. Call in a professional trainer to help you with the dog’s unwanted behavior. You want to learn as quickly how to get preferred behavior, and a positive reinforcement trainer will show you just how to do that. Good trainers think and teach in terms of “what behavior do you want from your dog,” instead of the old school thinking of saying NO, NO, and more NO. Begin your search though the Pet Professional Guild’s Directory of screened, force free trainers.

Please know that scientific research tells us that most aggressive-seeming dog behavior — barking, lunging, growling, etc — starts from a place of anxiety. Those behaviors are most often meant to get a threat to move away from the dog. I can assure you that the dog is not trying to “dominate you,” as that idea has thoroughly and completely been disproven by science.

DIY training isn’t working

If you are unsuccessful in changing unwanted behavior by your dog — such as leash pulling or people jumping –- on your own, why not take a class? Some studies indicate that as few as 5 percent of dogs ever receive professional training! Taking a class with the right trainer can be a lot of fun and educational for dog and owner alike.

And then who knows what heights you and your new rescue dog can achieve together?

Top photo: Dog in messy kitchen by Shutterstock.

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Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA

Annie Phenix is a Colorado-based professional writer and dog trainer. She is the Trainer in Residence for Dogster.com and she writes a column for Dogster Magazine and other publications. She is the author of a Spring 2016 book, titled The Midnight Dog Walkers (I-5 Publishing).

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