All You need is Love. Right?

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The Problem With Rescuing Dogs

This may be a tetchy subject, but the notion of ‘rescuing’ dogs really, really bothers me. Most days I see videos shared of beautiful rescue stories. Terrified dogs ‘saved’ with a cuddle. Aggressive dogs ‘cured’ with love. I also see the photos posted of a shut down, mangy dog followed by a healthy dog with a huge smile. It’s feel good! I love seeing these stories but the majority aren’t entirely truthful. You don’t see the people that work with these dogs having to escape a kennel as a dog flies at them. You don’t see them having to hold a lead tight away from them as a dog climbs the lead towards their hands. You don’t see the training that goes into even getting a harness on a fearful dog. You don’t see the heartache of the ones that don’t make it because their behaviour is too far gone.

The thing is, fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, however you want to label them do need love, but we need to stop peddling the idea that’s all they need because it’s doing our dogs a huge disservice.

When you go to a rescue, you need to be open minded. You need to accept that a lot of these dogs need training and that bringing them home, giving them a sofa and a cuddle often isn’t enough. Love alone is not enough. These dogs have no obligation to be grateful you bought them a new collar and bed. It’s all too easy to make martyrs of ourselves and pick the most downtrodden, the most fearful, the most aggressive and then be surprised when love doesn’t cure them.

Dogs, especially those that have been failed by either their previous owners or breeder, need love, yes, but they also need the following.

TIME: let them settle! It can take up for six months for a truly traumatised dog to relax. More commonly it’s about a month or so. Don’t force interaction, don’t force anything. If they want to hide in their crate, let them. If they don’t want to be handled, leave them be, at least for the first few weeks.

BOUNDARIES: yep. They need boundaries too. Don’t give your new rescue dog run of the house then be mad at him when he poops on your bed. Baby gates are magic for this! Likewise, don’t be letting him run loose straight away. Manage him with your lead. Teach him how to walk on lead. Teach him how to recall to you. This one is especially important to me as my own Peaches (right in the pic) was returned to rescue because she was renamed, then let off lead in the same week and unsurprisingly didn’t recall and caused havoc.

CALM: Don’t take your new rescue dog to meet the entire extended family and then go to a busy pet shop and then go to Barry Island beach on their first week. Keep it calm. Let them settle.

TRAINING: This has to start immediately. Start as you mean to go on. Reward everything you like such as eye contact, a check in, loose lead walking. Don’t be surprised if there are odd behaviours either for example humping or mouthing. Use your lead, leave one on in the house if you have to, stop the behaviour, redirect to a more appropriate activity and reward the better choice.

CONSISTENCY: this means doing all of the above daily. Being consistent with your training and boundaries. Consistent with your management. Consistent with your calm. Consistent with your time. If I had a £ for every client who has said ‘yes I tried that but it didn’t work’ and it turns out they’d done it on and off for only a week then I wouldn’t be writing blog posts like this from the bathtub, I’d be writing them from a sun lounger in Hawaii! (Let’s be honest here I’d be writing it from a hot tub I’d installed at my multi million pound training centre)

LOVE: this is the last thing they need, and they do very much need it but it’s part of a bigger picture. Show your love with time, boundaries, calmness, training and consistency. Give your rescue dog all they deserve and more in a less selfish way. Our goal, our picture in our mind is usually cuddling our dog on the sofa after a day at the beach frolicking in the waves. Your dog may enjoy this, but they need safety and security above all else right now.

In short, yes, love your rescue dog, but realise love alone won’t save them all. In my years of working with dogs, years of working with rehomed rescues, years of working in kennels and more recently months of working within a city dog pound, love is amazing, but it alone is never the cure.