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Behavior Issues to Watch Out For
According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung, the most common behavior problems reported after adopting a rescue dog are reactive behavior toward people, dogs or both; generalized or separation-related anxiety; and fearful behavior directed toward people, dogs, inanimate objects or noises. Some dogs may exhibit behavioral issues within the first week of their adoption, such as anxiety or destructive behavior when first left alone in the house. Other dogs, says Dr. Sung, may be a bit inhibited by their new owners, household or other pets and may not exhibit any behavior problems until they feel more comfortable and confident, which could take a few weeks or months.
If your dog exhibits behavioral issues, Dr. Sung suggests reducing exposure to the things he may find scary or reacts to; working to build positive associations with those things using food rewards, praise or toys; and seeking professional help from a trainer, animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist.
What to Do If He's Shy, Fearful or Stressed
For a particularly shy or fearful dog, she says it’s best to establish a consistent routine and to give him positive attention and praise but not overwhelm him with too much affection, since a gesture like hugging or kissing him on the face could be perceived as threatening for a dog who isn’t used to those gestures. You'll also want to slowly introduce him to other people, pets and experiences as opposed to overwhelming him with new things.
Dr. Marty Becker says that for particularly anxious dogs, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about natural or prescription anxiety products.
As your dog gets acclimated to his new home, be on the lookout for signs of stress. Those signs could include pacing; panting; yawning; lip licking; licking themselves, new owners or objects excessively; excessively whining, barking or howling; or destructive behavior. Dr. Sung recommends taking a few days to build a consistent relationship with your dog and slowly leaving him alone for brief periods and recording his behavior — for instance, with a video monitor — to determine how he responds to your absence. Take him on short walks or car rides and monitor his behavior. If he appears stressed, she says, try to distract him and redirect him to fun or rewarding activities. Playing soothing classical music or using dog pheromones can also help.
After your dog has settled in, the next best step an adopter can make is to sign up for training classes or hire a certified professional dog trainer, Ebbecke says. “Dogs aren’t born understanding the social rules of humans, the same way that humans aren’t born understanding canine social rules.”
Mikkel Becker recommends getting one foundation behavior in place — being polite. That could mean teaching your dog to do a sit or a down. “That’s how you can teach a dog to say please.”
If the dog isn't housebroken, house training is a must. Other useful training commands Mikkel Becker suggests teaching include come, stay, leave it and drop it. Hand targeting, which involves having a dog touch his nose to an outstretched hand, is another handy training technique. It can be especially helpful for shy or fearful dogs since it can give them a predictable way to interact with people.
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