Adopting a pet is always a better choice than buying from a pet store or breeder. But shelter dogs often come home with issues that must be resolved to ensure a long, happy life. Whether medical or behavioral, none of these issues should prevent a dog from finding its forever home, though it's best for all potential owners to educate themselves on what what type of hurdles they may face when bringing a rescue dog into their lives.
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Kennel cough is found very commonly in dogs living in shelters. It’s a respiratory disorder that appears and is transmitted much like the common cold. Symptoms include a runny nose, runny eyes, a hacking cough and/or gagging. Kennel cough passes through physical contact or through the air, making it very easy to transmit from dog to dog within the close confines of an animal shelter. Fortunately, kennel cough isn’t life threatening and is easily treatable.
Newly adopted dogs frequently suffer from diarrhea when they first settle into a new home. Generally, it’s a response to the stress of the sudden change that comes with a new living environment and the constant presence of what are at first total strangers. The problem should resolve itself after a few days. Otherwise, consult your veterinarian.
If your rescue dog comes home with diarrhea that’s particularly bad and doesn’t go away after a few days, it may have picked up giardia. Giardia is serious intestinal infection, but usually not life threatening, unless your dog’s immune system is compromised. Antibiotics are typically enough to deal with the infection, but giardia can pass to humans, so be thorough about washing your hands while you deal with the problem.
Your new rescue dog may display shyness or even fear after you bring it home, even if the animal was friendly and gregarious at the shelter. This nervousness is probably the result of being in an unfamiliar environment and should disappear over time. Help the dog along by being patient as it grows used to you, your home and your family. Forcing your dog into places or situations with which it's not yet comfortable only exacerbates the problem.
Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety, a feeling of nervousness or panic that sets in when a dog is left alone or cannot be with its owners. Some dogs are just wired this way. Other dogs may develop separation anxiety after being abandoned and re-adopted, sometimes several times, each time compounding the problem. Obviously, this can be a nagging problem for rescued shelter dogs.
A shelter dog may be very territorial about its food bowl and dining area in a new home. This behavior is probably not because of anything that the new owner is doing wrong, but rather the result of the dog’s past experiences. It may have had previous owners who neglected to feed it properly, not offering enough food. The animal could have been a starving stray before it ever made it to the shelter. Either way, food aggression is common in dogs who have faced starvation.
There are multiple reasons why your dog may be acting out in a destructive manner. If the dog had lived with a previous owner or owners, it may never have been properly trained, or may have lived in an environment where its destructive tendencies weren’t discouraged or corrected. The behavior could also be a result of boredom, loneliness or stress. You may need to spend more time with your dog, especially if it’s been starved of socialization.
Even if your rescue dog was trained in its past, it’s not impossible for it to “forget” its training. Sometimes a dog is not given adequate opportunity to relieve itself while staying in a shelter, forcing it to do so in its cage. Over time, a dog forced to live that way will come to think of it as normal and acceptable behavior.
If you’ve ever walked past a dog in a cage barking its head off at everybody within its eye line, you might have thought the dog must have been hyperaggressive or vicious. But it may have been exhibiting barrier frustration. Physical contact isn’t important just for a dog’s socialization. Dogs also obtain a great deal of information through touching and smelling other dogs and people. Being isolated in a shelter cage all day means having constant visual access to new people and things to investigate, but also being restricted from physical access to indulge that drive to investigate. Over time, this constant thwarting of a dog’s natural tendencies may cause it to act out.
Next: 12 Reasons to Adopt a Mutt
Even though we know what social animals dogs are, it’s extremely common to find them in animal shelters confined to individual cages or crates. This lack of social engagement can cause hyperactivity in a dog, which is only amplified by a visit from a potential adopter. Maybe potential adopter are put off by these dogs when they perceive hyperactive behavior, not realizing it's not normal conduct for the dog in question. It’s always worth visiting a shelter dog more than once and get to know it well before you decided to adopt.