When a new rescue dog comes into our home, they are very likely to look like this:
- Very bouncy and energetic
- Investigating everything (cupboards, handbags, shoes…)
- Lots of movement (running around, maybe jumping up)
- Counter surfing or taking objects left round
- Following us everywhere
- Triggered to move or bark by everything
- Not able to “switch off”
This list is not describing happy go lucky energy and “no off switch”, but rather it can be translated as an animal who is figuring our how to survive.
Newly homed rescue dogs figure out how to survive by doing all of the above behaviours. It is absolutely expected of them to be like this as they work out what their new environment holds for them and who the new members of the family are, and what role they have in the dog’s life.
Here’s the good news: the behaviour of the new rescue dog you see in front of you will NOT always be like this!
Given time and the right information from the new human family, this dog will calm down and move less manically, not have to investigate everything, not have to follow you around, not be triggered and adrenalised all the time. And WILL be able to switch off.
But they need our help with time and the right information. And the way to do this is by keeping their world very small to be begin with, not walking outside yet, not paying them so much attention, and certainly not any attention for any of the above listed behaviours. The moment we give them attention, they continue to be adrenalised and continue to be manic. If we kindly take our eye contact away, and pay them gentle calm attention on our terms, they will learn calm behaviour from us.
Too much attention is REALLY easily done because people generally rescue dogs to give them a better life and they feel sympathy for them and want to make up for all the bad stuff that has happened to them before. This is very lovely and kind and human but it doesn’t actually help the dogs! They are not human, they are canine and understand the world in a canine way – none verbally and through behaviour and energy. So even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, if you really want to help a rescue dog, you need to give them way less attention and calm your energy down to help theirs.
It’s not natural for animals to be manic and bonkers all the time. Playful, yes. But under control and able to switch off for the majority of the day is what animals without human intervention do. It’s our lives and the way we interact with them that triggers the loss of the off switch.
We don’t have to completely change our entire lives for calm, happy dogs, but if we make some fundamental changes in the way we interact with them, the joy from seeing a calmer, happier dog is unbounded and our relationship with them will deepen.