Bringing home a rescue dog can prove quite challenging. Most of the time, they come from unknown backgrounds. They might have faced abuse and for sure they faced competition in the shelter they were in – either for food or affection.
All the above explain why a rescue dog might be anxious and nervous when encountering a new environment, but dog behaviour can be misleading. Running around the house barking might seem like a sign of happiness and excitement to you, while he is actually looking for a way to escape.
It’s important to understand the most common symptoms of nervousness in a dog to take the best course of action that will calm him down:
- Running uncontrollably around the house
- Loud barking
- Poor bowel or bladder control
- Shivering or shaking
- Sweaty paws
- Frozen posture
- Dilated pupils
- Head tilted down, ears oriented backwards and an overall “don’t hit me” position
- Avoiding eye contact (especially after you began the bonding process successfully)
If any or multiple signs above are part of your dog’s behaviour, you are most likely dealing with a nervous rescue dog. The following next steps should provide some guidance in comforting him.
Find the Stress-Generating Cause
We know that most rescue dogs are nervous and anxious from being brought into a new environment, and for that, the only solution is to bond with him steadily. There are situations, though, in which an object, a smell, noise or another person or animal could be the cause of anxiety.
Try to determine and eliminate that cause. If you can’t figure out what it is, remove the dog from that environment and try reintroducing him gradually.
Even though dogs are blessed with good long-term memory, they can sometimes be easily distracted, and you should use that to your advantage. When you see anxiety symptoms in your dog, try to distract them as soon as possible. Give them a favourite toy, a treat, play with them, or start running.
Try to bring fun into this equation. The dog should start, in a short time, to associate the stressor with something fun. In time, the experience will eventually transform the stressor and eliminate its effects.
Pet Your Dog
If you have gained your rescue dog’s trust, even a little, petting him in a stressful situation might be the best solution. He knows you provide safety and will have the confidence to relax, simply because you are beside him.
Keep in mind though, using this as the only method to eliminate the stress could determine your dog to associate it to a reward system. This could lead to your dog becoming fearful just to receive your affection.
Try Using an Undershirt
As weird as it may seem, these devices help your dog feel safe. They act in the same way as swaddling does for a baby. And for those of you familiar with farm life, the concept is commonly found in cattle handling, with the use of cattle squeeze chutes.
Keep Yourself Calm
Pets are usually a reflection of their owner. It is only normal to be stressed when your rescue dog is not adapting as fast as you desire, but if you focus and dwell too much on it, your dog might pick that up and become stressed as well. All the symptoms above could have no other external cause than your anxiety. So, stay calm. Your dog needs it.
Even though the tips above might not be enough to help your nervous rescue dog calm, and you need to seek professional help from a trainer, they will definitely pave the way towards an easier journey. Once you gain each other’s trust, the term “nervous” will no longer define your precious rescue dog.