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Adopt-A-Dog Month: Tips for socializing a rescue dog

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Owning a shelter dog is a unique but rewarding experience that requires patience and special care.

You've decided you want a dog (or another one). Now it's time to start searching. If you've chosen to adopt a dog from a shelter, you've made an admirable decision that will surely make a difference in your new pup's life. You should also be aware of the adjustment period and training required of a rescue dog owner.

Dogs learn a lot about how to behave during the first three months of their life. This time range is known as the puppy socialization period. Although you can find puppies in shelters, the selection often includes older dogs as well. While it's not impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, it does require extra effort.

Problem 1: Lack of socialization

A shelter dog may not have received proper care as a puppy, which includes introducing it to other animals and people. Without that learning period, dogs aren't accustomed to having others in their personal space. They can be overly protective, aggressive, or shy.

How to solve the problem: Gradually introduce your dog to other pets, people, sounds, and activities. Too much at once can be overwhelming. Steady and patient repetition will allow your dog to adjust at his or her pace, making the transition to domesticated life as easy as possible.

Problem 2: Fear

Even when dogs are raised in a loving home from puppyhood, they still may feel scared of new sights and sounds. Imagine a shelter dog who was abused or left to fend for itself. Depending on the case, dogs may learn to instinctually fight back against people who look like their former abuser or who remind them of a scary situation in their past. They might also cower, run away, or avoid eye contact when they encounter somebody new.

How to solve the problem: Talk with a pet behaviorist or your veterinarian about your dog to find the best course of treatment. They may suffer from anxiety that requires medication. Allow your dog to bond with your own family first before introducing him or her to others. Try to create a stable and quiet environment to avoid any new fears.

Problem 3: Aggression/resource guarding

Sometimes dogs can become overly protective over food, toys or anything else they consider valuable. This is known as food aggression or resource guarding. When dogs want to protect something, they may lash out with varying degrees of aggression. Pay attention to a shelter dog's history so you can try to predict their behavior in certain situations. For example, if your new dog struggled to find food before arriving at the shelter, he or she will likely value food and treats very highly.

How to solve the problem: Once you notice the items that cause your dog to behave aggressively, stay away from your dog when he or she has those items. Gradually expose them to situations where they are around other animals and people who are safely distanced.

Problem 4: Loud and rambunctious behavior

Dogs naturally bark and whine, but those sounds can be annoying when they persist throughout the day and night. Rambunctious dogs usually make noise when they want to play, greet someone, or receive attention. Shelter life can influence a dog to bark often because of a lack of attention, exercise or mental stimulation. Dogs who haven't been socialized properly sometimes exhibit these behaviors because they haven't learned how to play properly with others.

How to solve the problem: Rambunctious dogs require the right home with patient owners ready to give ample attention. Designate play time and quiet time clearly so your dog learns when it's appropriate to behave energetically. Reward calm behavior, and ignore wild and loud behavior.

Problem 5: Lack of nutrition and exercise

Some shelter dogs have lived without regular meals for a while, and others sit in their pen without much action. Both scenarios can harm a dog's health.

How to solve the problem: Talk with your vet about a diet and exercise plan for your dog, while considering any fear or aggression problems they may have. Ask your vet if multivitamins can help correct any deficiencies your dog has.

All pets require work and responsibility. Shelter dogs simply demand a certain level of care that can be achieved with the proper mindset and preparation. Raising a shelter dog may also be one of the most rewarding things you ever do, so if you're up for the challenge, get in touch with your local shelter to talk about your options.

Have a question about pet health? Want to become the best possible pet parent? Find helpful tips, reminders, and insight to giving your furry friend the best possible care with For Pet's Sake! Learn more at drdevonsmith.com.