We have two rescues and they sometimes bark uncontrollably at people and other dogs. My usual answer for the longest time: sorry, they’re rescues. Defaulting to rescue status as an answer to behavioral issues is quite common. I often hear it and guilty of saying it.
When “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos asked President Joe Biden about the biting incident concerning Major, one of his dogs, Biden said that he’s a “rescue pup”, getting acclimated to his new home. But that “he’s a sweet dog”. There’s no talk of his breed, age, neuter status, or other relevant factors when it came to addressing his behavioral issues.
I started researching the link between rescues and behavioral issues when a lifestyle blogger had to re-home their dog. Followers started asking her what happened. The answer:
Unfortunately, being a rescue (pet name) had some special needs, that even training and two very loving owners couldn’t overcome with the addition of a new baby.”
I respect and understand the need to re-home dogs, but it made me wonder, do rescues display more behavioral problems than store or breeder-bought dogs? And why have I, like a lot of people, been explaining every unwanted behavior with rescue status?
The short answer: most dogs have issues, regardless of how one acquires them. In one study, 72% of dogs had issues, while another showed that 85% of the dogs had behavioral issues, regardless of acquisition. Some studies do show that rescue dogs display more behavioral issues, but breed (genetics), age, and sex also play significant roles.
Researchers hypothesize that high levels of separation anxiety seen in mix-bred dogs might be a sign of a stressful environment, since most rescue dogs are mixed.
It is possible that the high prevalence of separation distress and other anxieties in the mixed breed dogs is caused by a poor early life environment and adverse experiences in life, as many mixed breed dogs in our data are likely rescues.Nature
However, in linking “adverse experiences in life” with rescues, the researchers assume that dogs bought from stores and breeders live a cozy environment from birth, which is not always the case. In fact, research reveals that dogs from breeders and puppy mills go through traumatizing environments early on in life.
Defining Behavioral Problems in Dogs: A Few Traits
- Excessive barking
- Separation anxiety
- Noise sensitivity
- Destructive behavior
Dogs also experience comorbidity. Meaning, a dog can demonstrate two forms of behavioral problems. This covers only a few traits and some studies add more incidents categorized as problematic.
Why People Give Up Pets
In a study figuring out why people give up their pets, researchers find that owners had a “knowledge deficit”. Owners didn’t know how to deal with intact pets (not neutered or spayed) and were unaware that undesirable behaviors can be modified.
We see it now, more than a year after the pandemic started. Some people who adopted or bought puppies, find themselves surrendering their pets to shelters or selling them online.
Don’t assume that rescue equals issues. Breed, genetics, sex, age, and health, also contribute to behavioral issues.
For a first time pet-owner, go to a rescue instead of a shelter. They are great at partnering you with the right dog.
Volunteer and foster: aside from helping, you’ll get to know a dog or how it feels to have a dog without a lifetime commitment.
Follow Instagram accounts that document the lives of their rescues. Our favorite: @wolfgang 2242–he captures the joy of caring for rescue seniors and how to turn “dog issues” into the spice of life.