5 Common Shelter Dog Behaviour Problems

- and how to address them!

Last Updated 20th December 2021

This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Kes Holliday, DVM

Just like a new puppy, a rescue dog can come with their own set of challenges. A little patience goes a long way when you're getting to know each other's quirks!

Tips for a successful start
1. Poor Manners
2. Destructive behaviour
3. Accidents
4. Barking, crying or howling through the night
5. Reactive Behaviour
Further reading

Tips for a successful start

For dogs, any change - even a positive one - can be a source of stress and your dog may be a little overwhelmed at first. Remember that you are one of a series of humans and your dog may not realise this is their fur-ever home yet.

It's a good idea to provide your dog with a safe refuge such as a crate or bed in a quiet corner. This way, they can go to their refuge if they become overwhelmed. It's important that no one is allowed to bother the dog while they are in their crate so that your dog learns it is their own space.

Adaptil is a great tool for helping your new dog settle in and feel less anxious. This is an odourless, man-made version of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). DAP is released soon after a mother dog gives birth to establish feelings of wellbeing and attachment. Try setting up an Adaptil diffuser near your dog's sleeping area!

1. Poor Manners

Poor manners are one of the most common issues reported in newly rehomed dogs. Remember that your dog has had a variety of owners and a variety of rules - so it's no wonder they may be confused about how to behave!

These training principles can be applied to nearly every incidence of poor manners:
Positive reinforcement for a desired behaviour
Negative reinforcement for an undesirable behaviour

For example, if you want your dog to greet you calmly without jumping up.

Positive reinforcement for desired behaviour:

Start by rewarding 'four paws on the floor'. As soon as your dog has all his feet on the floor, reward him with your greeting. You can then work up to having your dog sit to greet you.

Negative reinforcement for undesirable behaviour:

Pointedly turn away from your dog and cross your arms until he stops jumping up. For very excitable dogs, you may need to give them a time-out by ignoring them or leaving the room until they have four paws on the floor.

A note about punishment:
Punishment in dog training refers to 'positive punishment'. Positive punishment is the use of an adverse stimuli (for example yelling at or smacking your dog) in response to an undesired behaviour. Positive punishment is not supported by behaviourists because it has been shown to cause fear in dogs. There is also no evidence to support that punishment-based training is more effective than positive or rewards-based training

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2. Destructive Behaviour

Destructive behaviour is sometimes reported in rescue dogs. Just as you would with a new puppy, set your dog up for success by limiting their access to items and areas that they are not permitted to destroy. When you leave your dog alone for the first few times, limit them to a room (for large dogs) or a play pen (for small dogs) where they have access to food, water, toys, their bed and an area to toilet if you're gone for a while.

If your dog attempts to destroy items when you are at home, give them a toy that they are allowed to chew and praise them for playing with the toy. Be patient - in time your rescue dog will learn what they can - and can't - chew on!

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3. Accidents

Your dog may already be house-trained when you bring them home. However, they may not be house-trained in your house! The good news is that toilet training is the same as for any new puppy. Take your dog out to the yard (or designated place) after eating, sleeping, playtime, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Reward them lavishly with treats, toys or a game when they toilet in the correct spot.

Avoid punishing your dog if they do have an accident in the house. Doing so can create fear - and may only cause the dog to avoid voiding in your presence. Clean the area well with an enzymatic cleaner to eliminate the odour.

4. Barking, crying or howling through the night

It is normal for dogs to be unsettled at night when in a new place. White noise such as a fan can be helpful to drown out noises that may be causing your dog to be fearful. Taking a walk shortly before bed time can be useful to help tire them out and empty their bladder.

Calming products such as Adaptil and Zylkene may be used to help settle your dog at night.

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5. Reactive Behaviour

While rescue organisations often conduct behavioural screening, it's impossible to anticipate every single scenario. Take a proactive approach to ensure you and your new best friend are safe.

While you may be keen to take your new dog to the dog park, this can be a scary experience for dogs - especially when you don't know their social history. It's best to stick to on-leash walks at first until you can gauge how your dog reacts to others.

Introduce your dog to new people and pets on lead, letting your dog initiate the greeting. Keeping tasty treats on hand helps your dog form a positive association with other dogs!

Always closely supervise children under five with dogs . The vast majority of incidents where children are bitten by dogs can be prevented with supervision. If your dog seems at risk of being overwhelmed, take him to his safe place (like a crate or another room).

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With an estimated 200,000 dogs euthanised in shelters throughout Australia each year, by choosing to adopt a dog (particularly an adult dog), you are making a huge difference. With a little knowledge, positivity and patience, your rescue dog will be a wonderful companion for many years.

Rescue dogs of Pet Circle





Further Reading

3 Common New Pet Problems to Avoid

Premium Pet Food: Is it Worth it?

Your Guide to Using Adaptil

Managing Separation Anxiety in Pets

How to Stop Your Dog Barking

5 Reasons to Adopt an Adult Dog

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