Behavior Issues with Rescue Dogs

Behavior Issues with Rescue Dogs

We are all well aware that there are many dogs with problem behaviorsOpens in a new tab., and in fact, 47% of the dogs surrendered to shelters are due to behavioral problems according to the ASPCA. Particular breeds are often said to be ‘dangerous’ and some dogs have simply been brought up badly.

However, rescue dogs are a special case, however, with all of them have gone through some kind of trauma, often at the hands of the humans who were meant to care for them.

Therefore, these dogs often have a number of behavioral issues, and it is important to remember that these are not their fault. Rescue dogs often require much more patience and commitment than dogs from happy homes, but there are some simple ways to deal with their behavioral issues.


Behavioral Problems with Rescue Dogs

Many of the issues with behavior that rescue dogs display stem from fear. They have been brought up to fear people, and often have had little control over their lives. Some of the main behavioral problemsOpens in a new tab. they might display are:

  • Shyness or scared behavior – being brought up in an aggressive household of humans or other dogs means rescue dogs’ first instinct might be to hide or run from a situation. This can manifest as physically running away from home, especially if your rescue dog was originally a stray
 Behavior problems with Rescue Dogs
  • Aggression – the most dangerous type of aggression is that which results from fear. This is often seen in dogs who have come from dog-fighting backgrounds but can also be seen in any rescue dog who has possessive behavior toward their owner, disliking any change or new presence in their home. Food aggression can also be common in dogs who have previously lived with many other dogs and not enough food.
  • Anxiety – Anxiety can result from separationOpens in a new tab. or generalized fear and can manifest in soiling inside the home, destructive behavior, anti-social behavior, trouble sleeping, or resource guarding. These can be frustrating for the owner and so are the most common behavioral reasons to rehome a dog.


How to deal with behavioral issues with dogs

Dog behavioral issues are not likely to ever completely go away, especially ones such as aggression and anxiety, as, like humans, dogs have a range of emotions.

That being said, there are various different strategies you can take to try to reduce the negative behaviors your dog is showing. The key behind all of these is positive reinforcement, rewarding good behaviors consistently with a clicker and treats, rather than using punishment.

It is a popular myth that dogs have an alpha male hierarchy, and so aggression is not an appropriate way to respond to your dog’s bad behavior, and will most likely make it worse. Some of the following are ways to try to correct your dog’s behavioral problemsOpens in a new tab. at home:

How to deal with behavioral issues with dogs
  • Shyness and scaredness are often caused by improper socialization with other dogs and people. To help make this easier on your dog, slow and gradual training in meeting new dogsOpens in a new tab. and people in very controlled situations will make a real difference over time.
  • Aggression often manifests in particular circumstances and is often very complicated. The first step to reducing the aggressive behaviors in your dog is through finding the triggers. This can be difficult, but some are simple (e.g. other dogs, thunderstorms, or an invasion of your dog’s personal space). You should never punish the warning signs, as this is just your dog trying to communicate that you are pushing them into a danger zone. This is often depicted as ‘the ladder of aggressionOpens in a new tab. and is completely normal, however, your rescue dog is being pushed up the ladder by small non-threatening triggers due to previous experience. Therefore, conditioning can really help to hear, which could be in the form of playing thunderstorm noises regularly to help your dog realize that nothing bad happens!
  • Anxiety often requires time to develop trust and gradual introduction to new people or experiences, as everything is a bit overwhelming for these dogs. To minimize the damage to your home through soiling or destruction, try to adjust your dog’s environment tailored to its impulses. E.g. if your dog goes for the cushions every time you leave the house, keep them in an area without any soft furnishings! This will mean you are losing fewer cushions, and are not needing to punish your dog’s coping mechanism, meaning both of you will be happier. Providing physical and mental stimulation to your dog will help with training, but also prevents boredom and so stops those reflex destructive or noisy behaviors.

If you are still having trouble with your dog’s problem behavior, then an assessment from a licensed behaviorist could help you to know what the problemOpens in a new tab. is and how to treat it.

Your veterinarian can also help in case there are other causes for the behavior. Things like chronic pain, brain tumors, and hypothyroidism can make a dog aggressive due to the pain they are under.

Pheromones can be useful to calm your dog in certain situations, like car journeys or during firework displays.

Is there a rescue for aggressive dogs?

If you have tried all of the above and still cannot cope, either with your dog ruining your home, or physically harming itself, you, or your family, then there are, sadly, places you can surrender your aggressive dog.

Surrendering your aggressive dog to a regular shelter, if they take it in, will often result in it being immediately put down. However, non-kill shelters (such as Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Florida) are an option but bear in mind that you would be unloading your problem onto others to solve, and you may be liable for further aggressive incidents.


No-kill shelters are often small, local shelters that have specially trained staff to deal with aggressive dogs, as long as they don’t have a history of biting.

They will often ask for some money to contribute to your dog’s upkeep, which can range from $20 to over $150, although if this is a barrier then the shelter can often use donations to help.

Your dog might go on to a new single-dog home, or go to service dog organizations to be trained to help disabled people, although if the dog is still found to be too aggressive then it still might be put to sleep.


Problem behaviors in dogs, especially rescue dogs, are often not their fault, and should never be treated as such. A little time, care, training, and perhaps medical intervention can almost always manage such behaviors, however, there are some shelters that will take aggressive dogs if you find you really cannot cope.

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