Love Is Not Enough – part 2
Adopting a dog requires thought and planning. Understanding that sharing life with a rescue dog is a privilege, not a right is a good starting point. It can sometimes be difficult to automatically get this in our society where dogs are easily bought – and sold and resold – and their precious lives are not seen as uniquely valuable. Nor that they deserve to be found the right home, not just any home. The fact it should take time and consideration to adopt is especially the right point from which to prepare for sharing life with an ex-breeding dog.
In Part One I gave background into why breeding dogs who haven’t lived as pets have specific needs. To why when adopted they will most likely face additional challenges to settling into and living in their new homes. Quite simply they have no point of reference. None at all. They have been cut off from everything they have ever known. They may only have lived within the confines of a few square meters. Dark ones at that.
While we know that removing them from the squalor of a puppy farm, or the cheerlessness of a lonely kennel is a good thing, they will not innately know this. We might believe that things are now better, after all being in a home is surely good, but they will not initially experience it like this. A dog thrust into a home with all its lights, noise and action may well wish to be back where he came from, dire as that was. Familiarity has a lot going for it when racked by fear.
If placed in a home without a confident resident dog, not having their own kind to relate to means no guide from whom to learn how to communicate with the humans around. Living with a confident canine, or at the very least sharing regular, close contact with one, is invaluable. While some dogs will cope without, for the most fearful and anxious, the chance is great that they’ll remain trapped in terrified confusion.
Adopting any dog requires us to respect the dog’s situation. We should not expect too much from them. It will take time, in some cases a lot of time, for a breeding dog to even begin feeling safe. Keep your home quiet and voices gentle. Be honest with yourself: If your lifestyle and homelife means you can’t do this for the majority of time, question whether adopting is the right thing for the dog – before you pursue it. Loud music may terrorise and TV sounds should be kept at a low level. Consider the yelling and noise which can erupt unexpectedly and how a sensitive, traumatised dog might perceive it. Not just in the first week but far beyond. Years possibly.
Providing a ‘safe place’ in the home is essential. Somewhere he – or she – can retreat to, a place to be left as they adjust to everything. Every single thing demands something from her. She is a scared, or at best wary, animal. The safe place might be a crate, one large enough to provide space for sleeping, eating and drinking – that way in the early days she can choose to stay within the security of her ‘den’ as she observes the comings and goings of her new world. She may find her own place, perhaps up into the corner of a sofa where nobody bothers her. Provide choices, beds and blankets around the house, give her space, never force her to be anywhere, allow her to find her safety nest and she will.
Create routines. Forming regular daily habits allows your puppy farm dog to know what to expect. When everything is new and a lot is scary, routines help the mind to adjust to what’s coming next each day.
Learn to read canine body language. Dogs communicate with us very well but it’s a language we need to learn. There are many resources to help with this and this is an excellent new book by Lili Chin.
Fear is an emotion which overrides all others. Different dogs show it in different ways and with puppy farm dogs displays of fear might be harder to spot if they’re crippled by a state of learned helplessness that’s been forming for years. When a dog is repeatedly trapped in a terrifying situation they learn they have no control. So they shut down. It’s easy to misread the signs as being calm but it’s not a calm state, on the inside the dog is screaming. Take time to learn and recognise the signs.
When we make the decision to adopt, we make a lifetime commitment to the dog. How things go when we begin our journey together will be down to a whole range of factors, some we can control and influence, others we cannot.
We must be prepared at the outset to recognise that love alone will not make everything right. We need to change, adapt, listen, learn and also love. Unreservedly and wholeheartedly we must love our dogs. And know that however much change and upheaval might lay ahead it will be nothing to the upheaval a puppy farm dog survives. And every minute, hour, day, week and year it’s life changing and rewarding. For both.