The first thing I say to anyone who is inquiring about my services as a dog behaviorist is, “tell me about your dog.” All too often the first sentence I get back is, “well, he’s a rescue dog . . . blah, blah, blah” They usually then go into this long, dramatic story explaining how he was found chained to tree outside in the cold; or they detail the abuse he received at his first home; or how he was found emaciated, wandering the streets until the rescue was finally able to catch him. The stories are all different, yet exactly the same. They tell of the great misfortunes the dog has suffered and the tales are usually told with a slight quarter head tilt and/or a slow nod of the head to show their deep empathy.
If you are one of these people with one of these dogs, I have a big piece of advice that will greatly help both you and your dog: lose the sob stories – pronto.
Now don’t get me wrong, I agree that all those things that happened to your “rescue dog” were sad and unfortunate, and you are doing a really great thing by choosing to adopt a dog with a less than peachy past. However, you are negatively affecting his present by not letting go of what happened to him previously.
Your dog does not need your pity or your sympathy. What he really needs is your stability. Constantly recounting your dog’s tales of woe only prevents him from moving on. The great thing about dogs is that they live in the moment and don’t really care what happened to them in the past – they only care about what’s happening right now. Yes, their behavior is affected by the past and their present behavior may have been shaped by past events, but they are ready to move forward. They may need our guidance to get over those issues created by their past, but you will never be able to help them if you are emotional about what may have happened to them before they made it to your house.
So I want you to pretend that you have no idea what happened to your dog before he came to you. His life began the day you picked him up. Give him your love and understanding but never your pity or sympathy. Work him through whatever issues he may have with an open mind and strong heart. Be the confident, stable leader he is craving. Being emotional only feeds your dog’s anxiety and uncertainty, when what he really needs and wants is someone to say “who cares what you went through, you’re in a rock-solid home now.” If you show your dog that you’re not stuck on his past, he will be more likely to take those brave steps toward a better future.