Taking On A Stray

She had no particular breed in mind, no unusual requirements. Except the special sense of mutual recognition that tells dog and human they have both come to the right place.

- Lloyd Alexander

Perhaps the most daunting for any potential adopter is taking on a dog that has been found as a stray. Because there is no history, and no name for this dog, people often think taking on a stray is a very risky thing to do.

As we’ve already shown, each dog can act very differently depending on the person they are with, and how that person reacts to them. When you are getting to know a dog that has no history, it’s very tempting to read signals into every little movement they make. If they flinch when you move your arm, you may think they’ve been hit.

We’ve met dogs that we know have never had a bad thing happen to them in their lives, and yet are still instinctively scared of certain movements or sounds. It’s very tempting to get drawn into trying to piece together the history of a dog based on their body language, but you can make many mistakes or even come up with a very convoluted story about your dog based on nothing more than some body language you may have misinterpreted.

When you’re working with a dog, and getting to know them, whilst it is important to recognise what movements, signals and sounds make them nervous, try not to read too much into it at the meeting stage. This dog doesn’t know you, and is in a strange situation. They are bound to be a little reticent, and will be checking you out just as much as you are watching them. In many ways, the first few minutes of a first meeting, (no matter the background of the dog) will be a time of feeling out whether this human in front of them can be trusted.

Some owners of rescue dogs spend so much time looking back, worrying about what happened in the dog’s past (that you will never be able to confirm with any certainty) that they forget to enjoy what happening in front of them right now.

Irrespective of what caused a problem or issue, if you don’t know for certain what caused it, then too much guesswork can make things much worse.

When we work with a dog who is hand-shy and scared of a raised hand, the solution is all about making the movement they are scared of much less scary. The end product is that you want them to find your hand movements all have positive consequences.

Again, when we go back to some of the ‘pack leader’ techniques which involve bullying a dog into submission, it’s impossible for those techniques to work with a dog that has been physically abused. It’s the shortest way to guarantee that this dog will see you as a threat, and not trust you.

Always look forward, and work with what you do know.

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