Common Issues with Rescue Dogs

Posted by Samantha Bubar

Rescuing a dog is one of the most rewarding, and challenging, jobs you will ever face. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and all behaviors and personalities should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. But, loving and training a rescue dog can be hard work.

When you bring home a rescue dog, be prepared for the experience to be a journey, not a quick transition. With work and training your dog may become a beloved member of your family, but it won't be an overnight event. Instead, prepare yourself for the training and time it will take to gain your new dog's trust and establish those habits that allow him to live peacefully in your home.

Common Issues to Be Aware Of

Each rescue will also have a specific set of difficulties to keep in mind that stem from breed characteristics, size, and age- all common hurdles you would face with a non-rescue dog as well.

For example, old dogs are going to be a bit ornery, regardless of how they were trained and raised. This can be caused by external pain, loss of sight or hearing that results in them being spooked easier, and health issues.

The same goes for small breeds. They have their own specific attitude and have proven difficult to house break. That is ingrained in each dog based on their lineage; some of those issues can never be resolved fully.

Rescue dogs have a few common obstacles that they face due to neglect, abuse, or both. These get layered on top of whatever special breed quirks they have in their DNA, and you've got your hands full!

A big part of loving a rescue dog is understanding why they behave the way they do. If you can understand why they might be acting unfavorably, you have a better shot at being able to re-train your rescue.

Food Aggression/Resource Guarding

This is a big, understandable, issue with some rescues. This sometimes prevents dogs from going to homes with children. Dogs that have been neglected, or a stray for a long time, get protective of their food.

They may have lived day to day having to fight for food or not knowing when they were going to get their next meal. So when they do have food, they get protective- sometimes snarling and even biting because they feel threatened.

Some dogs outgrow this behavior after being in a home, putting on weight, and realizing that no one is going to take their food away. Other dogs need to be crated when they get fed for this reason.

Most dogs that are adopted out of shelters have been tested to see if they show signs of food aggression; if it's an issue, the adoption counselor will let you know.

Resource guarding is essentially the same as food aggression, but including food and all other objects, and even people. This is actually left over from dogs ancestral instincts. In the wild they would protect their survival resources (dens, food, or young) from predators.

Some rescues, primarily dogs that have been strays, have behaviors that revert back to this instinctual behavior and will sometimes guard toys, beds, people, etc. with aggression, for fear of said resource being taken from them. Training is a big help with any aggressive behaviors and a big factor of welcoming a rescue into a home successfully.


This is a very common and very unique hurdle for each dog. Each dog will have different fears, different levels of fear, as well as different reactions.

Usually when faced with fear dogs have a fight or flight response, each of which is equally dangerous.

If a dog responds to fear with a fight response, that is a big issue and puts potential owners at risk. A dog responding to fear with a flight response can be an issue as well. When left alone, dogs have been known to chew through walls to get away from whatever is scaring them.

If outside or on a leash, they can spook and take off. That is one reason it is important to microchip your pets. If they are trying to get away from something that is scaring them, they will find a way, and it's important they have a way to get home too.

There are a number of ways to help dogs with their fears through training, positive reinforcement, and exposure.


Disciplining rescues when they slip is probably the hardest part. Whether it's a pointed finger or a sharp command, they react differently than other dogs.

Through time this gets better as they learn to trust that you're not going to hurt them if you yell, or a pointed finger doesn't mean they will get hurt.


You have to teach rescue dogs things, that most dogs already know how to do. Some need to be taught how to play with toys, or house breaking.

I had to teach my rescue dog how to play with toys, how to go up and down stairs, not to chew on his feet, as well as all the basic commands. There are milestones that don't seem important to non-rescue dog owners, but they are a big deal to rescue parents.


Depending on the background of the rescue, socializing either with humans or dogs, can prove difficult. This is largely based on the history of the specific rescue dog and how they were treated or introduced to humans and dogs.

Socializing can be achieved in many different ways, and it is up to you to find a way that works for both you and your pup. Some dogs benefit immensely from exposure therapy. You'll also need a strong understanding of canine body language so you can monitor your dog's comfort level.

Repeatedly putting the dog in the situation that makes him nervous will eventually get him comfortable with the stimuli. For other dogs, this does not work and only makes them more nervous.

Other dogs benefit from more structure that can be offered through slowly introducing them to new stimuli and environments over time and in gradual increments. This gives extremely nervous or fearful dogs a chance to gradually warm up to something that puts him on edge.

Housebreaking/ Marking

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For shelter dogs that have never been taught where to go to the bathroom, housebreaking can be a big issue that sometimes lands dogs back in the shelter.

More times than not, they have been reprimanded severely for accidents when they simply don't understand where they should be eliminating.

Male dogs will also mark in a new house or environment. They may feel uncomfortable or threatened, so this is an act to make the area their own or show dominance.

Some dogs can not be trained out of this behavior depending on the severity of the behavior. They make "belly bands" for this issue, and some male dogs might have to wear them at all times while in the house.

Destructive Behavior

Destructive behavioral problems are usually linked to separation anxiety or excessive energy. When dogs are anxious or bored they might engage in destructive behavior simply for something to do or to calm their nerves.

Reprimanding a dog that is showing destructive behaviors is not the answer. Dogs are not acting this way out of spite, this is a way for them to tell you something isn't quite right. Consulting a professional dog trainer or dog behavioralist can help.

Rescue dogs will bring an unconditional level of love to your life, but they will test your patience, and need some help to become a successful family member. With hard work, you and your new dog can become best friends.

With love and lots of patience and training, you'll have a loyal, loving new member of your family.

Do you have a rescue dog? Tell us what you've learned in the comments below.

READ MORE5 Painfully Honest Ways Your Life Will Change When You Adopt a Rescue Dog

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Common Issues with Rescue Dogs